From past experiences in the Middle East we have learned that it would be naïve to expect political change simply because people in the streets rose against the actions of a totalitarian police state. In several cases, before and after “the Arab Spring” of 2011, people left on their own were unable to properly resist bloody suppression long mastered by such regimes.
Throughout the Middle East, totalitarian police states have never hesitated in confronting popular uprisings by bullets, and sometimes, by chemical weapons. Indeed, while some, citing its “democratic” nature, distance the Mullahs’ regime in Tehran from the atrocious actions of the likes of Moammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen, old and recent historical facts prove the opposite. Bloody suppression in Iran was widespread, just like assassinations, coups, “demographic engineering”, and uprisings of marginalized and maltreated minorities.
In fact, many violent and blood-stained experiences have been instrumental in creating the modern Iranian political identity. The decision made by the Safavids – although originally Turkic – to move their capital from Qazvin to Isfahan because it was better protected from the threats of Ottoman Turks, the displacement of Turkic tribes like the Qashqai and Afshars and their resettlement in southern Iran in the heart of Persian territories, in order to separate, disperse and contain them, were among the examples of the afore-mentioned “demographic engineering”.
Then, there are the systematic assassinations; from the era of Assassins (late 11th century), through the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, to the recent murder of the Kurdish opposition leader Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in 1989; in addition to the emergence sectarian and organizational “oligarchies” such as the Sarbadars of Khorassan during the 14th century.
Finally, there are the suppressed uprisings through the centuries of marginalized minorities, such as the Arabs, Kurds, Baluch and Turkmen; as well conquests and counter-conquests which have sown the seeds of hatred and feuds in several places at various times.
Given such a background, there is nothing new or surprising in an upheaval against Iran’s rulers. However, what is really unprecedented, since “the Khomeinist Revolution” of 1979, is the fact that the sectarian “legitimacy” the Khomeinist movement has claimed for itself, and used to conceal its nationalist aspirations and regional expansionist project, has fallen in the two capitals of “Khomeinism”… the two religious cities of Mashhad and Qum, of all places!
The slogans and banners raised in Iran’s two Shi’ite “sacred” cities have unveiled the true face of the regime and the IRGC (The Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards), its tool of governance and control. They have uncovered the last facades of a false “legitimacy” that has crossed, since 1979, all boundaries of internal coexistence and regional goodwill.
During the early years of the “revolution”, when it began “to devour its own children”, accuse its leaders of treason, and exporting its problems and illusions, many impressions and convictions disappeared; yet, some preferred to ignore all the factors which caused the First Iran-Iraq War.
Many, then, blamed an Iraqi dictatorship which had shown a lot of patience towards the Shah’s regime that dreamt of becoming “the policeman of the Gulf” and the West’s regional partner during the Cold War, but refused to show the same patience towards a “revolution” calling for the liberation of Palestine!
Many others also preferred not to think of the deep meaning of “exporting the revolution, and the Khomeinists’ attempts to monopolize “true Islam”, which would spread destructive strife throughout the Muslim world, not just the Arab countries. Furthermore, there were those who refused to notice the Khomeinists’ attempts to gain exclusive rights to the Palestinian cause; although the “Iran – Contra Affair” was more than enough to alert those who believed the sincerity of the “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” slogans that Tehran had other intents. These intents have been actually laid bare in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, in addition to the Palestinian arena, where Tehran has exploited Fatah-Hamas political differences to destroy Palestinian unity.
In the name of confronting Saddam Hussein, Tehran founded inside Iraq several militias which have now become “The Popular Mobilization Force” - along the line of its IRGC - in order to become the real authority in the country. Before that, in Lebanon, under the pretext of “resisting” Israeli occupation and “liberating” South Lebanon, “Hezbollah” became the only militia allowed not to disarm among all other militias which had fought in the Lebanese War (1975-1990). Today “Hezbollah” is not only in effective control of Lebanon, but is also entrusted by Tehran to fight on its behalf outside Lebanon, including Syria.
Noteworthy in this venture is that, while Tehran and Al-Assad regime have supported and used “Sunni political groups” in Palestine to divide the Palestinians, they have made the Syrian versions of the same groups (and?) the ready-made excuse to abort and destroy the peaceful Syrian popular uprising, and uproot and displace millions of Syrians, as part of the Iranian “grand vision” for the Middle East.
Indeed, this vision has not been limited to “the Fertile Crescent” linking Iran with the Mediterranean Sea, but has grown extensively to become a larger crescent, comprising Bahrain, Eastern Arabia and Yemen. However, in politics as in business there is no free lunch. The Khomeinist regime, as it gradually metamorphosed into a Mafia-like security-business system, in which the IRGC play a major role, had to secure enough resources for its destructive expansionist venture. Thus, it was inevitable that some segments of Iran’s population would be deprived of their fair share from these resources now being spent on the regime’s nuclear dream and expansionist occupations.
Ordinary Iranians, have thus become the victim the regime has short-changed, used as cannon fodder, distorted its identity and culture, and hijacked its future and dreams.
The regime’s strategists, as well as its IRGC and mouthpieces of its lobbies overseas – namely in Washington – have frequently talked about Iran’s interest in fighting its way to the top, as a regional and global power, outside its territories. Some specifically said that not imposing Iran’s hegemony over Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa would mean having to confront its enemies in the street of its own cities.
However, the vast majority of Iranians are ordinary people preoccupied with their daily worries. They desire honest living, and ability to insure decent income for their families that would shield them from poverty, hunger, and illness. These people do not necessarily share the regime’s “strategists” and their henchmen their expensive murderous projects.
In short, the Iranian people deserve a different kind of regime!
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.
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