Hoping that the Iranian government would suddenly become a constructive, responsible, and rational member of the international community on its own is unrealistic.
Fundamental changes from within the Iranian government, that would alter the revolutionary principles, are inconceivable. This is because the ruling clerics’ theocratic constitution has confined Iran with such unbending legal and social restrictions that change is made impossible, and the political establishment of the ruling clerics is becoming more and more incompatible with the standards, rules and international laws of the international community.
In addition, according to the Islamic Republic’s constitution, people do not have the right to change the fundamentals of the constitution; only the Supreme Leader has such a right.
Many politicians, policy analysts, and scholars have been arguing for a long time, since 1979, that the Islamic Republic of Iran will change for the better honoring its own citizens and the rules of the international community. However, history has forcefully shown that their arguments have repeatedly failed.
There exist ample reasons why moderating the Iranian government and a change in the Iranian government from a Shiite theocracy toward a democratic system of governance would be conducive and beneficial not only to the Iranian people, but also for the regional and global stability, peace and security.
Instead of delving into these reasons, which are evident and explicit, the major question to address would be: what are some effective and non-violent approaches to channel such democratic reform in Iran?
Standing with the Iranian youth
Iran has a large young population, who are disaffected and dissatisfied with the current political establishment. Approximately more than 60 percent of the Iranian population is under 30 years old.
The overwhelming majority of the population strive for a democratic system of governance where freedom of speech, press, and assembly are not suppressed. However, they feel that they are left alone, more than ever before, in their attempts to achieve their aspiration for self-determination.
Foreign governments or non-state actors need to send a clear message to them that they do stand with the Iranian people, and that they support their aspirations.
Words are very crucial for this objective. Words from people such as Nelson Mandela and John F. Kennedy led to people make fundamental changes. In this case, words from top-level politicians, institutions, or nations can be a robust tool to empower the Iranian people to achieve their goal.
The Iranian people and opposition groups in and outside Iran, with assistance and support from the international community, can bring about freedom and democratic changeDr. Majid Rafizadeh
Pressure from international community
Siding with the majority of the Iranian population also means parting from having close political or diplomatic ties with the Iranian government.
A foreign government cannot send a contradictory message to the Iranian people by stating that it supports their cause, but at the same time its politicians sit at the same table with Iranian politicians shaking hands and smiling. The Iranian people would view such act as a double standard.
There is an opposite correlation; when foreign nations show their friendship and support (politically, diplomatically, economically, geopolitically, strategically or in terms of trade) to the Iranian government, they are directly weakening the majority of the Iranian people.
Genuine support for the democratic cause favored by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people inevitably means excluding the Iranian government.
Social media and technology
Iran’s major social media outlets are owned by the government and they disseminate the ruling clerics and politicians’ propaganda.
Standing with Iran’s young population means supporting and facilitating access to technological and social media platforms. The Iranian government has become skilled in censoring social media. Nevertheless, more advanced countries can chart ways to bypass the Iranian government’s censorship.
Iran has a highly educated and technologically savvy society. Cooperation between Iranian youth and other tech companies can be effective as well. In addition, those Persian media outlets, which are not owned by the Iranian government and conduct real and professional journalism, should be strengthened.
Influential foreign media outlets need also to focus on giving voice to the Iranian people and groups that express themselves on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Human rights, international laws and domestic groups
Foreign governments should focus on Iran’s human rights violations of its own citizens, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities (Arab, Turks, Kurds, Christians, Jews, Sunnis, etc), military interference in other countries, sectarian agenda, as well as Iran’s breaching of international laws and UN resolutions.
For example, Iran ranks top in the world when it comes to executions per capita. The Iranian government is continuously being listed as the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Covert human rights and democratic groups inside Iran should be supported politically and financially.
Focusing on Iran’s egregious records of human rights violations and total disregard for international laws can indeed empower the Iranian people and put significant pressure on the Iranian government.
Supporting opposition groups
Finally, there exists a large number of Iranian dissident groups inside and outside Iran, which are connected and strive to bring about democratic reforms in Iran.
Unfortunately, without the political, diplomatic and financial support of other state or non-state actors, these groups would appear powerless in the face of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s paramilitary group the Basij.
One example was Iran’s 2009 uprising whereas the Iranian police brutally cracked down on the people, while many foreign governments left the Iranian people standing alone. It is crucial to officially recognize and support the opposition groups as democratic alternatives to the Iranian government, and to bring them under one recognized umbrella.
In closing, the Islamic Republic’s political establishment does not allow fundamental change in the constitution, and democratic reforms. The Iranian people and opposition groups in and outside Iran, with assistance and support from the international community, can bring about freedom and democratic change.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist, is president of the International American Council. Harvard-educated, Dr. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org, @Dr_Rafizadeh.