Sun, Nov 21, 2010 | The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
Dispute About the Persian Gulf/Arabian Gulf Name
“Persian Gulf” or “Arabian Gulf”: another controversy in Iran around the gulf’s name.
The historic dispute between Iran and the Arab world over the name of the Persian Gulf has once again stirred a controversy this week, after the term “Arabian Gulf” was used at the opening ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. The term, which provoked strong reactions from Iran, appeared on a map of the Middle East displayed on giant TV screens for several seconds during the opening ceremony.
Following the incident, Mehdi Safari, the Iranian ambassador to Beijing, filed an official protest with the Chinese government. Ali Sa’idlou, head of the Iranian Physical Education Organization, and Mohammad Ali Abadi, chairman of Iran’s Olympic Committee, also filed protests over the use of the term “Arabian Gulf” (Fars, November 13). Several Majles members also protested the use of the term by the organizers of the Asian games. In a letter they sent to President Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Mottaki, the Majles members called on the government to demand that the government of China issue an official apology, and even to withdraw from the games if such an apology is not made (Fars, November 13). The Iranian protest prompted the Chinese PM to apologize to the chairman of Iran’s Olympic Committee and the head of the Physical Education Organization for the incident.
Following the incident, the reformist daily Mardom Salari published a particularly strong-worded editorial calling to ban the games in Guangzhou. In an article titled “Dealing with the distortion of the Persian Gulf’s name once and for all”, the daily warned about the increasing use of the term “Arabian Gulf” to refer to the gulf. The daily criticized top Iranian officials who were present at the opening ceremony, claiming that while they did leave the stadium following the incident, they settled for an apology from the competition’s organizers and did not react with the appropriate vigor to the damage done to Iran’s sovereignty and its national interests.
The editorial says that the Iranian people have proven that, in order to support the Palestinian people, they are willing to support the position of the regime and boycott competitions where Israeli athletes participate. There is therefore no doubt that they will be willing to do everything to defend the national interests of their country. The residents of Iran are willing to boycott the Asian games, so that not only the Arabs, but all the countries that support their fallacious position about the distortion of the gulf’s name, understand once and for all that they must stop using the term “Arabian Gulf”. If Iran remains silent over the latest incident, it will no longer be able to express its opposition to the use of the erroneous term, since the two billion people who watched the opening ceremony are unaware of the silent protest of the top Iranian officials and the apology offered by the organizers, and may come to believe that that is the gulf’s real name. Iran must boycott the games until the mistake is corrected, and demand that the correct name of the gulf appear during the closing ceremony (Mardom Salari, November 14).
The website Tabnak also protested the lack of a stronger response from the Iranian authorities, claiming that the Chinese apology was not covered on Iranian or world media. The website argued that this put Iran at a disadvantage against the Arab position on the issue, and demanded that the top sports officials provide the official text of the Chinese apology for the website to publish (Tabnak, November 14).
The name of the Persian Gulf has been a bone of contention between Iran and the Arab world since the 1950s, with Iran following an aggressive policy with regard to any element in the Arab world or on the international scene making use of the term “Arabian Gulf”. Among other things, in recent years Iran has been waging an extensive public relations campaign against the use of the term, which includes boycotting international bodies and publications that make use of the term, “Google bombing” the term “Persian Gulf” (i.e., attempting to influence a website’s ranking in the search results), and even hacking various websites where the term “Arabian Gulf” is used.
 In 2006, Iran threatened to boycott the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar if the game sponsors continued to use the name ‘Arabian’ Gulf in their official documents.
 Arab countries never challenged the name of Persian Gulf before 1960s. Calls for replacing ‘Persian’ with ‘Arab’ were first made by the Egyptian nationalist leader Jamal Abdul Nasser in reaction to Iran’s support for Israel. It has since gained a momentum of its own despite the complete reversal in Iran’s policy toward Arab-Israeli conflict after the Islamic revolution. Iran can argue that since the name change was a reaction to Iran’s pro-Israeli position prior to the 1979 revolution, the Arabs must show their appreciation for Iran’s pro-Palestinian policies after the revolution by respecting the name of Persian Gulf. (Nader Habibi, Al-Jazeerah, February 11, 2005)
 After the Iranian Revolution of 1979 some people in Islamic groups suggested the use of “Islamic Gulf.” The originator of the term Islamic Gulf is not known, while some people suggest that prominent figures of the early years of the Islamic republic including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mehdi Bazargan, and Sadegh Khalkhali may have supported the idea. The idea was quickly abandoned after Iran was invaded by its predominantly Arab and Muslim neighbor, Iraq. Saddam Hussein also used the name “Arabian Gulf.” (Persian Gulf naming dispute).