Iran’s youth, ruled over by a long gone leader

Iran seems to have been looking for a way to return to the international arena ever since Hassan Rowhani became president

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

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On Wednesday June 4, Iran commemorated Imam Khomeini’s 25th death anniversary and celebrated the appointment of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader.

During a celebration held at Khomeini’s shrine, Khamenei once again shed light on the issues which represented great challenges for Iran since the revolution erupted - that is diplomatic isolation resulting from enmity with the United States.

Khamenei said: “The Islamic Republic did not break despite the West’s [efforts]...Iran’s challenge on the foreign level is the strife which global arrogance strives for - and let’s be frank, which the U.S. [actually strives for].”

His speech didn’t convey anything new except for his remarks to voice the regime’s struggle at normalizing its relations with the international community. What must be discussed now is the legacy Khomeini left 25 years after his death. We must evaluate the revolution under the command of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

When Khomeini died, Iran’s population was half its current population. New generations have no memories whatsoever of the late Khomeini.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Iran, during Khamenei’s term, is certainly more different than Iran when Khomeini established the Islamic Republic which toppled the monarchy of Shah Pahlavi. All that Ayatollah Khamenei brought to Iran since he came to power in 1978 was sanctions and diplomatic isolation which continue until this day.

No memories of the late Khomeini

When Khomeini died, Iran’s population was half its current population. New generations have no memories whatsoever of the late Khomeini. They have no memories of the terrifying darkness which accompanied the first decade of the revolution. The first decade was the toughest of years for the Iranians. Eight years of war with Iraq and executing great numbers of political prisoners may be the best of memories left by a regime that wanted to pave way for stability.

One of the most important changes in Iran’s history since the revolution erupted is that there’s representation of clergy in social and political institutions. New generations only know Khomeini by his face and by what they’ve learnt about him in schoolbooks. It’s thus hard for them to understand the period of his reign or to compare between him and Khamenei. For some people, Khomeini was a unique leader because - to them - he sought to establish a religious democratic state. Others however view him as a complicated man who destroyed Iran’s prestige and respect. The sanctions imposed following the hostage crisis, and the abduction of American diplomats for 444 days, weakened the economy and took Iran backwards.

It’s worth mentioning that Iran’s controversial nuclear program was born in the shadow of the supreme command of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The nuclear program came as another shock for the revolution and it dragged Iran into great unprecedented confrontations with Western powers. This posed a great challenge for Khamenei over the last 25 years. The economy has been completely paralyzed as a result of sanctions and Khamenei had to approve returning to negotiations with Western powers.

Return to the international arena

Iran seems to have been looking for a way to return to the international arena ever since Hassan Rowhani became president. It also seems that Iran is trying hard to end the controversy regarding its nuclear program. It has also adopted a softer rhetoric towards Western countries and particularly towards the U.S.

None of this can happen without Khamenei’s approval. Khamenei has warned of domestic conflicts now that there are high possibilities that Iran will soon sign a final agreement - that would put an end to almost ten years of struggle - with the P5+1 group. Khamenei said conflicts escalated due to American attempts aimed at “inciting strife among leaderships.”

During his speech on Wednesday, Khamenei did not mention any progress regarding nuclear talks. He only said that the U.S. will not make military interventions in the future. He also commented on the U.S.’s statement that “all options are possible” if diplomatic efforts fail to finalize the issue of Iran’s nuclear program and added that this is just bluffing.

What Khamenei said on Wednesday wasn’t very different from what the world has listened to during the past 35 years. The speech however carried simple signals for those optimistic about dealing with a different Iran since Rowhani became president. The supreme leader also confirmed to his people and to the world that no change occurred during his term and that it’s not possible for any change to happen.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 7, 2014.


Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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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