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Iranians and nostalgia for the Shah’s era

Practically speaking, there’s no revolution in Iran anymore. There’s just another repressive, security and political regime

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Ever since 1980, Iranians have celebrated Khomeini’s revolution every year. However, as time passed, the number of people who reject the revolution and who believe it was the worst historical setback in the history of Iran has increased. Year after year, more politicians and intellectuals who were involved in the revolution or supported it began to re-evaluate the experience within the context of restoring consciousness – an act which usually follows revolutions or failed changes.

As the Iranian Islamic Republic now celebrates the 36th anniversary of toppling the Shah, another prominent Iranian figure joins the ranks of those who speak out against the revolution. It’s Mohsen Sazegara, one of those who participated in establishing the revolutionary guards which were and still are the military elite of the revolution and remain the most powerful and influential forcey in the country. Sazegara regretfully said if he could go back in time, he wouldn’t have participated in the revolution, adding that toppling the Shah’s regime was a mistake which the Iranians paid a high price for. Most of those who changed their minds about the revolution are like him – retired men who don’t seek attaining any high-ranking posts and are not part of the political struggle. They are simply aged men who can observe the entire scene and evaluate it based on their experience and according to the end result of Iran’s current situation.

Any fair historian will certainly see how there were many defects and failures during the Shah’s rule. But the Shah – until his collapse in the 1970s – managed to turn Iran into one of the most developed and successful countries in the Middle East – compared to the Gulf, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. He turned the country into an industrial and military power and an excellent scientific center. The region’s countries thus viewed Tehran as a civilized model. However, zealot revolutionaries, from the leftist movement and extremist Islamists, deleted most of this history and rewrote it like Mao Tse-Tung did in China and the Bolsheviks in Russia.

To confront this increased nostalgia to the Shah’s era, those who defend the revolution and who believe in it no longer try to forge recent history. This no longer works, considering the people’s memory has been revived and that the millions of people who lived through in Shah’s era are actually still alive.

Excuses and blame

They therefore try to make up excuses for the failures of the past 36 years in the fields of development, living conditions, freedom and others. The remaining revolutionaries are blaming the West and the “hypocrites,” i.e. the opposition, for their failure.

These excuses no longer convince the people, especially that the regime reassures its audience that it’s negotiating with the West and is about to reconcile with its rivals! Freedom, democracy, improving livelihood and becoming independent from the West were the slogans of protesters calling for toppling the Shah in Tehran and its squares.

Today, three and a half decades on, none of these demands have been met. The circumstances Iranians are living today are actually worse than how it was during the Shah’s reign. The margin of political freedom has decreased and social restrictions dominated. Parliamentary and presidential elections have been limited to Islamists, rivals have been jailed and the only parties present are those who are affiliated with the regime. The situation is thus worse than it was when the Shah was around. The livelihood situation regressed, misery reigned and Tehran and the rest of major cities were transformed into remains of a city – just mere remains of what the Shah built. After its long revolutionary path, the political regime of velayat-e faqih turned against all its slogans as it is seeking relations with the United States and wants the American treasury to allow it to use the dollar in the rial exchange and remittance and wants the U.S. Congress to allow it to use technology for oil exploration and production!

Practically speaking, there’s no revolution in Iran anymore. There’s just another repressive, security and political regime which is crueler than the Shah’s. The only hope which the government and the Iranians have left is to achieve reconciliation with the West and become open to the world, like Vietnam, Cuba, China and Russia have done before them.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on February 12, 2015.

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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.

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