Russia not aligned with Iran, say experts

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Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of US sanctions is “not strategic,” and ties with Riyadh are a priority say experts at the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate. (Emirates Policy Center)
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Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of US sanctions is “not strategic,” and ties with Riyadh are a priority say experts at the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate. (Emirates Policy Center)
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Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of US sanctions is “not strategic,” and ties with Riyadh are a priority say experts at the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate. (Emirates Policy Center)
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Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of US sanctions is “not strategic,” and ties with Riyadh are a priority say experts at the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate. (Emirates Policy Center)
Updated 12 November 2018

Russia not aligned with Iran, say experts

  • Moscow’s ties with Riyadh are a priority, speakers have told the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate
  • Russia recognizes that the two greatest threats to the region are “political Islam” and “Iran’s bid for expansion of power”

ABU DHABI: Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of US sanctions is “not strategic,” the chair of the comparative politics department at Russia’s MGIMO University told the fifth Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate on Sunday.
Russia remains committed to strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia and ensuring regional stability, said Dr. Oxana Gaman-Golutvina.
When asked about Russia’s relationship with Iran in the wake of Moscow planning to defy US sanctions and purchase Iranian imports, she said: “This doesn’t mean a lack of principle, and doesn’t mean Russia aligns itself (with Iran).”
Moscow is “disappointed” about the US re-imposing strict sanctions on Iran, fearing it will heighten its nuclear activities, she added.
But Russia recognizes that the two greatest threats to the region are “political Islam” and “Iran’s bid for expansion of power,” said Gaman-Golutvina.
Moscow wants to bring an end to the conflict between Iran and Arab Gulf states, she added.

“Coordination with Iran wasn’t very successful,” she said, adding that Russia’s coordination with Saudi Arabia has been “more successful” due to bilateral agreements in the field of nuclear energy.
Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, said: “Russia’s goals are rational, and I think they’re achieving them.”
Building relations with Gulf nations, especially Saudi Arabia, is “top of Russia’s dashboard,” he added.
“One of its key goals is to be a key player in the Middle East, in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and its relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
On the panel “Temptation of Power: US Policies,” the senior vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute said every American president for more than the last half-century had come into office saying he did not wish to be engaged in foreign policy in the way his predecessor was.
“The reality is, if you ignore foreign policy it finds you and grabs you,” said Danielle Pletka. “The world won’t let the US disengage.”
Dr. Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said in a time of “rapid and systematic global transformation,” collaboration between Arab Gulf states and their Western allies is critical in building a strong new order in the region.
“New dangers (such as) terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and climate change have appeared, new movements (such as) globalization, technologies and women empowerment have emerged, and new centers of strategic and economic powers such as China, India and the Arab Gulf are developing,” he added.
“We need to build a strong and moderate Arab center that takes on an increasing responsibility for addressing our common regional security channels.”
Saudi Arabia is playing a leading role in shaping a peaceful and prosperous Arab world, Gargash said.

“For this Arab-led approach to be successful, we must continue to develop our own capabilities,” he added.
“It’s critical that Saudi Arabia and Egypt play a leading role in helping to steer the region in a more positive direction. Their stability is so important for the future of the whole region.”
Iran’s role as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism was a hot topic at the conference, as international experts highlighted the growing need to combat Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region.
“Since 1979, Iran has been a primary source of sectarianism in the region, expanding its development and proliferation of ballistic missiles,” said Gargash.
“We supported Iran. We gave them a chance, but this softer approach failed. Iran only strengthened its development and proliferation of ballistic missiles,” he added.
“It has intensified its funding, arming and enabling violent proxies like the Houthis. It caused cyberattacks. It plotted terrorism, conflicts and assassinations in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. We need a new approach.”
Gargash lauded US President Donald Trump for walking away from the Iran nuclear deal.
“We need a common approach by all responsible nations, including our friends in Europe, to recognize the obvious need in standing up to Iran’s menacing activities,” Gargash said.
“There must be a new arrangement with Iran that addresses all the issues, not just the nuclear issues. This will be the first step in recognizing Iran as a true partner in the region.”
Dr. Andrew Parasiliti, director of the Center for Global Risk and Security at the Rand Corp., said: “Iran doesn’t operate in the realm of peace. They operate well in the realm of conflict.”
Dr. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, president of the Emirates Policy Center, said Saudi Arabia is a political, economic and religious balancing power, in addition to Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, as they possess human resources and other qualifications to play that role.
Dr. Sultan Al-Nuaimi, a faculty member at Abu Dhabi University, highlighted the UAE’s relations with Saudi Arabia, citing the Kingdom as a “leader” when it comes to shaping a prosperous and peaceful future for the region.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Nahas, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council, highlighted the important relationship between the Kingdom and the UAE in fighting regimes that sponsor terrorism, such as Iran’s, and tackling Qatar’s regional “interference.”


India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

Updated 06 December 2019

India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

  • The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Modi’s government gives overt support to Hindu nationalist causes
  • Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid

NEW DELHI: India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.
The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.
“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”
The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
Modi’s party won an outright majority in India’s lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.
Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.
Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India’s Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.
Muslims in India have often rallied around secular parties. However, after Modi won his first term in 2014, religious politics took hold. The BJP’s rise has been marked by the electoral marginalization of Muslims, with their representation in democratic institutions gradually falling.
The 23 Muslim lawmakers in India’s Parliament in 2014 was the lowest number in 50 years. The number rose slightly to 27 in 2019 — out of these, only one is from the BJP.
India’s population of more than 1.3 billion includes more than 200 million Muslims.
The unanimous court verdict last month paves the way for a Hindu temple to be built on the disputed site, a major victory for the BJP, which has been promising such an outcome as part of its election strategy for decades. The court said Muslims will be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land at an alternative site.
But the Muslim response has been far from unanimous.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, two key Muslim parties to the dispute, have openly opposed the ruling, saying it was biased.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a petition with the court for a review of the verdict. Its chief, Maulana Arshad Madani, said the verdict was “against Muslims.”
“We will again fight this case legally,” Madani said.
Asaddudin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders and a member of Parliament, told reporters in November that it was “the right of the aggrieved party” to challenge the verdict.
But another influential Muslim body, Shia Waqf Board, said it accepts the verdict.
It believes any further court procedures in the case will keep the festering issue alive between Hindus and Muslims, said the organization’s head, Waseem Rizvi.
“I believe Muslims should come forward and help Hindus in construction of the temple,” he said.
Swami Chakrapani, one of the litigants in the case representing the Hindu side, said both Hindus and Muslims had accepted the verdict, and “the matter should be put to rest now no matter what some Muslim parties have to say.”
For many Muslims, the verdict has inspired feelings of resignation — of having no choice but to accept the court’s ruling — and fear.
“Our leaders have no consensus and the community is just scared and helpless,” Aziz said.
Disenchanted with the attitude of the religious and political leadership of Muslims, Aziz said the community lacks a “unified voice.”
The divisions are likely to worsen as some Muslim parties start to lean toward the BJP, either as a result of pressure or in an attempt to gain greater Muslim representation in it. With no national Muslim political party to represent them, the community is likely to remain divided over its politics.
“The lack of Muslim representation in Indian politics will marginalize us more,” Aziz said.
Ahmad said the temple verdict could further inflame a dangerous perspective on religious communities in India which portrays Muslims and Hindus as hostile opponents. He said some Muslim groups use issues like Babri Masjid to maintain support, while some Hindu groups thrive on presenting Muslims as “the other,” resulting in greater friction between the communities.
“The fear is evident among the Muslims. The Hindu and Muslim religious elites, as well as political parties, employ this fear to nurture their vested interests,” he said.