What Iran without Ayatollahs mean?

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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On Iran’s Student Day, students from various universities from all over the country took to the streets to protest. Disenchantment with the ruling Shiite clerics in the Islamic Republic is high. Iran has a very young population - approximately 60 percent of Iran’s 80 million population is under 30 years old.

This means the majority of the population was born after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Many are highly-educated, technologically savvy, secular, Westernized, as well as disaffected and disenchanted with the current cleric political establishment in the Islamic Republic.

They have aspirations for a representative, inclusive and democratic system of government where the Shiite cleric establishment plays no role in the destiny, major decision-making and political affairs of their nation. Many Iranians argue that a democratic system of governance will significantly improve their living standards, social justice, human rights, rule of law, and their global image.

This issue begs the question, what does an Iran without the cleric’s governing mean regionally and globally, from the geopolitical, strategic, and economic landscapes?

Better ties between Iran and the US would mean closer ties between the EU and Iran as well. Specifically, when it comes to trade and economy, European nations will find more reasons to rely on Iran’s energy sector (gas and oil) rather than Russia’s

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Any successful and fundamental shift in Iran’s political system would heavily reverberate across the region and the world; it would affect Iran-Arab, Iran-Israel, Iran-US, and Iran-Asia relationships. It would influence the regional and global balance of power.

Middle East: Israel and Iran-Arab ties

When it comes to its policies towards other Arab nations and the Muslim world, Iran follows six major pillars: Sectarian (Sunni versus Shiite), ethnic (Arab versus Persian), revolutionary (exportation of Shiite Islam), including economic, strategic and geopolitical parameters.

The interactions between these six pillars explain the heightened tensions between Tehran and other countries in the region.

In an Iranian government where the clerics do not control the political establishment, two major pillars of Iran’s regional policies would change; Sectarianism (Sunni versus Shiite), and revolutionary (exportation of Shiite Islam). Subsequently, this will alter Iran’s geopolitical, strategies and economic calculations as well.

When sectarianism and revolutionary principles are taken out of the foreign policy equation, tensions between Tehran and other Arab and Muslim countries will significantly diminish. Regional conflicts and internal wars in several countries-such as Syria and Iraq where Iran plays a critical role in directing and influencing the war- will more likely subside dramatically.

Iran would not see that it is in its best interest and national agenda to export Shiism to other Sunni nations, to project itself as a victim based on the Shiite theology, to resist, to rebel, and to compete religiously with the rest of the Muslim world. Iran’s priorities would not also be anchored in supporting, arming, and financing to Shiite militia groups and proxies across the region.

That would mean less interference in the domestic affairs of other countries in the region and less instigation of Shiite communities in Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Lebanon.

In addition, Iran would anchor and prioritize its relationships with other Arab nations based on economic and geopolitical interests rather than ideological and religious ones. It is accurate to argue that the old Persian-Arab rivalry might remain at some levels, nevertheless there is no chance that this phenomenon would lead to tensions such as the current ones, because Iran would still prioritize its national and economic interests.

When it comes to Iran-Israel relationships, one of the key ideals of the ruling clerics’ revolutionary principles is opposition to Israel, or the “little Satan”. Without the Shiite political system, Iran-Israel ties will more likely reverse into a strong robust alliance due to convergence of geopolitical and strategic interests and due to the fact that both nations have other common interests and similarities such as being minorities (Persians, Shiite and Jewish communities) in the larger Middle East.

Iran-US, Iran-EU, Iran-Russia, and Iran-Asia ties

One of the key foreign policy, religious and revolutionary pillars of Iran’s Shiite political establishment is opposing the US, or “the Great Satan”.

Without this crucial pillar of the Ayatollahs’ foreign policy- and considering the fact that Iran has one of the most pro-American and Westernized societies in the region, as well as a technologically savvy population that values advanced nations- Iran and the US will most likely build one of the staunchest geopolitical, economic, and strategic alliances in the region.

Better ties between Iran and the US would mean closer ties between the EU and Iran as well. Specifically, when it comes to trade and economy, European nations will find more reasons to rely on Iran’s energy sector (gas and oil) rather than Russia’s.

These factors will influence the current close ties between Iran-Russia and it will impact the Iranian-Russian-Chinese axis. In other words, Moscow will lose a powerful country in the region, which was in many ways assisting and empowering Russia’s stranglehold in the Middle East such as by undermining US influence in the region and supporting Assad. This will tip the balance of power between US-Russia and US-China in favor of Washington.

An Assad without Iran’s military, economic and intelligence support, would more likely mean a change in Syria’s political system, which would most likely strip Russia of its sole Mediterranean base in Latakia, Syria. In other words, Russia will lose considerable amount of influence in the Middle East.

An Iran without the Shiite ruling clerics, and without the mullahs and ayatollahs in power, will reverberate domestically, regionally and globally. It will not only impact the domestic and socio-political dynamics of Tehran, but will significantly influence Iran-Arabs, Iran-Israel, Iran-US, Iran-Russia, Iran-China relationships affecting the regional and global balance of powers.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and Harvard University scholar, is president of the International American Council. 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 [email protected], @Dr_Rafizadeh.

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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