Which way will the protests in Iran go?

Ghassan Charbel
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The heat of revolts brings with it concerns. The victorious are delusional in believing that they have come to stay forever and that they have left a permanent mark on a country. The most successful revolutions are the ones that are ripe enough to merge with the state that could at least ensure that it receives a dignified farewell.

A revolution’s rejection of a state and its mentality means that a counter-revolution will erupt, sooner or later. The rejection means being eliminated with a fatal and costly blow.


The Iranian revolution acts as if it is not similar to other revolts. It is delusional in believing that it does not adhere to the laws of revolutions. It wrongfully believes that it can erase the signs of its old age and the disappointment of those whom it promised paradise. The Khomeini revolt refuses to stop and learn from the experiences of the not so distant past.

Six decades before the Iranian revolution, Lenin’s uprising rattled the beginning of the 20th century. It believed that it had achieved salvation and prepared to build the new type of human. It was delusional in believing that it will last forever due to the strength of the party and army, severity of the agencies, skill of its propaganda machine and might on the foreign front.

A revolution’s rejection of a state and its mentality means that a counter-revolution will erupt, sooner or later

Ghassan Charbel

In the last week of February 1986, Moscow hosted the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The world was waiting expectantly for the new leader. The scene at the congress hall at the Kremlin was impressive indeed. As a young journalist, I was affected by what I saw.

General Secretary of the Congress Mikhail Gorbachev sat in the middle of the panel. He was flanked by his allies from Warsaw and the Socialist camp. Countries revolving in the Moscow orbit. Among them was Fidel Castro, who came to pledge his allegiance to the new czar. Other communist party leaders were there, as well as generals of the Red Army and eastern Europe.

Everything gave the impression of strength. We are talking here about an empire that is armed to the teeth. An empire that possess a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world many times. An empire that sleeps on a sea of rockets that are pointed in all directions.

Lenin’s mausoleum

I told myself that I should take the opportunity and visit Lenin’s mausoleum that was only meters away from the congress hall on the other end of the Red Square. The queue was long, but I was distracted by an elderly woman, who was trying to persuade the people to buy a piece of soap. One of the members of the police quickly intervened and demanded that she leave.

We later found out that the police organized strict measures to prevent beggars from coming near the square so that visitors would not realize that Lenin’s revolution did not succeed in ending poverty. The police organized a parallel campaign to prevent the few opposition figures from carrying out protests in demand of freedom and ending the phenomenon of waiting in long bitter lines to obtain their daily needs.

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Five years later, the Soviet Union, which had lost the battles of economy and freedom, found itself without anyone to defend it. It collapsed under the weight of an empire that exceeded its economic capabilities. It was killed by the disappointment of its citizens, not the cannons of its enemies. During those days, the people wondered: “Why are we spending billions of dollars to fortify Castro’s regime instead of feeding the Soviet people?”

At times of rage, many declared angrily: “The steel of rockets does not satiate us.” Another lesson. This time from 2017. Chinese leader Xi Jinping stood at several platforms to underline reforms that helped his country escape poverty. Due to the internal stability and prosperity it has achieved, China is now progressing on the Silk Road and it is demanding a better position for itself among world players.

Rouhani speech

Hassan Rouhani was unable to deliver similar speeches because his efforts in his country were focused on paving a road to the Mediterranean through western Syria, which is littered with mines. Iran hoped that the new year would be one where it would be able to consolidate victories it has achieved over the years. Its power in Baghdad has reached a point where it has a say in the minute details of Iraqi life.

Its role in “disciplining” the Kurds was very clear. It could also speak of an achievement in Syria. The fate of Bashar Assad is no longer a main issue at any negotiations table. The Russian player disciplined the Syrian opposition before it then broke ISIS’ back.

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Iran is also banking on Lebanon’s Hezbollah and its allies garnering a parliamentary majority in the May elections. This will give it the excuse to place Lebanon within the “Iranian crescent”. In Yemen, Iran is banking on the continuation of the war and that it would continue to use the Houthis in a war of attrition with Saudi Arabia.

Iranian authorities have not hesitated in promoting these victories. The Iranians witnessed General Qassem Soleimani walking among fighters in Syria and Iraq. They saw his smiles after he was able to “secure” the Iraqi-Syrian border and ensure the safety of convoys in reaching the Lebanese shores. All these images, including those of Houthis launching Iranian rockets at Saudi Arabia, were not enough to erase the disappointment on the internal Iranian scene.

Weary of hardships

The Iranians, or at least a majority of them, have grown weary of daily living hardships. They suffer from a lack of services, rise in inflation and unemployment and depletion of resources due to the sometimes organized disputes between conservatives and reformists. They have grown weary of the programmed democracy that is orchestrated from under the cloak of the supreme leader.

They have also grown weary of not being able to reap the rewards they have been promised after signing the 2015 nuclear deal. Donald Trump has once again brought up the shortcomings of the deal and the nuclear program, putting Europeans in a tight spot. This means that the badly needed investments that were promised will not happen.

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The slogans that were chanted by the Iranians, or at least some of them, in the past few days reflected their weariness from the Iranian intervention in regional conflicts. They have spoken up against having their money spent on militias that are doing Iran’s bidding in regional hotspots.

The regular Iranian is now aware that his country’s authorities are effectively engaged in conflict with the majority of the people in the region and that their meddling is paving the way for endless wars. Add to this, Iran’s lack of acceptable rhetoric with which to address the international community.

It is too soon to tell how far the current protests will go. There is no doubt that the regime will not hesitate in using the same force it used in suppressing the 2009 Green Revolution if it saw a threat to its existence. It also certain that the protests are very clear popular messages that foreign “adventures” cannot cover up internal disappointments and “the steel of rockets does not satiate us.”

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan’s Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.

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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