LONDON: Iran’s alleged backing of sectarian conflict and terror is destabilizing the Middle East, with Tehran promoting a “vision of darkness” in the region, the World Economic Forum heard Wednesday.
Three Gulf foreign ministers took part in a panel entitled “Finding a New Equilibrium in the Middle East” at the forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, was joined on stage by his UAE and Bahraini counterparts, Anwar Gargash and Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa.
“In the Middle East, we have two competing visions: We have a vision of light … and we have a vision of darkness,” Al-Jubeir told the forum.
“The vision of darkness is sectarianism, it’s trying to restore an empire that was destroyed thousands of years ago, it’s using sectarianism and terrorism in order to interfere in the affairs of other countries so that you can promote this revolution and this imperialistic expansion, even at the cost of the wellbeing of your own people.”
Earlier he said the main challenges in the Middle East were sectarianism, extremism and unaccountable government.
Al-Jubeir said: “The solution is to make government more accountable … providing opportunities for our youth, so they can realize their hopes, dreams and ambitions, and you do that by opening up your society, by opening up areas for domestic and foreign investment, streamlining accreditation, making it simpler to operate and start companies.”
Asked by a member of the audience about KSA’s strategy in dealing with Iran, and its role in Yemen and Lebanon, Al-Jubeir said the Khomeini revolution launched a sectarian wave in the Middle East that provoked a Sunni reaction, and created extremists among the Sunnis in response.
“The Iranians sought to export the revolution, as it does not recognize citizenship. They believe every Shiite belongs to Iran; this is not acceptable,” he said.
Al-Jubeir added: “We tried to engage with Iran for 25 years and all we got was death and destruction in return. Our diplomats were assassinated, our embassies blown up, terrorist acts committed in our country. They recruited our citizens to cause damage in our country and outside.
“So when you try to weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon, that is a positive. Someone has to roll back their influence so Lebanon can become a normal country,” he said.
Referring to Yemen, he said the Kingdom responded to a coup that Houthis staged which destroyed Yemen’s path toward normalization. He said Saudi Arabia was preventing a takeover of Yemen by a radical Iranian/Hezbollah-affiliated militia. “We do not want Hezbollah in Yemen. The Houthis are 50,000 people, they cannot dominate a country of 28 million.”
A member of the audience asked Al-Jubeir whether he thought the practice of guardianship would end in Saudi Arabia. He replied: “Our country cannot move forward if we only avail ourselves of 50 percent of our population.”
He recalled that in 1960, Saudi Arabia had no schools for women, but today 55 percent of college students were women.
“In 1960, there were no professions open for women; now in the professions and business some of the top people are women,” he said.
Women could vote and 50 percent of of the Kingdom’s consultative council were women. The ban on women driving had been lifted as well as restrictions on entertainment, he added.
“We have to include everybody. This is the objective of our 2030 vision. We want to increase by many times the participation rate of women in the workforce,” said Al-Jubeir.
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