Ali Qadi Askar, the representative of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, announced that his country had decided to revive a cultural program within the context of “Innocence from pagans” during the pilgrimage season of this year. Iranian “Innocence from pagans” aims to achieve one goal: Exploiting the pilgrimage season for political ends. Tehran understands very well that politicizing the pilgrimage season is rejected not only by Saudi Arabia but by all Muslim countries. Ironically, Iran made it clear that while coordinating its pilgrimage mission with the host country it intends to violate regulations that are respected by all. For this reason, Saudi Haj Minister Bandar bin Mohammed Hajjar preempted the Iranian representative by saying that the Kingdom would not allow any political activity or slogan to be raised during the pilgrimage season.
As usual, Iran is looking for a window to make its presence felt. This can help Iran — the official thinking runs — avoid its internal aggravating crisis. This type of attitude is always done by countries that suffer from internal decay and weakness. Therefore, it is a kind of grandstanding attitude to look strong when it is not. Tehran is looking forward to having weapons of mass destruction and to exploiting the rituals of pilgrimage for political gains. This is exactly what Iran is seeking to do through its “Innocence from pagans” politicized activity. Pilgrimage should not be seen as a political ideology but rather as a duty that Muslims must fulfill if they are capable of doing that.
Kingdom has always taken steps to enable Muslims to carry out the duty of pilgrimage regardless of their sects or countries. This is always done through coordination with Muslim countries to ensure a smooth and peaceful season of pilgrimage. In fact Saudi Arabia has an agreement with each country about the number of pilgrims according to a very well-known formula. Seen in this way, the Kingdom will do what it takes to prevent any activity that may stir tension and ruin the pilgrimage season.
Gen. Zahir al-Ubeidi, a very good friend of mine and the head of the Iranian desk at the Iraqi Intelligence Department during Saddam’s rule, told me that Iranians will try this year to create trouble during the pilgrimage and clash with the Saudi security personnel. In fact, a number of Revolutionary Guard officers will be on the Iraqi list of pilgrims using Iraqi passports. Others will be on the Lebanese list to stir sedition and chaos and to accuse Saudi Arabia of inciting and harassing pilgrims and of not enabling the Iranian pilgrims to perform their religious duty. Additionally, chances are high that Tehran will push pilgrims from other countries to create disorder or to protest against the Saudi security so that Iran will not be singled out as the only party to the conflict according to al-Ubeidi.
I assured Gen. al-Ubeidi that the Kingdom will fulfill its religious duty and will be patient in dealing with all contingencies but with close scrutiny to prevent any would-be infiltrator to do his or her tricks. This will be covered in the media in different languages and also the Kingdom will show respect to all Muslims.
Al-Ubeidi said that Iran is going through internal crisis and this explains the political irrational conduct. Iran is seeing its ally in Damascus doomed and it knows that its influence and presence in Iraq is temporary. He stressed that the Shiites of Iraq are not agents for Iran although it tries to brand them as such to drive a wedge between the Sunnis and Shiites. Al-Ubeidi talked about his attempt to reverse the situation in Iraq by working closely with a number of former security men to establish a secret organization to infiltrate the ranks and files of Maliki and Iranian parties in Iraq.
He seemed confident that a revolution will take place in Iran. This is not journalistic coverage but based on solid information. He said that they contributed to that revolution and that his organization had solid links with Iranian forces. He said that their real war was not in Iraq despite their presence in the regime and the authority. He argued that their support for Iranians and Syrians in their revolution is a victory to an independent and strong Arab Iraq. He pointed out that the United States dropped Mujahideen-e-Khalq from the list of terror organizations. In addition to that, other non-Persian ethnic groups are joining hands against the regime in Tehran.
I asked him about the speech by Iranian president and why was there a focus on Mahdi’s appearance. Al-Ubeidi wondered what kind of Mahdi will appear at the behest of Khamenei. He was also surprised at the talk about communication between Khamenei and the hidden imam by phone! He said that they may make up a story that the Mahdi contacted them on Facebook or Twitter! Commenting on Iran’s attempt to bring religion into politics in a very unwise way, he said that an average Shiite is fascinated by the idea of a redeemer. The state has been exploiting these metaphysical issues to lead people blindly. This image is taken for granted and at a face value and clergymen have been using this for ages to serve Iran policies. The Safavid Iran is trying to effect a change in the mindset of the ruling elites in Tehran by establishing a policy that is based on religious mythology and superstition. The issue is not about Mahdi but about the political employment of religion for different political ends. I tried to provoke al-Ubeidi and told him that his information was outdated and that he was a person with a biased position. He said that he was a security man first and foremost and that he was defending his country and was proud of being an Arab Muslim. He said that Iran and Israel are in the same basket. He also said that they had predicted the anarchy in Egypt and in Syria and that they are in the loop regarding the nature of forces that work in the region secretly or openly.
Commenting on whether there will be psychological and cultural changes in the Arab region, he said that people who know their strategic objectives and utilize the available opportunities to realize them are the living ones. He said that anyone who knows his target will not go astray. He referred to president Putin as a security man who believes in Russian national interests.
He said that Putin is not ideological man but he knows that the fall of Assad will lead to the fall of Iranian regime and will get Russians out in the street demanding his head. It is true that he has worked to restore Russia’s strategic respect and he knows that power is not only in having destructive weapon but in qualitative investment in human resources. Therefore, countries like Russia, Iran, Syrian fear the winds of democracy and therefore they will change from within rather than from without.
(This article was published in Arab News online on Oct. 7, 2012.)