In a lecture at a conference that was touted as a scientific gathering, Rahim Safavi, the former head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), blamed the West for all the turmoil in the Islamic World. On surface, the lecture is not unusual as it repeats the frequently repeated charge by Iranian officials that the root causes behind the problems of Muslim states are invariably all linked to some bigger scheme by Western powers to deliberately engineer discord among Muslim in order to keep them divided to dominate them.
But Safavi goes further in this recycled narrative that first emerged with the coming of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and is again increasingly peddled by the hardliners in Tehran. The beneficiaries of this plot are Western interests and the State of Israel. In his lecture Safavi divides the Islamic World into states that are basically collaborators with the West in this alleged plot versus states that seek to combat it. Unsurprisingly, Iran is in Safavi’s words a defender of the rights of Muslims while Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies are pointed to as enablers of Western schemes.
The implication is that Iran should spearhead the effort to confront Arab monarchies, and should attempt to mobilize as many other Muslim-majority states against Arab monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, as possible. Safavi’s call comes at a time of unprecedented tension in Tehran-Riyadh relations but still represents a hardening of Iranian attitudes. The policy of confronting Arab monarchies was pursued throughout the 1980s but with little to show for it.
On the other hand, President Hassan Rouhani is reported by moderate media in Iran to continue to look for ways to reduce tensions with Riyadh. It remains to be seen if the hardliners will have the final say in Tehran’s next move against Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies.