The recent surge in Islamic fundamentalism has been a source of worry and discomfort not only to the Western powers but nearly to all the regimes in the Middle East. This has been particularly true in the case of countries which have vital interests in the area and whose technological development and daily life heavily depends on the availability of energy derived from petroleum. These vast oil resources are controlled in the Middle East by Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has the largest petroleum reserves followed by Iran and Iraq. Iran possesses the second largest gas reserves in the world, estimated to last for 1,200 years under the present level of global consumption. It has the most literate (82.3 percent adult population) and highly educated population of 71.2 million, much exceeding those of all the others combined. Its remarkable Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 286 billion with an impressive 6.9 percent (2002-2006) annual growth rate of real GDP, despite all international economic sanctions against it. [The Economist, Pocket World in Figures, 2910 Edition, p. 263.]
Iran is also a large country (1,648,000 sq km) most strategically located in the Middle East, having an extended border with the countries of ex-Soviet Union in the north, with Iraq and Turkey in the west, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east, and the Persian Gulf and sea of Oman in the south with control over all northern shores of both. Consequently, Iran considers itself the legitimate authority as the guardian of the Persian Gulf and views the presence of foreign powers as an infringement on its legitimate right. Iran believes that the Persian Gulf should be governed by the countries bordering it, the major authority being vested on Iran because of some 40 percent of shores and Straight of Hormuz, the only exit from the Gulf, under its control. During the last decade, Iran has been in the process of developing political and ideological influence among all countries bordering it plus those of Central Asia.
This unique strategic position of Iran has always attracted the attention of great Western powers such as Great Britain, France, Germany, the old Russia and then theSoviet Union, and for the last four decades, the United States. Presently both Russia and China have established friendly relations with Iran. France, England and Germany are trying to recover their pre-Revolution positions, though not their influence. The point is that there cannot be any plan to stabilize the region with the exclusion of Iran. This country has been and is the pillar of the Middle East diplomacy. It is a country that has kept its independence for nearly 3,000 years and by high cultural and intellectual heritage has been able to assimilate temporary conquerors into its culture and transform them. It has always resented outside influence and reacted until it is eliminated. Here are two recent examples: The nationalization of oil industries, controlled for over four decades by British interests and ousting them in the late 1940s. Ousting of Americans by the Islamic Revolution of 1979, who had come to the position of influence in 1953 by ousting the democratic government of Prime Minister Dr. Mossaddegh and reestablishing the dictatorial regime of Mohammad Reza Shah.
The point is that in any policy affecting Middle East, the position of Iran must be given central and prime consideration. Presently, Iran is governed by theologians who place importance in following the teachings of the Islamic religion. Islam is rich in this regard since it is not only a set of religious principles but a way of life encompassing from individual self development and purification to social interactions extending to the process of government. Islam in essence is a system of democratic socialism in which there is no religious hierarchy similar to those in Christianity. It is based on the individual’s own relation with the Creator, where human beings have important individual value yet are parts from the community and responsible for its well being.
Any kind of government that fits these characteristics of Islam is welcome by the Muslim society where individuals find the government and its policies in harmony with their own religious directions and beliefs. They feel at home and comfortable. This has been the secret of endurance of the Islamic regime in Iran despite its autocratic leadership. The support for the regime comes mainly from the farmers, lower and middle class, which altogether constitute some 85 percent of the electorate. The system is comforting to Iranians to see that their rulers do not live in castles with luxuries and privileges, but live like any other middle class citizens in a modest house and among them. There are no apparent corruption among these theocratic leaders in sharp contrast with those under the previous regime of the Shah.