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By: Uzair Salman
Analysing the Consequences
This year marks 40 years since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, when 2,500 years of monarchy gave way to a Shiite Muslim-led theocracy. On Jan 16, 1979, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his family left Iran. The US-allied Shah, fatally stricken with cancer, would never return. Several weeks later, on Feb 1, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from exile in Paris. Within a matter of days, the army declared neutrality, the royal regime collapsed, and new regime was established under the principle of Velayat-e Faqih (governance of the Islamic jurist). These events – from revolutionaries in the streets of Tehran to blindfolded American hostages in the US Embassy hostage crisis months later – not only changed Iran’s history but also helped shape today’s Middle East.
In 1979, after decades of royal rule, millions of Iranians took to streets in a popular movement against a regime that was seen as brutal, corrupt and illegitimate. Protesters from all social classes demanded the removal of Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the country’s monarch since 1941. The Shah had long been criticised for his ties to Western countries, particularly Britain and the United States, as well as crackdowns by internal security forces on dissenting voices.
The Iranian Revolution was no less important than the Bolshevik Revolution. It was a genuine popular revolution that changed the face of the Middle East, the Gulf and the wider region, including Yemen on one side and Afghanistan, on the opposite side. Recalling those days still inspires us: scenes of comradeship despite the shortages due to long days of nationwide strikes, initiatives by ordinary people to run their communities and workplaces, mass demonstrations, resistance to sometimes brutal repression and the pinnacle of those events – an armed insurrection that overthrew the old regime of the Shah. However, the revolution did not end up as was expected. Due to this failure, Iran is standing at a crossroads where a deep resentment among the Iranians is more than visible and, Iran seems in a phase of transition.
If we analyze the world of that time, we find that the year 1979 was transformational for five countries – Nicaragua had its Sandinista uprising, Egypt had its peace with Israel, Marcos was booted out of power in the Philippines, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and waved goodbye to its colonial overseer, and Iran had its unique Islamic Revolution. Each in its own way has made a permanent mark, and ironically not a single one of these countries has settled down properly and been able to move into a state of political tranquillity, if not democracy. There are different reasons as to why this is the case, but in the case of Iran, we have the added dimension of politicized religion playing such a crucial part in shaping the state and state-society relations following the fall of the monarchy.
Islamic Republic of Iran is on a hamster-wheel and while motion is evident, on closer inspection this is, in fact, circular motion. So, since the birth of the ‘Second Republic’ in Iran in 1989, following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini (founder of the Islamic Republic and its first Supreme Leader) and constitutional reforms to create an executive presidency, Iran has had three attempts at ‘reforming’ its way out of the political and economic structural problems it faces. But, every time it has failed to do so because of the power of the extrajudicial forces in the country who have inhibited forward motion. Further, as the legitimacy of all political stakeholders depends on their acceptance of the given rules of the game, none can dare visualize a polity beyond the straightjacket of the Vali-e Faqih system. They are all prisoners of their own legitimacy dilemmas so the country’s leaders cannot move the reform of the system forward and so long as they remain prisoners of the system, they will be unable to address the country’s multitude of governance, economic, social, environmental and, of course, political problems.
The US sanctions are devastating the country’s economy and blocking its only lifeline – oil extraction and exports. While the government is trying to contain the effect of the sanctions on everyday life, the collapse in the value of the country’s national currency (the rial) has made life for an importing country like Iran unbearably expensive. This problem is being compounded by shortages of virtually everything, which is itself being compounded by hoarders, many of whom have strong ties to the regime. So the backbone of the country, its large middle class, is again under siege and losing social and monetary ground. If the EU’s ‘alternative’ trading system does not deliver, which is looking likely, then the country will have little choice but to deepen its eastward drift – towards China in particular, but also India, the Republic of Korea and Southeast Asian countries. Russia also looms large as a pseudo-strategic partner. Iran will increasingly turn its back on the West to the detriment of both sides, and draw closer to Asian countries, many of whose authoritarian regimes will reinforce the same currents in Iran. Ultimately, the sanctions will weaken the Iranian economy, prevent it from dealing with its core structural problems, strengthen the grip of hardcore conservatives on the country, alienate its youth from the West, and shift the country’s geopolitical focus.
Iran is stuck in transition because its political system remains inflexible and controlled and, therefore, unable to move forward. Moreover, its divided elite is caught in a permanent cycle of factional denial. The Supreme Leader, moreover, perpetuates the cyclical motion of the republic by blocking meaningful change, as was the case in 2009. Now, whether generational shift at both societal and elite levels will break the logjam remains to be seen. In the meantime, the republic’s transitional state means that it is going backward and not standing still. The economy is weak, the political system is corroding, corruption and nepotism are rife, and the youth have lost hope in a prosperous future. This is what the transitional condition gets you.
This state of affairs has profound implications for the country. Domestically, it puts all meaningful change on hold. So, by way of an example, privatization or broader economic liberalization efforts merely redistribute wealth and assets between elite factions, leaving the national economy weak and vulnerable. The sacred cows are not challenged and innovative ideas about how to move the system forward and out of its impasse are dismissed as treasonous whispers. As the boundaries of the transitional condition are controlled by the regime, elites and society bounce from one side to the other, without actually achieving anything. This is exactly the condition of President Rouhani’s presidency.
Externally too, revolutionary absolutism can trump pragmatism and prevent Tehran from making compromises for the sake of its future prosperity. They continue to use posturing as policy, which is in fact negative diplomacy. No one dares challenge the red lines drawn by the Supreme Leader so no meaningful progress on Iran’s role conception and policy behaviour can be made. Targeting exiles who might be involved in challenging the regime’s grip, or even perceived as threatening it, is another sign of the fact that foreign policy is still influenced by violent acts substituting as constructive diplomacy. When you are stuck, you lash out.
40 years of America’s failure against Islamic Revolution
Over the past 40 years, the presidents of the United States have tried different ways in contrast to the Iranian nation: to support the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein in the war with Iran to impose a variety of unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iran!
But today, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to be strong in its movement in the world. Undoubtedly, Donald Trump will be defeated like any other U.S. official.
Over the past 40 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has shown that it will resist the pressure of the enemies, especially the United States. Iran will not fail on this path. The message of the Iranian nation to Tramp is also very clear in this regard.
The president of the United States is having difficult days. It is now about nine months since Tramp left the nuclear deal. Trump and his advisor, John Bolton, thought that Iran would be willing to give the United States a great deal during this time, but the passage of time showed that the United States was isolated in confrontation with Iran!
The strategic and unjustifiable mistake of the United States President, Donald Trump, in his withdrawal from the nuclear deal and imposing secondary sanctions against Iran, is now discussed in different circles. Many western media and news sources speak of Trump’s terrible mistake in this regard.
They believe that by this decision, Trump was isolated in the international system, and failed to have other players’ agreement in cooperating with him to put sanctions on Iran, and thus failed to achieve his economic goals against the Islamic Republic. In other words, Western media and analysts believe that, despite the fact that Trump’s economic pressures on Iran are more severe than in the time of Obama, he will be less successful than his predecessor in pursuing his economic goals in confrontation with Tehran.
Trump’s mistake in pulling out of the nuclear deal and opposing Iran can be analyzed both politically and economically. Trump’s European allies believe that by walking out of the nuclear deal, the U.S. president, has actually put the principle of multilateralism in the international system under question.
The isolation of Washington in the international system has now reached its peak. So far, many American analysts have warned about Trump’s deterrent policies in the U.S. foreign policy and economics. However, by picking up people such as Bolton and Pompeo, Trump has shown that he isn’t basically paying any attention to these warnings, and once he realizes that, there is no longer any opportunities to make up for his mistakes.
Finally, the United States has been defeated by Iran over the past 40 years and the trend will continue in the future. Meanwhile, the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, will become one of the symbols of the country’s failure to confront the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution.