After toppling the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini succeeded in one thing - eliminating the strongest, richest and most successful country in the Middle East.
Khomeini established his regime on the debris of the modern Pahlavi state. He established a backward religious state with an old left-wing economic ideology. Iran was a successful model in the eyes of the West and it had advanced a lot compared to other countries.
Khomeini then disappointed everyone who supported him or who thought well of him. The youth hoped that the Shah’s successor will bring a complete democratic system. Ethnic minorities thought the Shah’s exit will end the dominant Persian nationalism and establish a unified Iran.
Communists thought the Shah’s successor will be their ally against the Americans who were the Shah’s allies. Meanwhile, the Americans thought that it was better if clerics, and not a party which the communists favored, assumed power as this will deter the Soviets who seized the neighboring country of Afghanistan.
They thought they can work with these clerics later. Arab masses believed Khomeini’s pledges to liberate Jerusalem from the Israelis, and Arabs in the Gulf hoped that the Shah’s departure will mark the end of disputes over islands, Bahrain and Iraq.
They were all wrong.
Youths paid the highest price when Khomeini assumed power. Universities were put under clerics’ management and women were suppressed. Leftists were the first victims of the newly-established regime although they supported it at Azadi Square (the Freedom Square), and ethnic minorities were restrained.
The Iranian people’s hatred toward the regime is real. Their feeling is greater and more dangerous than demanding cheaper bread pricesAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The Americans realized that the characteristics of the right-wing movement in the West do not apply to the religious right-wing movement in the region. The latter movement was more hostile than any other party.
Tehran limited its dispute with Israel over fighting over Arab zones of influence. Meanwhile, Arabs in the Gulf realized that Khomeini views them as his main enemy and that his permanent aim was evoke the old sectarian religious conflict.
Roots of the crisis
Those who think that the economic crisis is behind the people’s protests against the Supreme Leader’s regime are actually underestimating the more rooted and dangerous factors. The 2009 protests were bigger, and they were led by people from within the regime and by people who enjoyed livelihood privileges.
The roots of the regime’s crisis are related to everything I’ve mentioned above. For instance, the new regime eliminated all local powers and distinguished itself from the rest, and when it failed, it was easy for everyone to come together for the sole demand of toppling it.
Bread is not their only problem with Hassan Rouhani’s government. Their problem with the Supreme Leader’s regime is not related to oil prices. They actually oppose everything the regime represents. The majority of the Iranians are not religious and have national pride which they do not want marginalized by clerics.
Iran was more civilized and open during the Shah’s rule. There was more co-existence and its industrial and scientific fields were more advanced. It all evaporated after a bunch of “darvesh,” who think that their only duty is to exploit the state to serve Ayatollah, spread his teachings and fight for them across the world, assumed power.
The majority of the Iranian youths, who produce the best movies, recite the sweetest poems and hold concerts in cellars away from the Basij informers’ eyes, do not believe in this naïve and selfish ideology. For months, Iranian women dedicated a day each week to publish photos of themselves without headscarves to defy the mullahs.
The Iranian people’s hatred toward the regime is real. Their slogans at recent protests condemned supporting religious movements in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. This feeling is greater and more dangerous than demanding cheaper bread prices.
The enemies of the regime outside Iran are also many. Even those who show they’re concerned about it have disputes with it like Russia as there are disputes over several matters including dividing shares of the Caspian Sea. This will make Tehran pressured during the upcoming phase.
Iran will have to be politically realistic and it must deal with its citizens as they wish by putting an end to its adventures outside. If it doesn’t, the hateful majority, inside and outside Iran, will succeed at toppling it.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.