Iran and its domestic front

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Despite the long history of hostility, countries in Iran’s neighborhood have never tried to change Tehran’s political system: first, because they perhaps cannot, and any attempts to do that would come at a high cost to all parties; and second, because foreign interference paves the way for wars and chaos, which nobody wants at the moment. Nonetheless, Iran’s policy lacks this kind of rational thinking. Since his first day in office in 1979, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini has voiced his intention to export the revolution to other countries in the region; in other words, change their political systems with wars and sedition. Till this very day, Tehran continues to promise revolutions.

Still, we can coexist with our neighbor despite its horrible, predatory political system, on condition that we sleep with one eye open at night, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. In fact, there are similar cases in the world. Take South Korea, for example. The peaceful, prosperous, successful state neighbors the evil, miserable, and isolated North Korea. For over 70 years, the two countries have lived in a state of non-war and non-peace, separated by a demilitarized zone. On either side of it, two armies, each armed to the teeth, stand ready to pull the trigger. Seoul lives in a constant state of alert: shelters, compulsory military service, and military preparedness are routine for South Koreans. Yet, they go about their lives with stability and prosperity.

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Like South Korea, the interests of Gulf countries are mostly focused on development and advancement; and like North Korea, Iran lives under a military, ideologized regime with a personality cult that spends most of its resources on military needs, but always has its eyes on its successful and rich neighbor.

However, the same Tehran regime that frightens the countries of the region is in fact scared of its own people: they are its Achilles’ heel. As the regime decays, stuck in an old box that it cannot escape, it becomes more and more reminiscent of the USSR. When the once mighty Soviet empire fell apart, it was not because of Washington’s nuclear missiles, but rather because of government mismanagement and a weak economy.

In Tehran, clerics run every single pillar of the state, be it the economy, services, politics, the army, or the intelligence. This perhaps explains the constant decline of the situation inside the country. Today, opposition to the regime, once restricted to opposition movements abroad and separatist minorities, has unmistakably mushroomed. Back in 2009, the Green Movement, sparked by reformist clerics from within the regime, ignited protests in various sectors and regions of the country, including rural areas, believed to be the most loyal to the Islamist regime. Recently, some of the regime’s closest associates, such as judges and prison wardens, joined protesters to voice their living, financial, and political demands.

Iran’s successive governments failed to manage the country’s resources properly, and this failure encouraged them to launch attacks and wars to satisfy their greed for external resources. This constant hunger for more resources is no longer satiated by oil assets, even if production returns to its highest levels.

In July 2018, Khamenei had big ambitions for Iran’s population, which he thought needed to rise to 150 million. Iran’s population stood at 38 million when his predecessor, Khomeini, took office as the country’s supreme leader in 1979, and it is projected to reach 84 million in 2030. Khamenei had once responded to claims that there is nothing wrong with an old population by asking: “How is that not a problem? The youth are one of the country’s most profitable assets,” and “increasing the population should be achieved with actions, not words.” Today, Khamenei, who seemingly ignores the basics of math and economy, cannot even provide enough bread for his people, 55 percent of which now live below the poverty line.

Even the lifting of sanctions cannot mend the situation inside Iran. The religious-military regime opposes the idea of socioeconomic openness, and because of its failures at home, its crises do not seem to be resolving anytime soon. Like all crippled totalitarian regimes, Tehran will invest in external wars to fund its budget. Iranian officials had promised to get back 10 tomans for every toman spent in Syria. But regardless of whether its military investments were indeed profitable, Tehran’s hegemony and threats to its neighbors will only increase with time.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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