Iran and Turkey’s Competition for Influence in the New Arab World

The Islamic Revolution is often described as one of the most important events in shaping regional politics of the Middle East today. As we start to chart the history of this phenomenon, it is important to simultaneously analyze the Islamic Republic of Iran’s influence on the rest of the region in terms of regional power, international politics, and the use of religion today. This article from Day Press News talks about the most recent confrontation between Iran and Turkey over policies related to the Arab Spring and highlights the fundamental differences in their attempts to influence the region as a whole.


Over this last weekend, Iran’s key military adviser warned Turkey that it needs to reconsider its policy towards Syria, the NATO missile shield, and its promotion of Muslim secularism. He accused Turkey of “acting in line with the goals of America” and warned that such behavior would not be tolerated by its neighbors, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. According to the article, this outburst is a sign of Iran’s frustration that Turkey is gaining influence in the region while Iran’s influence is declining. Relations between the two countries have been strained as they compete to influence the changing Arab world. Last month, the prime minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, toured the newly independent states of North Africa where he extolled Turkey’s successful brand of secular Muslim democracy as a template for the Arab world. This angered the Iranian regime which, of course, would like to instill an Islamic Republic similar to their own with Islam at the core of government. Despite Iran’s hopes for revolutions that end as their own did in 1979, the Arab uprisings have been mainly secular in nature. Iran’s supreme leader Ayotollah Khamenei has denied this and rather claims that the movements  represent an “Islamic awakening” against dictatorial, Western-backed regimes like their own, and are therefore specifically inspired by Iran’s Islamic Revolution. According to this article, however, Iran’s purportedly democratic Islamic government has little appeal in the Arab world. People all over the region have witnessed the brutal oppression of pro-democracy protestors in Iran after the 2009 election, which is exactly what the uprisings are against. Due to these politics, Turkey’s secularism may seem more appealing to the masses of revolutionary countries. Turkey’s economy is also booming while Iran’s is suffering from inflation and mass unemployment, a factor which may also influence countries’ choice of government. Relations are further strained between Iran and Turkey due to their response to Syria’s uprisings. Turkey has called for an end to  Al-Assad’s regime’s brutal crack down on protestors and Erdogan has stated that Al-Assad will topple “sooner or later.” Iran, on the other hand, has a huge interest in Al-Assad’s survival as his regime is their greatest ally in the region.

These major differences between these two countries will certainly help determine who’s influence will most likely shape the new governments of revolutionary countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. As far religion and governance is concerned, however, it does not appear that any of the “Arab awakenings” resemble Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979 in a way that will result in similar Islamic republics.


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