Foreign Policy Blogs

Visiting Mousa in Abu Mousa

 

I recall having a hard time remembering all the Southern islands of Iran for exams during school years. I remember the name of “Abu Mousa” from those years. I had never thought about this island ever since. When I read the news about President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Mousa, I still did not detect the controversial nature of this official trip. It was only when I logged in Facebook that I realized, “Wow! Iranians are having a patriotic day today!” The homepage was flooded with maps of Iran with “Persian Gulf” in large letter fonts. People seemed angry, patriotic and ready to fight the Arabs to protect Abu Mousa against the claims of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Iranians are patriotic and do not want to see what is left of their “Persian Empire”  further shrink. The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), namely President Ahmadinejad, seems to have mastered the ability to trigger nationalistic sentiments in the hearts of even the most radical opposition groups. His recent trip to Abu Mousa and his speech for the small population (about 2,000 residents) of this island instigated regional controversy and domestic nationalistic romanticism.

But, why did he make a trip to Abu Mousa now? What was the purpose of this visit that Iranian officials called “a domestic matter within the framework of the President’s provincial visits”?

The most obvious reason could be that Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Mousa was for the neighboring Arab countries, friends of the United States and the West to yet again remember Iran’s regional power. This is of importance, because Iran is soon to participate in the second round of nuclear negotiations with five permanent members of the United Nation Security Council and Germany. And, Iran is naturally doing everything possible to enter these negotiations with an upper hand, hence taking all the necessary steps to exhibit its undeniable regional power.

Another less obvious reason could be that the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) at large needs the support and attention of even its opposition in the midst of the aforementioned negotiations. IRI and in particular President Ahmadinejad has been successful in displaying a strong degree of national unity surrounding the issue of nuclear program. To this end, the IRI needed to yet again show off the Iranian national solidarity surrounding a topic adjacent to the nuclear issue. So, Abu Mousa seems to have been chosen as an issue to spark regional tensions and to gently tap on the nationalistic sentiments of Iranians with diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Essentially, IRI needed another nationalistic roar from Iranians to set the stage for the upcoming negotiations.

While there might be many more motivations behind this visit, the stated reasons suffice to justify a trip of this nature. In his speech, Ahmadinejad noted that the people of this island, along with the government, should turn this island into the “stud of the Persian Gulf”. When reading excerpts from his speech, I could not help but to try and put myself in the shoes of the people of this island. Did they feel proud to have President Ahmadinejad as a guest to their island? They welcomed him. Would they welcome a UAE official visiting, too? Territorial disputes aside, how did one of those fishermen in the crowd feel? Did he feel truly Iranian? Did he feel Iran or the UAE should have done more for the island? Did this visit give more confidence to the fisherman?

In my search to find something, at least a little something, about the real people of Abu Mousa, I only came across an IRI Youtube clip that contained a series of interviews with children and adults residing in Abu Mousa along with a short tour of all the facilities built by I the government such as a hospital, university and an Islamic Basij building made in the aftermath of Ahmadinejad’s controversial visit. At least in this clip, the people sounded like most other patriotic Iranians. In their interviews, some called the “little sheikhs” in Abu Mousa as “the guests of the island” who should just remain guests without ownership entitlements. Among the interviews captured in this clip, the response of an eight year old boy named Mousa when asked about his home, Abu Mousa, struck me the most. While playing with the sand, Mousa said, “It has a sea, a park…”

Regardless of its small size and population, Abu Mousa does indeed have geographical strategic value. It is true that we now care deeply about this island and the beautiful water surrounding it all. Yet, very few of us Iranians could claim that we ever really thought about Abu Mousa. But, now all of a sudden we feel blood circulating faster in our body when we hear the name “Abu Mousa”; a small island whose strategic importance we seem to have realized. If not fruitful for Iran’s negotiations with P5+1 or for Iran’s relations with the UAE, let us at least hope that the controversial visit of President Ahmadinejad guarantees a more promising future for the fishermen who eagerly listened to him speak. Let us see who will provide that little boy, Mousa, with employment opportunities a few years down the road. Let us return to this island in some years and talk to Mousa again to see what he really felt in April 2012 when the whole world was discussing his little island. At the end of the day, it is a kid like Mousa—and not only historic and political claims— who should matter in such controversial discussions.

(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edyjFvESL8E

(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2012/04/120412_l38_iran_reax_uae.shtml

(3) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/world/middleeast/dispute-over-island-of-abu-musa-unites-iran.html?_r=2

(4) http://www.roozonline.com/persian/news/newsitem/article/-d6accd4b1c.html

(5) photo: http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/news/gulf-states-to-meet-on-iranuae-island-spat_6087

 

 

Author

Azadeh Pourzand
Azadeh Pourzand

Currently a program manager at an international development institution focusing on the Middle East-North Africa region, Azadeh holds a Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) and an MBA from the Nyenrode Business Universiteit.

The editor-in-chief of Women's Policy Journal at Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2009-2010, her writings have appeared in places such as International Herald Tribune, CNN International and the Huffington Post.

Born and raised in Iran, in the past years she has worked and studied in the US, Mexico, Argentina, Bangladesh, China and the Netherlands and India. While in India, she worked at a Mumbai-based foreign policy think-tank, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, where she co-authored a comprehensive policy paper that explored India's view of the Arab uprisings.

Azadeh is the founder and president of a start-up organization (The Siamak Pourzand Foundation), promoting freedom of expression for artists, writers, journalists and creative minds in Iran and beyond.

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