Panel 5A

Iran in the World

11.30 – 13.30
Chair: Ali Ansari, University of St Andrews

‘Triumphant Liberalism’ and Economic Reform in Iran

Tara Povey, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

A dominant view of politics in Iran posits that the problems that have faced the country since the 1979 revolution are due to its ‘anti-liberal’ system of government and the domination of the country by religious hardliners. Liberalizing Iran’s political and economic systems is therefore held out by many analysts as the cure for the country’s ills. In this paper, I offer a critique of prevailing analyses of the Iranian state and political system. In doing so I question the assumed linkages between liberalism, particularly in its current guise of neo-liberalism, and increased political participation, access to political, economic and social power and increased rights for minorities and women. Instead of accepting dominant religio-cultural analyses of the state, I argue that over the past thirty years, Iran has moved from a post-revolutionary populism to a liberalized and increasingly exclusivist model of politics. Utilising a comparative analysis of the trajectories of economic liberalization in other MENA countries such as Egypt, I analyse the prospects of increasing access to economic and social rights and political participation under current and future liberalizing administrations in Iran.

Iran-Malaysia Relations during the Mahathir Years, 1981-2003

Rowena Abdul-Razak, University of Oxford

Every Iranian President since Hashemi Rafsanjani’s visit in 1994, has made an official visit to Malaysia. Most recently, President Hasan Rouhani was welcomed by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in October 2016. Malaysia established diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic in 1982, during the premiership of Mahathir Mohamed. Emerging from the 1979 revolution, Iran was keen to spread its brand of Islamic revolution but was internationally isolated. Through its diplomatic and political relations with Malaysia, Iran could emerge from its isolation, and establish its position in the non-Arab Islamic world. For Malaysia, building relations with the Islamic Republic fitted in well with the “Look East” foreign policy under Mahathir Mohamed, which saw the abandonment of close ties with the West in favour of relations with the developing world.  This paper will examine Iran-Malaysia relations during the years of Mahathir’s premiership, from 1981 to 2003, focusing specifically on the political and economic aspects of the relationship. I will begin with a discussion of the establishment of diplomatic ties. This will be followed by a discussion of Malaysia’s little known role as a broker for peace during the Iran-Iraq war. This study will follow a chronological order, examining each Iranian Presidency during the years of Mahathir’s premiership, drawing out trends and interests within the relationship. It is hoped to show that this period of Iran-Malaysia relations was crucial in drawing Iran away from isolation, while cleverly navigating Malaysia’s official anti Shi’i policy to establish a foothold in the Islamic world.

The Iranian Oil Nationalisation Movement and the Politics of Expertise: Public Opinion, Technocracy and Global Oil Knowledge, 1946-51

Mattin Biglari, SOAS, University of London

In this paper I challenge traditional accounts of an event often considered a crucial episode of Iranian nationalism: the nationalisation of oil in 1951. I move beyond a narrow state-centric focus on why nationalisation occurred by situating the event within the huge public debate that emerged about how it could be achieved, especially emanating from Tehran’s new middle class and expressed most forcefully in the press. I draw attention to how those discussing the issue drew on an empirical field encompassing a multiplicity of agencies, local and global, human and nonhuman. I show that arising out of the ‘knowledge controversies’ about oil, scientific and technocratic expertise served as the dominant form of cultural capital underpinning the push toward nationalisation, further embedding Iran within a global field of established oil knowledge. As a result, the agency of more subaltern and local actors, such as villagers and oil workers, became subordinated to more universalising global forces, especially the advice of foreign experts and consultants. Thus, far from being an instance of Iranian exceptionalism, nationalisation was important in aligning Iran with the postwar technocratic world order.

Iran: Out of Isolation, on the Silk Road

Marzieh Kouhi Esfahani, Durham University and Jafar Haghpanah, University of Tehran

The old network of routes that had facilitated trade and cultural interactions between Han’s Dynasty China (around 200 AD) and significant parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, has been a source of policy inspiration and development initiatives among the world’s powers since the end of the Cold War. While ‘development’ is a common feature of these projects; their goals, scopes and subject regions/ countries vary depending on the foreign policy and national interests of the initiating actors. Due to its significant geostrategic location at the Eurasian crossroad, since late 2000’s, Iran has been considered as an integral part of several major regional and international development initiatives, all inspired by the Silk Road history, including EU’s Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia, China’s One Belt One Road, and India’s Chabahar Transport and Transit Corridors. While each of these projects involve different parts of Asia; successful implementation of all these projects would turn Iran into an important cross continental transport hub; which consequently increase its regional influence, strengthened by already existing civilizational connections with many countries involved in these projects. The paper intends to have a look at Iran’s place in aforementioned initiatives and how this would possibly increase Iran’s regional influence.

Critiquing Memoir as a “Genre”: Intersectionalizing Lived-Experience of Transnational Iranian Women Writers

Shima Shahbazi, University of Sydney

Memoirs, autobiographical or life writings in general have been read as factual accounts of people’s lives which have been written from the very perspective of the subjects experiencing the world. Some critics consider women of colors’ memoirs as narratives of victimhood which get published by western publishers due to the political economy behind publications, some consider them as political accounts of refugee and immigrant lives which have utilitarian purposes, and some believe them to be critical micro-narratives of history attempting to fill in the gaps of the grand narrative of history. Regarding transnational, exilic and diasporic Iranian women writings, the memoir boom began after 9/11 with Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) and has continued since. So many of the scholarly writings on this literature have concentrated on the representation of identities and homeland in these works; however, the “floating signifier” of the Occident which feeds on a multiplicity of lived-experiences, has fashioned diverse epistemologies of the west, so much of which has been co-opted by the multiculturalism discourse to highlight the ideal, inclusive West. Focusing on Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad (2005) and Azar Nafisi’s most recent work The Republic of Imagination (2014), this paper aims to study the representations of the West and to question if memoir as a genre could be read as a binary which either critiques or contributes to the discourse of multiculturalism in the West.