Syria is the shoe which didn’t drop. And I have a theory for that. The Syrian regime is authoritarian, no doubt, freedoms personal and political, are, of course, scant, it is a one party state, and the father in this case successfully handed over power to the son. So on one level it is a candidate [for an uprising]. And yet it has not. And what is the reason for that? Well, here is my theory: the government of Syria for a long time has pursued a policy of Arab-ness. Of Arab nationalism, of Arab dignity, of support for the Palestinian cause, material support, material support for the resistance, rejection for the foreign occupation of Iraq. And a refusal to bow before the foreign powers. This is the perception, and it is largely the reality, though the perception is greater than the reality. And I think that has somehow inoculated the Bashar Al Assad regime from the kind of events we are seeing elsewhere. Of course Syria is not the richest place, and there are extreme divisions between the very rich and very poor, but most people support the government because of its stand on Arab issues and the West. They think that Bashar is heir to a tradition of which they are quite proud. These may be famous last words, but that is my take on it.
I didn’t expect it to happen in Tunisia, but in retrospect, this is [Habib] Bourguiba’s revenge. He was the President from independence until Ben Ali overthrew him. Why? Because the most significant thing about the Tunisian population is that they are the best educated population in the Arab world, they are most sophisticated technically. Therefore their mastery, as a relatively large population of internet users, of Twitter, texting and modern means of communication [helped them organise an uprising], and they have an extremely high ownership of satellite television dishes.
I think the Iranian opposition, the Green movement, is big, but it is limited. It is limited by class, and by geography. The further from Tehran you go, and the further from the university campus that you go, the less the Green movement’s flag flies.
The Islamic republic, for all its faults, and they are manifold, can count upon the support of the majority of Iranians.
Most Iranians support the Islamic system, which is not to invalidate the case of the Green movement, nor is it to allege, as Ahmadinejad foolishly alleges, that it is all got up by foreigners, a CIA/BBC confection. I don’t believe that that is true. Eventually the authorities in Iran are going to have to come to terms with the demands of their young people for greater freedom.
I am not at all [worried that Iran might be developing a nuclear weapon]. They say that they are not seeking a nuclear weapon. Khomeini himself insisted that nuclear weapons were haram, not permitted.
The IAEA say there is “no evidence” that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon. But I have said many times — I present two weekly television programs on Press TV, which is the Iranian English language station — if I was them, I would build a nuclear weapon. I would share it with the Arabs, here in this region. I don’t see any argument other than racism that says that Israel can have hundreds of nuclear weapons, but Iran cannot have one.
What I do think is the Arabs in this region should try to have good relations with Iran.
Iran has not attacked any other country in 350 years. I wish I could say that about my own country. Iran must be one of the few countries in the world that can say that. And I don’t think they have any intention of causing difficulties for people who don’t cause difficulties for them.
Jordan is a very precarious place, not just because of its lack of democracy, but because of its ethnic mix, or more appropriately, its national mix. The presence of such a large number of Palestinians, the presence of 2m Iraqis, and the traditional Bedouin Jordanian population. Its location, strategically, with Israel as one neighbour and Syria as another, means that Jordan is obviously on anyone’s shortlist for disorder.