The United Arab Emirates is training a new batch of soldiers to speak Persian in a bid to smoothen relations between this federation of seven sheikhdoms and Iran, according to local media reports.
“The UAE has a relationship with Iran, a historical, cultural, religious and economic relationship,” Prof. Gameel Hussein, the director of military programs at Abu Dhabi University, told The National, an Abu Dhabi newspaper. “The students have to know the language and the culture.”
Dr. Nabil Ibrahim, the chancellor of the university, which is offering the bachelor’s degree, called it an acknowledgement of the importance of Iran in the region.
“Persian is the language spoken in the biggest country in the Gulf,” he said, alluding to Iran’s population of nearly 68 million. “It’s very useful for the students to understand more than just the language but the culture too.”
Iran and the UAE have had a strained relationship over the sovereignty of three tiny islands placed in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Both countries claim jurisdiction over the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs.
Despite the persistent tension over the islands, Iran is one the UAE’s biggest trading partners, with trade estimated to be worth around $12 million annually. The UAE is also home to approximately 500,000 Iranian expats, most of whom live in Dubai.
Musa Sharifi, a former researcher with the Centre for Arab & Iranian Studies in London, told Al Arabiya that he believes Arabs are now trying to create a form of balance in the relationship to Iran.
“The Arab world has realized what an enormous influence Iran has had on the region,” Mr. Sharifi said. “Just look at how many Arabic-speaking TV channels are broadcasting from Iran.”
“Tehran is really getting its message out there and the Arabs understand that they need to do something to keep up,” he said. “Unfortunately most Iranians don’t know very much about the Arabs. A lot of their perception is solely based on stereotypes.”
Robert Stewart-Ingersoll, an assistant professor of international studies at the American University of Sharjah, told The National that a greater understanding of Iran is crucial and can reduce the prospect for conflict and encourage collaborations such as academic exchange.
“Iran is not only rising in its influence and importance in the region, but it is also a state that is frequently misunderstood in public discourse,” he said. “This lack of understanding increases the risk of strategic missteps.”
“Sometimes conflicts cannot be avoided but too often conflicts occur unnecessarily because of misperception or miscalculation,” Mr. Stewart-Ingersoll said. “Understanding the culture, history and politics of Iran reduces the risk of such an occurrence.”
(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at: email@example.com)