‘Exporting Iran’s Revolution’: A pleasant euphemism for regional chaos

Mohammed al-Sulami
Mohammed al-Sulami
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In an article published on lobelog.com, “Does Iran’s Constitution Promote the Export of the Iranian Revolution?” February 27, 2018, Eldar Mamedov stated that “exporting the revolution” of Iran is essentially baseless allegations with no clear origin, denying the presence of any constitutional articles concerning this issue in the Iranian constitution.

In the same article, however, Mamedov contradicts this statement, writing that the closest the Iranian constitution comes to the idea of exporting the revolution is in the constitutional preamble in the paragraph, which states: “The constitution provides a basis for the continuation of this revolution both inside and outside the country to build one single nation in the world.” Despite these mutually contradictory statements, Mamedov justifies this paragraph in the constitutional preamble by asserting that it is simply theoretical and should be categorized more as a declaratory principle than as a straightforward statement. This suggests that Mamedov lacks basic knowledge about the general values and principles underpinning the Iranian constitution.

In another section of his article, Mamedov states that Iran’s constitution includes no “judicial order about exporting the Iranian political system,” which he says raises an important question about the relationship between constitutional provisions and judicial orders or rules of law. In fact, constitutional provisions are prescriptive and concern general principles while the rules of law change these provisions into bills, procedures, and policies.

From reading Mamedov’s article, it seems that he is attempting to retrospectively and selectively ‘reimagine’ the constitution to make it appear more palatable to external perceptions in defense of the Iranian regime. In another instance, he quotes a clause from Article 154 of the Iranian constitution, “Iran completely abstains from any kind of intervention in the internal affairs of other nations” – whilst omitting to mention the preceding text elsewhere in the same article, which focuses on Iran’s “supporting the just struggles of the oppressed against tyrants anywhere in the globe.”

Mamedov also dismisses that part of the Iranian constitution preamble, which mentions the “continuation of the revolution both inside and outside the country” and avoids reference to those sections in Articles 152 and 154 that clearly promote the principle of exporting the Iranian revolution. In order to ensure objectivity and impartiality on the observer’s part, if we are to give credence to Mamedov’s assertion that this “export of the revolution” is only theoretically implied and that the goal of the 1979 revolution was simply to provide moral support for the oppressed, we must disregard numerous Arab, European and American analysts’ understanding of the Iranian regime’s nature and the constitution’s provisions, as well as the understanding of Iranian dissidents, who have covered this subject in exhaustive detail, formulating diametrically different interpretations to those of Mamedov.

In order to assess Mamedov’s interpretation, we must analyze the statements by senior Iranian regime officials and prominent figures involved in the revolution, as well as examining the methods by which Iran claims to have exported its revolutionary principles, and the results of this export. It’s necessary to ask whether this dissemination of the regime’s Islamic revolutionary ideology has been solely intended to provide humanitarian and moral support or if there is a less wholesome, more expansionist objective behind this core constitutional principle. If Mamedov acknowledges these verified statements, will he recognize the conclusions which inevitably result from them?

To begin, the preamble of the Iranian constitution state, “People strive to build an ideal model society reliant on Islamic principles. Hence, the message of question that arises here in the constitution is to create ideological grounds for development and find suitable circumstances to teach people the highest Islamic international values.” This clearly indicates that the regime is aspiring to create a “model” society and state embodying the supposed Islamic ideal to inspire emulation. Indeed, Velayat-e Faqih (Leadership of the Jurist) doctrine, which is the foundation of the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran is quite literally the direct translation of this theoretical principle; the state is founded upon and centered on the Islamic Jurist’s leadership. According to the constitution, this model establishes an ideological regime and form of theocratic rule under which the powers of the Supreme Leader extend universally, bringing all the world’s Twelver Shiites under his rule. These universal powers which transcend all borders pave the way for implementing the principle of exporting the revolution on the ground regionally and globally.

The regular speeches by Iranian regime leadership figures make it very clear that the country’s clerical leadership has not only authorized military forces to spread Iran’s theocratic doctrine, but is promoting this at every level as a core component of its foreign policy.

Mohammed al-Sulami

Based on this fundamental defining element in the regime’s composition, as expressed in its own constitution, it is clear that Iran’s efforts to build and enhance relations with Shiite groups in the region are predicated on an objective of creating a global system of governance, with the Supreme Leader nominally responsible for liberating all oppressed peoples and defeating tyranny, as stated in the constitutional provisions. Indeed, the doctrine of Velayet-e Faqih does not recognize geographic borders, once again helping to endorse its principle of exporting the revolution, both spiritually and practically.

In order to fully understand the principle of exporting the Iranian revolution, it is important to examine the speeches and statements of the Iranian regime’s leaders, including the former and current Supreme Leaders who have imposed absolute constitutional power since the victory of the 1979 revolution. Until his death in 1989, Khomeini repeatedly promoted and endorsed the principle in numerous speeches. In a speech on February 11, 1980, Khomeini said, “We work on exporting our revolution to the world.” In another speech on February 21, 1980, he said, “We have to export our revolution to the world and abandon the idea of forsaking our export of this revolution.” On March 21, 1980, Khomeini said, “We have to do our best to export our revolution to the other parts of the world and relinquish the idea of keeping it within our borders.” On January 9, 1984, Khomeini again underlined the same point when he said, “Being Islamic, our revolution becomes more universal. To us, external activities are not for tactical purposes only, but part of our general policy and our main responsibilities.”

Mahmoud Taleghani, a pioneering iconic figure of the Iranian revolution, said, “Since Islam called for supporting the oppressed on earth, it means that this is an obligation for Iran because it is the home of the oppressed people not only in the Muslim world, but also in every corner of the world.”

This tendency in Iran has not been confined to the Khomeinist fundamentalists but has also been espoused by leading reformists within the regime, such as the Speaker of the Shura Council (Parliament) at that time of Hashemi Rafsanjani, who said on September 23, 1983, “One of our missions is exporting the revolution…it was normal that we exported our revolution to Iraq more than to any other country in the world because it’s the source of our inspiration.” Surely this and countless other statements by the regime’s leaders suggest that the legitimacy of the Iranian revolution, for Khomeini, his companions and the Reformists, was embodied by disseminating the revolution across all borders worldwide?

Meanwhile on the second anniversary of the Iranian revolution in 1981, Khomeini announced the establishment of an extraterritorial ‘international liberation army’ (the ‘army of 20 million fighters’) specifically for international missions, naming it the ‘Quds Force’ in honour of Jerusalem, home of the third holiest site in Islam, Aqsa Mosque. In his speech announcing the new force, Khomeini said, “Religion and righteousness must rule. We must not allow these governments to continue in all countries. We have to topple these unjust and treacherous governments.” That bald statement of the regime’s intention to topple foreign governments as a core component of “exporting the revolution” surely indicates that this is no hypothetical objective as stated in Mamedov’s article but is very much a real-world policy. The Quds Force is openly an extraterritorial force established explicitly to export the revolution by force, as clearly outlined in the preamble to the Iranian constitution.

'Purely theoretical'

The aforementioned statements and the regular speeches by Iranian regime leadership figures make it very clear that the country’s clerical leadership has not only authorized military forces to spread Iran’s theocratic doctrine, but is promoting this at every level as a core component of its foreign policy. Iran’s political and military leadership has not only acknowledged the regime’s intervention in regional nations, but openly boasts of its regional influence and control in Arab and non-Arab nations. This overwhelming evidence must make it exceptionally difficult for Mamedov to maintain, as he suggests, that Iran’s export of its revolution is purely theoretical. Meanwhile, the regime’s claim to be exporting the revolution as a means of extending moral support to oppressed peoples is strained to the point of wild implausibility by the alleged involvement of Iranian troops and militias in multiple crimes against humanity across the region, including large-scale ethno-sectarian cleansing. Iran’s claims to respect the sanctity of national borders are contradicted by its own forces’ disregard for these borders.

For example, the Commander of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari said in September 2012 that Iran had dispatched senior military advisors to Syria to support President Assad. Another senior officer in the IRGC, Hussein Hamedani said in May 2014 that Iran was fighting in Syria to defend the interests of Khomeini’s revolution, asserting that Tehran was ready to dispatch 130,000 Basij elements to fight in the Arab nation; Hamedani himself was killed in fighting in Syria a year later. The Commander of the aforementioned Quds Force, General Qassem Suleimani, said, in 2015 that the indicators of exporting the Iranian revolution were spread all across the region, from Bahrain to Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and extending to North Africa.

In January 2016, meanwhile, the General Commander of the IRGC, Major General Ali Jafari acknowledged the presence of around 200,000 fighters linked to the IRGC in five countries- Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Even before the beginning of the Arab Spring, Iran’s former Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, now a close advisor to the Iranian Supreme Leader on international affairs, said in 2010, “Our southern coast, the Gulf, Hormuz Strait, and Ajman are our most important strategic borders. To us, these are vital territories we cannot ignore.” The commander of Iranian ground forces, Ahmad Reza Bordistan, spoke at some length at the start of 2016 about the presence of Iranian army elements in Iraq, who he explained were working in coordination with the Iraqi government.

Mamedov also apparently failed to notice Iran’s mobilization of tens of thousands of military and non-military personnel in Syria, Iraq, and other nations, even this was acknowledged and even the subject of some bragging by various Iranian senior officials, with Commander Suleimani Qassem Suleimani appearing regularly on TV posing with Iranian troops and proxy militias on battlefields in these countries. How might Mamedov explain the announcement on August 18 2016 by the IRGC Commander in Syria, Brigadier Mohammad Ali Falaki, of the formation of a cross-border Shiite military force under the name, the ‘Shiite Free Army” in Syria under the leadership of Qassem Suleimani?

Mamedov might also be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing explanation of the distinctly non-theoretical deaths of hundreds of Iranian troops in fighting in Syria and Iraq in recent years, including senior military officers such as Generals Hussein Hamedani, Hamid Taqavi, and Sadiq Yari. Speaking about Taqavi’s death in Iraq, the chairperson of Iran’s Higher Council for National Security, said, “Had the blood of the people like Taqavi not been shed in Samara, we would have shed blood here in Iran.”

While Mamedov also claims to be unable to find even a single document proving the Iranian regime’s role in the establishment of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the open acknowledgment and even celebration of Iran’s central role in Hezbollah of the group’s leaders and their regular photo-ops alongside Ayatollah Khamenei and other senior Iranian officials offer irrefutable evidence of the symbiotic relationship between Iran’s regime and the Lebanese group.

The UN’s report issued at the beginning of 2018 detailing Iran’s violation of the 2015 Security Council Resolution 2216 which banned the sale of weapons to the Houthis, the late former Yemeni President Saleh, his son, and to all Iranian proxy militants in Yemen provides yet more extremely clear evidence of Iran’s region-wide ‘export of the revolution’ by military force.

In order to maintain his suggestion that Iran’s export of the revolution is hypothetical, Mamedov also has to disregard the 2017 letter from Ayatollah Khamenei, to the Iraqi Prime Minister, instructing him to declare the Iranian-funded Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) or Hashd Shaabi as officially part of the Iraqi army, which has now been confirmed.

According to all the well-documented statements, quotes and reports cited above, which are only a small sample of the available information cataloguing Iran’s massive military and political intervention across the region, it is clear that only by disregarding facts and evidence can one claim that the Iranian regime’s export of its revolution is theoretical. Whilst one might argue with the Iranian regime’s definition of revolution and point out that what Iran’s regime is actually exporting chaos and oppression, Mamedov can only maintain the fiction that the Iranian regime’s regional involvement is theoretical by ignoring the reality and discounting the regime’s own statements.

Saudi columnist Mohammed al-Sulami is the Head of International Institute for Iranian Studies and is an expert on Iranian political affairs and has received a PhD in the field of Iranian studies. He tweets: @mohalsulami

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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