A history lesson for Javad Zarif: Iran is greater than its regime

Nadim Koteich
Nadim Koteich
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Amid rising tensions between Iran and the US, President Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded with a short history lesson, saying that Trump “hopes to achieve what Alexander, Genghis & other aggressors failed to do. Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone.”

Zarif’s analogy calls to mind a famous one made by Saddam Hussein, in a speech he delivered on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Saddam urged Iraqis to take up the mantle of war against the “enemies” and vowed to defeat the “Mongols of our times,” who he declared would “commit suicide at the walls of Baghdad.”

To Saddam, it didn’t seem to matter much that the Mongol army, in fact, breached the walls and occupied the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258.

He was blindsided by the illusion of historical parallelism, and couldn’t be more embarrassed when the “Mongols of our times” found him hiding in a hole in a farmhouse garden near Tikrit, and captured him.

Aware that the balance of power is in the US’s favor, Iran’s foreign minister too appealed to historical parallelism in his attempt to undermine Trump. But like Saddam, he seems to be suffering from selective memory. And he resorted to Twitter, where the 280-character limit makes selectivity the rule of the game.

Zarif did not expand on historical facts. How could he, if Alexander III of Macedon, in fact, defeated the Persians and drove them out of Asia, destroyed the army of the of Achaemenid Empire and overthrew the Persian Shah Darius III?

While it is true that Iran endured, as Zarif’s tweet assures, the Shah himself perished along with his rule.

In the same vein, the Mongol conquest of Khwarezmia, led by Genghis Khan and his son during the first half of the 13th century, ended another Persian state – in the same series of wars that ended the Abbasid Caliphate. The Ilkhanate state was founded on its ruins as a division of the Mongol empire. Again, Iran endured, but the ruling political system has gone forever.

While Iran may still endure now, no one can say with the slightest confidence that its current political system will.

The regime in Tehran faces a set of unprecedented tough challenges that could bring about its demise.

While sanctions are already wreaking havoc on Iran’s economy, there are potentially more sanctions to come, as the Trump administration has alluded to several times.

Washington ended sanctions waivers this month for importers of Iranian oil. As a result, Tehran’s exports fell by half since April, reaching the mark of 500,000 barrels per day or lower. Turkey and India are the latest states to halt all imports of crude oil from the Islamic Republic.

Hossein Raghfar, a prominent Iranian economist, told state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on April 7, that 33 percent of the country’s population live in poverty, and six percent are starving. The Iranian Parliament’s Research Center published a recent report in which figures for the next 12 months show that between 23 to 40 percent of Iran’s population will soon be living under the poverty line.

President Hassan Rouhani admitted to the difficulties his nation is facing, telling Iran’s state news agency IRNA that “it cannot be said whether conditions are better or worse than the (1980-88) war period, but during the war we did not have a problem with our banks, oil sales, or imports and exports, and there were only sanctions on arms purchases.”

In fact, it is not banks, oil sales or imports and exports that Rouhani should worry about. It is the “revolution babies” who have weaker connections to the revolution and its aspirations than their parents- who took to the streets 40 years ago and toppled the Shah- whom he should worry about.

Youth is the largest population bloc in Iran, with more than half of Iran’s 82 million people under the age of 35.

As apprehensive as they are, they are hardly receptive to any propaganda by the regime’s elites- which includes narrative about conspiracies, divine victories and holy wars against their “growing number of enemies” all over the world.

A major orchestrator of such propaganda is Ayatollah Khamenei, who recently committed his own historical slip-up, where he referred to the revolution as a “miracle” that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic, much like when Moses and the Israelites “crossed the Nile”.

Well, Mr. Khamenei, according to the Book of Exodus, Moses actually crossed the Red Sea, parted by God to help the Israelites escape the Egyptians, after which they based themselves at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

While Khamenei and many of the regime’s elites continue to preach their propaganda and false information, social media accounts of many courageous Iranians stream thousands of videos to the world, displaying their daily struggles which include low standards of living, no freedom of expression and a failing economy.

In fact, no active party in the current showdown with Iran is calling for regime change. But young Iranians, alienated by the multi-dimensional, dire situation they’ve reached, are calling for exactly that.

‘Death to the dictator’ is a common chant used in Iranian protests today. It is a chant reflective of a revolution that died in the hearts and minds of many Iranians, for whom the regime only offers slogans and bravado.

Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the US, once said, “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.”

In light of what Iran is going through, Zarif would do himself and his country a huge favor by listening to Eisenhower, a man who not only knew history, but made it par excellence.


Nadim Koteich is a political satirist, commentator and talk show host. His show DNA airs Monday to Friday on Al Arabiya. He is a columnist with Asharq Alawsat. He tweets @NadimKoteich.

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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