Column: Arabs losing ground to Iran in the lobbying stakes

Iran threatens Saudi Arabia, accuses it of creating rebellion
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

The world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism is pulling out all stops to ingratiate itself with Washington elites with an image makeover projecting their “peaceful” culture — and it is all thanks to President Barack Obama, whose deal with the devil opened a window for the first time since Iran held 66 Americans hostage for 444 days during the 1970s.

Now billions of dollars richer and with at least three Arab states under its sway, Iran is laying-out vast sums ($900m last year alone) to increase its influence with US politicians, influential decision makers and, of course, the media all under cover of “promoting friendship between the Iranian and American people,” indicates Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed in Alwasat News.

One of the main driving forces behind Iran’s dynamic lobbing efforts is The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) that used every contact in its black book to sell the US-Iranian nuclear deal to Congress.

NIAC’s founder is former Congressional staffer and author Trita Parsi, proven to be cozy with heavyweight Washington insiders as well as Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Javed Zarif. Their relationship might have remained under the radar but for a lawsuit.

Swedish-US national Parsi actually boasted to Al-Monitor that it was usual for US lawmakers to ask him, “Hey, how can I talk to Zarif? How can I have access to the Iranians?” Yet, he denies he is Iran’s man in Washington.

According to The Observer, the NIAC was created as “a balance between the competing Middle East lobbies” and “to derail America’s alliance with Israel, so the Shiite theocracy in Iran could infiltrate American diplomatic circles.”

An article in The American Thinker asks “Is Iran ratcheting up influence-peddling in American universities”, where “a network of apologists for the Iranian clerical regime already exists” and a new wave is anticipated.

The writer believes there are “scouts” preparing the ground toward the pro-Iranian indoctrination of US academia and he cites an “Iranian-controlled” charity that has funded dozens of Persian Studies courses in American colleges and universities.

Put simply, the mullahs are set on burying their dirty washing to don new clothes and are using friendship conferences, sympathetic (probably paid) journalists, American-Iranian public speakers and academics toward that effort.

Sorry to say they are being moderately successful at manipulating politicians to forget their past crimes against America and its allies using duplicitous speak to paint Iran as a benign misunderstood entity rather than one that oppresses its Sunnis and other minorities, stones women to death, hangs offenders from cranes and ignites regional sectarian turmoil.

Do not imagine for a minute that Israel is the prime target of the Iranian lobby! That is a scenario designed to appeal to Arab supporters of Palestine, whereas Iran has done nothing for the Palestinians apart from throwing the odd fistful of dollars in the way of Hamas and other resistance organizations. Iran’s main dartboard is Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, which are thwarting its regional hegemonic ambitions.

This threatening situation must be faced head on and I would strongly urge the leaders of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to devise a counter strategy as a matter of urgency. Iranian officials and their emissaries on US soil are slandering the Arab character and re-writing history in Iran’s favor, which requires an answer.

I would advise our heads of state to consult with prominent citizens to come up with a roadmap to include a task force of PR experts, writers, professors, academics and community leaders qualified to smash negative impressions about Arabs at US (and European) universities, conferences and conventions. I have numerous ideas and would appreciate being included in such discussions.

Hollywood has long given Arabs a bad rap using worn-out and insulting stereotypes in its movies. The corporate media is under numerous thumbs, which are mostly thumbs down when it comes to being positive about the Kingdom and its friends. In short, although there are Arab lobbies in existence, they are mostly small, ineffective and lacking clout where it matters.

It is time that Americans got to know who we are and what we have achieved over the centuries. It can be done. Just 30 years ago, the UAE was little more than a dot on the map that few Americans outside of the oil and gas industry had ever heard of.

We strove hard to build a modern nation and, yes, we shouted about our triumphs so loud that everyone took notice. This is what the nationals of Saudi Arabia and Gulf States must do to erase false stereotypes about Arabs, the Arab world and Islam.

I was pleasantly surprised some days ago watching a video of the legendary director and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola speaking with passion about Islam’s beautiful core values, graciousness and mercy. I was struck by his simple, heartfelt words. I felt Mr Coppola’s genuine love for this great faith. Where are the Arab Muslims who can reach hearts and minds to further understanding of Islam and the virtues of respect, family values and hospitality ingrained in the Arab world’s DNA? We must select the right people, good upstanding people, to represent us rather than dry career diplomats.

All citizens should be encouraged to see themselves as ambassadors for their country when traveling. I always do my best to give an accurate picture of the Emirates to everyone I come across while abroad but, as an individual, my contribution is a mere drop in the ocean. During this very sensitive and dangerous era impacting our part of the world, Arabs need to bring the superpower on side and especially at a time when the Iranian lobby is expanding its influence and Iran is fishing for international recognition and legitimacy. If we fail to undertake this important task now, the moment will be gone forever. Remember my words.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor – Arab News

* Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.

The article resembles the author’s own views and doesn’t necessarily reflect MEO’s policy