CIDOB - [05/16/2007]
Mohammad Reza-Djalili , an Iranian political scientist specialising in the Middle East and Central Asia and an Associate Professor in the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, stated that if he had to define Iran in only one word, it would be “paradox”. Djalili said this in a lecture held in the Jordi Maragall Hall and organised by the Mediterranean and Asia Programmes of the CIDOB Foundation and Casa Árabe (Instituto Internacional de Estudios Árabes y del Mundo Musulmán), in which he analysed Iran’s strong and weak points as a regional power.
The political scientist underscored the idea that although Iran is currently very present in the media, it continues to be a little-known country. Iran is both a threatening and a threatened country: threatening, in being a regional power and due to its nuclear energy programme; and threatened, because of the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and several Central Asian countries.
According to Djalili, other aspects which are equally paradoxical are “Iran’s five strengths, which, in turn, could become its greatest weaknesses”. First of all, there is its condition as the oldest country in the region, which should be positive, but which has made Iran a country trapped in its own history.
Its second point is its demographics, since Iran is a large country both in terms of territory and human capital. Its population, of around 70 million inhabitants, is young and increasingly urban, and the country has a birth rate which is approaching that of the European average. On the other side of the demographics coin is Iran’s high rate of unemployment, its brain drain and its growing rate of drug addiction among young people.
Thirdly, Djalili spoke about its geographic location, since Iran lies between the Arab world, Turkey, India, Russia and Central Asia. This gives it centrality, although it also surrounds it with sources of instability.
The fourth advantage comes from the energy resources the country possesses (Iran is the second country in the world in terms of oil and gas reserves). Nevertheless, it does not have the technology to exploit these reserves, and it imports a significant part of the energy it consumes, having to subsidise it, moreover, at Iranian prices.
Finally, the political scientist highlighted “ soft power”. Although Iran has a great deal of influence on other countries in the region through Shiism and its religious discourse, this strategy is becoming increasingly less popular among its people.
Fred Halliday, a Lecturer at the London School of Economics and the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals, accompanied Dr. Djalili at the speakers’ table, analysing his intervention and adding new elements to the debate. Fred Halliday highlighted, among other aspects, the fact that many international analysts tend to confusion illusion with reality when they predict important political changes in the country, as they do not take into account that the current hard-line regime aims to stay in power. Moreover, as a political and economic elite, it has considerable resources for achieving this goal, according to Halliday.
In the subsequent debate, which was open to the large audience attending the lecture, many subjects were dealt with, such as Iran’s historical and current ties with Venezuela, its interests in Central Asia and its rapprochement with China, Russia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
Attending the event were Eduard Soler, Co-ordinator of the CIDOB Foundation Mediterranean Programme and José Abu-Tarbush, General Co-ordinator of Casa Árabe-Instituto Internacional de Estudios Árabes y del Mundo Musulmán. Abu-Tarbush took advantage of the occasion to present this recently created centre, which aims to bring the current important issues relating to the Arab and Muslim world closer to the Spanish society. Both representatives emphasised that this first event would be the beginning of a fluid collaboration between the two institutions.