Iranian presence in East Africa: Goals, Tools and Prospects

EPC | 01 Feb 2020

Iran attaches special importance to eastern African countries. It conceives in this region a wide and fertile field for political, military and economic activities, particularly the countries bordering the Red Sea coast. The African continent has been a constant target of Iranian foreign policy since the independence of these countries. Tehran established diplomatic relations with the countries of the continent, but this relationship receded with the beginning of the Iranian revolution in 1979, and this weakness continued until the nineties of the last century, which witnessed some openness in Iranian foreign policy at the continental and international levels. With the coming of the reformist to power led by former President Mohammad Khatami in 1997, the Iranian regime tended to revitalize its policy in Africa, in light of the relatively open pragmatic policy of President Khatami’s government.

Iranian interest in Africa magnified during the tenure of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who placed the African continent on his foreign policy priorities, and put forward political, military and cultural goals for this issue. Due to the Western and American pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, Iranian foreign policy adopted a new strategy, through which it seeks to enhance relations with the countries of the African continent, with the aim of rallying African diplomatic support in the corridors of the United Nations and the Security Council to break the international economic sanctions imposed at the time.

Given the huge reserves of natural resources in East Africa, Iranian openness to Africa also included economic objectives. Iran sees that the countries of the region are conducive to marketing Iranian products and achieving economic benefits. It also devised an oil-for-uranium policy in Africa to ensure achieving adequate reserves of radioactive metal for its nuclear reactor. Iran has also sought to achieve cultural and religious objectives that include preaching Shi'a doctrine in East African countries, especially the Muslim ones, through opening cultural and religious centers in several East African countries. This has become the main feature of Iran’s presence in East African countries that are characterized by their religious social nature.

Nature and shape of Iran’s presence in East African countries

The nature and shape of the Iranian presence in East African countries is embodied in Iran’s diplomatic missions deployed in most of these countries, its cultural attachments as well as its religious, preaching and relief centers affiliated either to those embassies or the Iranian government directly. All of these facilities are playing the role of supporting Iranian penetration in the region. Iran’s diplomatic presence in the region’s states takes several forms:

1. Diplomatic Representation

Official diplomatic representation in East African countries is the main gateway for Iran to pass its political, cultural and religious activities. Iran has embassies and diplomatic missions in 9 out of the 18 countries in East Africa. They are: Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ghana. Iran has closed its embassies in Somalia and Sudan in 2016.

There are cultural attachés belonging to the Iranian embassies, and those attachments play an instrumental role in supporting Iran’s penetration in East Africa by exploiting money in spreading Shiism, through supporting associations, cultural and art activities, and participation in book fairs, and a variety of activities aimed at introducing Iranian culture, and impacting the poor and marginalized groups. The “Iranian Cultural Center” is the most important mechanism of this path of the Iranian soft power.

Iran didn’t suffice itself with the official diplomatic representation, but also sought to build bridges with regional organizations in the region. The Iranian government appointed Mohsen Mouhadi, its ambassador to Tanzania in 2011, as its representative for the East African Community (EAC), a organization that includes six East African countries: Burundi Kenya, Uganda, Ronda, Tanzania and South Sudan. Richard Speza, Secretary General of the East African Community, has expressed the desire and aspiration of the Community member countries to work with Iran to advance their cooperation.

2. Diplomatic Visits

The mutual diplomatic visits between Iranian officials and their counterparts from East African countries represent a key factor that confirms the extent of Iranian openness to the East African region. This openness began during the era of President Hashemi Rafsanjani, as his visit in 1996 was a pivotal event for the region. At that time, Iran was moving according to the philosophy of "building policy" launched by Rafsanjani. He, himself, made a visit to  Uganda during which he concluded several agreements for cooperation in the field of trade, economy and joint investments in Agricultural fields, electricity, water, minerals, oil, post, telecommunications, transportation and education. His two successors, Muhammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadi also visited Uganda. Such visits stand as evidence on the importance of Uganda for the Iranian strategy to accomplish strong influence in East of Africa. In contrast, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni visited Iran four times in the past 20 years, the last of which was in August 2012, when the Non-Aligned Movement conference was held in Tehran.

During the reign of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited Tehran in March 2011. At a meeting with  Ahmadinejad, he said Iran and Kenya have wide areas of cooperation, and that they are keen to enhance bilateral cooperation especially in light of the current global developments.

 In May 2012, Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi made a five-day African tour that included Kenya, Tanzania, and the Zanzibar province. This tour came up with the signing of three memoranda of understanding between Iran and Kenya with the aim of developing bilateral relations and enhancing joint cooperation between the two countries, in the fields of customs, electricity, water transport and reducing duality in taxation.

 In Sudan, the situation was somehow different. As a result of the sanctions imposed by the United States on both Iran and Sudan, relations between the two countries were characterized by rapprochement. The Sudanese capital has hosted three Iranian presidents starting from Rafsanjani through Khatami to Ahmadinejad. The Sudanese Minister of Defense also visited Iran in 2007 when he stated that Iran was one of the main arm suppliers to Sudan to counter the rebellions.

In Eritrea, the visit of Eritrean President Aisay Afwerki to Tehran in May 2009 represented new milestones in relations between the two countries, and the then Iranian President, Ahmadinejad, stated that his country wants to enhance cooperation in the fields of economy, energy, agriculture, industry and investment.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited several east African countries, including the Comoros, Djibouti and Kenya in February 2009. During  his tour , Ahmadinejad stressed Iran's desire to help African countries strengthen their independence and form a united front against Western influence.

Through the frequent visits of senior Iranian officials, Tehran seeks to find a steady foothold in Ethiopia It is supported in this by the economic cooperation between the countries which reached a total of $ 35 million in 2007, up from $ 19 million in 2004. The presence of former Iranian Assistant Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdullahian at the African Summit held in Addis Baba in 2015 is considered the most prominent manifestation of Iranian noticeable interest in Ethiopia, which resulted in agreements that included economic cooperation between the two sides. Iran continues to encourage its citizens to increase their investment  in Ethiopia to realize more cooperation between the two countries.

Goals of Iranian Presence in East Africa

Through its presence in East African countries, Iran envisions several main objectives. From among them are those related to the search for regional allies at the  international forums in light of the increased possibility of rendering Iran subject to international sanctions because of its nuclear program, and its attempt to extend domination over the Red Sea, which qualifies it to control the global waterways in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean:

1. Influence in the Red Sea

Iran’s ambition to reach the Red Sea and the African Horn increased in the aftermath of September 11 events in the United States, and the U.S move to re-launch the New African Horn project, which aims to secure global waterways in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean in a way that serves the American interests.

The United States has sought to secure access to sources of oil and raw materials in this region, by establishing its base in Djibouti in 2002 which guarantees America’s strategic control of the marine region through which passes around a quarter of the world's oil production.   Therefore, Iran sought to transfer the conflict from the Strait of Hormuz and the Arab Gulf to the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab. An evidence on this when Iran shifted  its interference in the internal affairs of region’s countries from the circle of secrecy and maneuvering, to the circle of openness and direct intervention and that is in line with its ambitions. Iran also strived to expand its control on the waterways in anticipation of any possible conflict with the West over its nuclear file; added to this its ambitions to open sea and land corridors that facilitate access to crisis regions in the Middle East through securing an Iranian presence close to these areas, and changing pressure cards for compromising in the Middle East.

Iranian interest in controlling the Red Sea is illustrated through the visits and agreements that Iran has concluded with two countries overlooking the Red Sea Djibouti and Eritrea.  Iran attaches great importance to these two countries because of their strategic location. This comes within Iran's efforts to build a strong base of influence in the Red Sea, because of its importance as one of the vital trade tracks.

During his to Djibouti in 2009, former Iranian President Ahmadinejad signed joint investment agreements with the Djibouti covering several projects in the energy field. The delegation that accompanied him also promised to provide assistance to Djibouti in the industrial and engineering sectors , with the aim of developing various projects in the country. In addition, Iran provided a loan to Djibouti, and offered it a grant to establish a "vocational training center".

2. Rallying Support at Regional & International Forums

Iranian interest in East Africa goes beyond economic and trade interests to reflect an Iranian trend towards building a base of regional and international partnerships that include regions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In this context, Iran called for convening "Iranian-African Dialogue" forum, which was held in Tehran on September 15-17,2010, with the participation of delegates representing more than 40 African countries. During the forum, the then Iranian president Ahmadinejad called for creating a new world order.He affirmed that Iran and Africa are taking one path and have common denominators, stressing that Iran's expertise and ability in the scientific, technical, economic, industrial, agricultural, cultural, health fields would strengthen relations between Iran and Africa. The Iranian foreign minister at the time, Manouchehr Mottaki, described the summit as an important step to explore new ways to enhance relations with African countries, describing Iran as a "strategic partner" for Africa.

 By seeking to consolidate relations with African countries, Iran aims to achieve diplomatic support at international and regional forums, and take advantage of the huge number of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to support Iran's agenda at the international institutions, especially the United Nations General Assembly, and various international organizations. Tehran entices, particular, countries that have tense relations with the West, such as Sudan during the era of Bashir, and Eritrea before the lifting of international sanctions, as this encourages the exchange of interests between those countries and Iran to challenge the Western powers.

We can note here the Sudanese support that the Iranian nuclear program has enjoyed. Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has declared that Iran's completion of uranium enrichment is a victory for the Islamic world, and provides support for Iran's right to possess peaceful nuclear program. Advisor of the Iranian Minister of Defense Amir Mousavi acknowledged that military cooperation between Iran and Sudan has been going on for decades, and is present at various levels, including training and military exchanges. He indicated that Iran had previously sent warships to Sudan at the end of October 2011, when Khartoum accused Israel of launching an air strike against the Yarmouk munitions factory in the Sudanese capital.

Eritrean President also described Iran's nuclear ambitions as "a source of joy and happiness for us." Iran is considered one of the few countries that have special military, naval, and intelligence facilities at the port of Assab and Massawa. It has installed dozens of medium and long-range missile batteries, anti-aircraft missiles, and ships in the port of Assab.  Israeli media revealed the existence of an Iranian naval military base near the Eritrean Assab port. Such media reports suggest that Eritrea has turned into a gate for Iran to get access to Yemen and the Houthis.

3. A Market for Iranian Industries

Given the economic blockade, and international and American sanctions imposed on Iran, East African countries have always been an significant economic outlet the country has sought to benefit from, either by importing African products, or exporting Iranian products to the African market, especially in the field of automobiles and medical equipment, as well as searching for a market for Iranian military industries.

The Iranian interest in exporting Iranian industries to Kenya has emerged since the era of President Rafsanjani, as Kenya is considered one of the most stable countries in East Africa, and an area of ​​guaranteed investments. In 2014, Iran signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya covering bilateral cooperation in the economic, cultural, health and tourism fields. It was also agreed between the two sides to form a specialized committee emanating from the Joint Economic Committee. According to the aforementioned memorandum of understanding, Iran announced that it is ready to set up specialized exhibitions and chambers of commerce in Kenya, and to export industrial products, agricultural machinery and spare parts, chemicals, electrical equipment and communications, in exchange for Iran's import of sugar, coffee, tea, corn and meat from Kenya

4. Smuggling Uranium

The search for non-enriched uranium is one of the most important catalysts for Iran to consolidate relationship with East African countries. A leaked WikiLeaks documents revealed that the United States received an intelligence report from its embassy in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, stating that a Swiss diplomat states that East Africa is a major transit point for uranium smuggled into Iran, as Congo uranium passes from Tanzania by two Swiss shipping companies then arrives to Iran.

The same was reported by the International Monitoring Group on Somalia in its last report for 2017, where it revealed the curtain on the shipments of weapons smuggled from Iran to Somalia via the Houthis. The report indicates that Iranian arms shipments to the Somali “Young Mujahideen Movement” are made in return for transporting deposits of "uranium" in mines located in the Somali Galmudug region to Tehran, with the aim of using them in enrichment activities within the Iranian nuclear program.

Strategies and Tools for Iranian Presence in East Africa

Iran is using several tools to fulfill its foreign policy objectives in East Africa. If diplomatic and cultural relations has allowed Iran to use its soft tools in the region, some political and security transformations has given Tehran the opportunity to use tough tools as well. For example, Iranian participation in operations to prevent international piracy off the coast of Somalia provided an opportunity for the Iranian military presence in the Red Sea and for a military approach to East Africa. Iran’s intensive activities in relief, charitable and educational fields in East African countries also facilitated the spread of Shiism in these countries, and influenced the social fabric of local communities, especially in the countries with a Muslim majority.

Iran is trying to market itself as a country defending the vulnerable in the world, and as an advocate for the countries under the sanctions of the United States and its allies, as well as a moral defender of the besieged societies, from Palestine to Sudan and Eritrea. Its stand in the face of the West and Israel grants it some tribute in the East African region. However, all this effort does not lead to a coherent strategy, especially after the fall of Al Bashir regime in Sudan, the fidget of Eritrea’s allies, and the entry of new regional players into the region:

1. Humanitarian  Aid

Economic and humanitarian aid has been one of the most important tools of Iranian foreign policy in East Africa. Iran has used two of its charitable institutions as a front for its activity in East Africa, namely: the Iranian Red Crescent and the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, to provide a wide range of free social and health services in many countries of the region.

The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee has run three main relief centers in the Comoros country to provide financial and living support to poor families across 320 villages. According to the Special Commission report, it has 22 educational centers in the islands, providing vocational training in sixteen fields for more than a thousand students. The committee supports orphans and the poor and provides them with a wide range of aid, including commercial loans and housing. Likewise, the "Organization of Islamic Culture and Relations" which works through the cultural attachés of Iranian embassies, is leading the endeavor of Iranian soft power in East African countries. There is also Al-Mustafa International University which trains foreign clerics and missionaries around the world. Despite the official closure of the Iranian embassy in Somalia on charges related to spreading Shiism, Iran has not stopped using the margin of humanitarian action to pass its agenda into the Somali country which is suffering from fragility and poverty. And that was through the Khomeini Relief Foundation, under the pretext of helping thousands of displaced Somalis affected by the drought in the African Horn . Iranian relief activities began in the aftermath of the famine that swept Somalia in October 2011. The Iranian embassy was coordinating these relief activities before it was closed, and among the most important relief agencies operating in Somalia are: “Imam Khomeini Relief Committee”, “Iranian Red Crescent”, “the educational attaché of the Iranian embassy “in Mogadishu and the Iranian Medical Camp. The Committee focuses on relief activities for the Somalis who suffered from  drought in terms of food and water distribution in the camps, to be followed by intense cultural activity to spread Shiism among recipients of this aid.

2. Educational and Religious Advocacy Organization

The "Organization of Islamic Culture and Relations" is one of the leading Iranian organizations in East Africa. It is coordinating various activities of the Iranian organizations in charge of religious and cultural activities abroad. These activities are carried out either under the name  of this organization or its affiliated organizations that run a large number of mosques and Islamic centers in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Iran opened a number of Shiite centers in Djibouti, headed by the "Ahl al-Bayt Center" in 2014. The Iranian Shiite activity has developed recently in Djibouti, and it has become a public phenomenon, after had been working in secrecy through the activities of the Shiite centers there.

In Sudan, Iranian activities regressed after the Sudanese government closed the Iranian cultural centers, summoned the Iranian Chargé d'Affairs, and announced the necessity for the employees in these centers to leave Sudan within 3 days due to their attempts to spread Shiite doctrine across the  Sudanese society. According to one government report, there are about 20 Husaynis in Sudan, the most famous of which are based in the capital, Khartoum. Therefore, it cannot be absolutely confirmed that the danger and consequences of Iranian interference in Sudan are over.

In 2014, the Sudanese and the Somali governments closed down Iranian centers in the two countries and expelled their employees. After the assault on the Saudi consulate in Iran following the execution of the Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, in January 2016 both Somalia and Sudan cut off their diplomatic ties with Iran. Sudan then joined the Saudi Arabia-led "Determination Storm" alliance coalition to fight the Houthis and restore legal rule in Yemen.

3. Military Training and Militia Formation

Iran provides training in the military and police fields in a number of east African countries, including Uganda. On October 14, 2014, Iranian police chief, Almedi Ismail Muqaddam made a five-day visit to Uganda, which resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Ugandan police, to enhance its capabilities to fight against crime. He explained that the memorandum of understanding "deals with various areas of cooperation, with regard to maintaining security and public order, and combating crimes." He point out that both countries are interested in supporting cooperation in areas  of enhancing technical capabilities and exchanging information. General Kali Kaihor, Inspector General of the Ugandan Police, stated that Uganda requested from Iran to train the Ugandan police in combating terrorism, and the crime that is increasing to threaten regional security. Iran agreed with Uganda to train and equip Ugandan police force and build a $ 1.5 million medical center to provide medical services to police officers.

In 1992, Sudan received an about 2,000 people from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and some military advisers to train the Sudan People's Defense Forces. Iran also provided Sudan with military aid estimated at $20 million including ammunition, weapons, artillery pieces, and anti-aircraft batteries. In 1993, Iran also provided armored vehicles, heavy artillery, and radar equipment to Khartoum. During the era of President Ahmadinejad, bilateral cooperation increased between Sudan and Iran, to include nuclear, economic and military issues, and Iran even announced its desire to train, finance and supply the Sudanese army. The two countries signed a military cooperation agreement, under which Tehran pledged to train the Sudanese at the hands of Iranian army officers.

A diplomatic crisis erupted between Iran and Kenya in 2012, when the Kenyan authorities arrested two Iranians for possessing 15 kilograms of sophisticated explosives. Ahmad Abu Al-Fathi Mohammed and Sayed Mansour Mousavi were planning to attack Kenyan, Israeli and American targets. Kenyan security sources said that the two men were members of Al-Quds Force which is affiliated to the “Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps".

In November 2016, two people named Sayyed Nasrallah Ibrahimi and Abd al-Hussein Gholi Safai visited the terrorists held in Kamiti Prison, near Nairobi. Iran claimed they were lawyers. Shortly after that, the Kenyan authorities arrested the Iranian visitors at a time when they were trying to find a way to smuggle the imprisoned Al Quds Force members, while they were taking pictures of Western diplomatic sites in the capital, Nairobi. Kenyan media reported the incident and its details, and indicated that the local authorities arrested the Iranian ambassador in the country, after surveillance cameras showed him trying, through his communication with Kenyan officials, to smuggle "Revolutionary Guards" members Ahmed Abu Al-Fathi Muhammad and SayyedMansour Mousavi, who are accused of terrorist issues.

4. Participating in Protecting the Red Sea.Security

The increased danger posed by pirates on ships crossing into the Gulf of Aden necessitated an unprecedented international response. A number of countries and multinational corporations have deployed naval forces in the region to confront the danger of piracy. The Security Council has adopted many resolutions calling on governments and regional security organizations to take the necessary measures to confront regional piracy.

The Iranian government voiced its intention to send warships to counter piracy. In October 2012, two Iranian warships docked at the Sudanese port of Port Sudan. The ships had been moving in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea since September 2012 as part of Iran's participation in the international maritime efforts to overcome Somali piracy. These visits marked the beginning of Iranian naval moves to explore opportunities for intervention and engagement in various East African coasts and ports.

 Iran's position on the map of regional and international influence in East Africaّ

The United States is considered one of the biggest international actors in the East African region, and Washington has strategic relations with the countries of the region and enjoys influential military presence. It established the Camp Lemonie base and the Djibouti base on the pretext of preserving its commercial interests and combating pirate attacks. The U.S also established a military base in Somalia. This military presence was reinforced by the bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 which prompted the United States to search for a vital military and intelligence presence in the East African region.

China is competing with the United States  in having presence in this region, and it also has an influential military presence thanks to the establishment of a naval base in Djibouti, only a few miles from its American counterpart. Chinese interest in the region was strengthened after the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing intensified its economic, trade and investment cooperation with East African countries, especially those overlooking the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. It also established the "China-Africa Cooperation Forum" in 2000 which holds an annual meeting attended by many African presidents.

Russia is also attempting to reshape the "map of influence" in the East African region, in coordination and cooperation with countries like Turkey, China and Iran. Russia seeks to develop its military presence through peacekeeping operations in the region, and enhancing  its diplomatic representation by appointing new ambassadors. It has also established  an "annual forum for Russian-African dialogue".

Over the past few decades, Israel has worked to penetrate into East African countries with political and economic agendas and with the aim of monitoring the movements of extremist organizations, confronting the Iranian expansion, and strengthening its economic partnership in the region. The depth of the Israeli presence was confirmed after the historic visit of Israeli Prime Minister to four countries in East Africa: Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda on July 4, 2016, and the opening of Israeli development offices in these countries, as he accompanied with him a large number of Israeli businessmen.

As for the Gulf, the Saudi Arabia-led military intervention against the Houthis in Yemen was a new strategy. Saudi Arabia has sought to cordon off the danger Iran’s expansion and its support to the Houthi militias. This prompted Saudi Arabia to negotiate with Djibouti, to establish a military base to uses to control the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, and to curb Iranian ambitions or military actions.

The Gulf crisis which broke out in May 2017 has, to some extent , reshaped balances of power in the East African region, where various parties have confirmed the ability to be present in the global sea lanes in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Qatar’s interest in the region was confirmed by the visit of Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan in April 2017. The visit reflected the importance of East Africa as a region for Doha's political and investment influence, especially in energy, agricultural and mining projects. On August 19, 2019, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman visited Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, with the aim of enhancing the Qatari presence in thEse countries. He signed several joint agreements that include including building roads and a new sea port in the Somali city of Hebia.

The Qatari presence in East Africa is complemented with the Turkish presence in Somalia, as well as the Iranian presence but with a lesser degree. In Somalia, Turkey has its largest military base abroad. The Turkish foreign policy priorities in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean regions take on intricate relations with the United States and the commercialization of Turkey's own model of political Islam. Turkey’s interest in East Africa ranks lower than its interest in the Middle East and North Africa regions, but it remains linked to a broader strategic context there so that Turkey's moves in East Africa can be seen as evidence on complementarity with the Iranian role in promoting the agenda of political Islam.

Future Prospects of Iranian Influence in East Africa

An appropriate assessment of Iran's ambitions, and its influence in the East African region, requires varied approaches - near, medium, and long-term. It is noticeable that East African countries are a matter of high priority in Tehran's foreign policy. The influence of Iran in East Africa is increasingly seen in the region and the world as linked to the export of the Iranian revolutionary model and the Iranian version of Shiism and political Islam. This has led to a surge of concern and focus on the Iranian role in the region, especially from neighboring regional competitors such as the Arab Gulf states, and Israel. This would reduce the advantage that Tehran was enjoying in the region, as a result of these countries’ competition with Iranian influence and their efforts to contain it which also received American encouragement and support. Nevertheless, the importance of Iran's political and economic investments in East African countries should not be underestimated, nor should the importance of Iran's continued presence there, due to the broad geopolitical context that makes the Iranian role in the East African region complementary with the Turkish-Qatari role and cooperative pretty much with the Chinese-Russian role.

 Despite all of the obstacles facing Iran in East Africa, especially in Sudan, Kenya and Somalia, yet Iranian institutions are still going on in their various activities in those countries. For example, the number of Somali students studying in Iranian universities at the expense of the Islamic Republic has reached 950 students during the past two years, and other numbers of students are enrolled in Iranian religious schools and Shiite seminary in several countries.

There is no doubt that soft Iranian diplomacy has managed to achieve relative successes in spreading the Shiite doctrine in East African countries; as it takes advantage of the grants offered by its universities to find a foothold to the extent that countries like the Comoros did not know anything but the Sunni doctrine until the middle of the past decade when President Ahmed Abdullah Sami came to power. He has studied in Iran for years until he was called "Ayatollah" and succeeded in spreading Shiism in the Comoros, until the number of adherents of the Shiite sect reached 5 thousand people by the end of 2011, according to semi-official statistics. It is a role nominated to continue during the coming years, since it is likely that Tehran will receive more support as a result of the growing Turkish and Qatari presence which both integrate with the Iranian role in the region.


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