Saturday, 2 January 2010

Oppression of Iranian Regime Destroys Its Aura

Raghida Dergham

The news from Iran is still in the limelight both in the region and in the world at large, and will continue to be so for some time, given that this internal affair has become an international issue, and since the regime in Tehran has been shaken, while its aura, stature and the absolute powers given to the Supreme Leader seem to have collapsed. Thus, the patience battle has started within Iran between reformists and hardliners, both of whom coming from a social fabric and political acumen that uses patience as a strategy and as a tactic, which in turn is an indication that this battle will drag on. Also, it is now too late for any compromises that may have months ago occurred to the senior officials in the regime, most importantly Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, such as offering Ahmadinejad as a scapegoat in order to put out the fire of the reformist revolution, or “coup” as the word also means in Persian. The page has thus been turned on the idea of the “grand bargain”, whereby the United States, Europe and the rest of world recognize the legitimacy of the ruling regime in Tehran, and offer the latter reassurances and guarantees of not supporting those who challenge the regime or rise up against it.

The Iranian leadership’s panic then manifested itself through the oppression by the militias and their brutality against the civilians, while terror was evident on the faces of extremist mullahs and of those individuals who are holding on to the idea of the religious-military monopoly of power in the country.

Moreover, the hitherto overwhelming self-confidence has also been shaken because of economic reasons, amidst the expectations of a large budget deficit that would tie the hands of the regime in what regards its regional ambitions from Iraq, to Palestine and Lebanon, and which would also hinder Tehran’s regional strategy as a result of its inability to spent as it did in the past.

Furthermore, the question of imposing further international sanctions against Iran has now entered the implementation stage, as a result of the regime’s irresponsiveness to the “carrot” offered in what regards the nuclear issue and the regime’s insistence on rendering any compromise impossible. As such, these sanctions will be extremely detrimental and harmful to the regime, no matter how hard the latter is trying to give the impression that these sanctions will have no effect, and that it is now impractical to carry on with imposing further sanctions, regardless of Iran’s domestic strife, or in waiting until the picture becomes clearer in what pertains to the current round of the confrontation in Iran.

As the world has been observing Iran’s neighbouring region, in light of the internal developments in Iran and the effects these may have in regional issues, the role of Saudi Arabia and Turkey came into the forefront, while attention turned to how Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas will deal with the Iranian incidents, and also to what Israel has in store in what regards Iran, at all levels. Iraq, however, remains at the forefront because this country is practically a compass and a balance that measures, even if clandestinely, what is going on in the minds of the Iranian leadership in terms of hegemony and in terms of the deals Iran is willing to reach whilst using retaliation as a bargaining card.

Meanwhile, the rules of engagement with Iran seem to have changed, given the condemnations that were expressed against the regime’s repressive measures. President Barack Obama would have preferred to avoid such an engagement altogether, as he was building a new relationship with the Islamic Republic in Iran. However, a new phase in the U.S relation with Iran has begun, with its slogan perhaps being: our patience versus yours. This is because Barack Obama, too, is good at being patient, an essential part of his nature and his fabric, and as such, he seems to be shifting and adjusting his position while closely watching the terror and panic of the regime in its war against the patience of the reformists.

Today, there is more than one view, and many expectations and hypotheses about what will happen in Iran. For instance, there is a scenario predicting that Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s faction will provoke crises in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, in order to divert attention away from the uprising inside Iran, and to justify suppressing all efforts at protest there. The opposing scenario, meanwhile, indicates that the regime needs to limit focus its efforts on the domestic developments in order to contain the dissidents and circumvent them; this will deplete all of its strengths and tie down its ability to implement any retaliation strategy.

While the first scenario is valid and plausible, and thus cannot be ruled out, the second scenario seems to be more likely to occur. This is because what is taking place in Iran is both terrible and astounding, and there can be no going back from it. It is a battle for survival that requires mobilizing a huge domestic crowd. In fact, the issue of the dichotomy within the Revolutionary Guard is of great importance, and an issue that Ayatollah Khamenei’s close circle does not understate. It is perhaps for this reason that this circle deployed the Basij in the streets, in order to suppress the protestors in the aftermath of the elections last summer.

The Basij were in fact bolstered as a result of haphazard recruitment based on money, and which was carried out by the authorities following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinjead as president. According to insiders who are closely aware of the security hierarchy within the regime in Tehran, there is a narrow circle around Ayatollah Khamenei characterized by its ability to be chillingly brutal. This group is betting on the triumph of oppression against patience, and is working on uprooting the revolutions completely. However, the divisions within the guard may very well prove to be the thorn in this group’s back, which renders the domestic battle an outmost priority given that any deal between the loyalist camp and the opposition is impossible.

The very fact that the regime resorted to deploying the Basij militia to enforce the law in the country proves that the regime is inevitably on its way to collapsing, whether this takes a short or long time to happen.

On the other hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran has failed in exporting its theological police state. Iran thwarted its own efforts for greatness and regional dominion owing to its oppressive regime that invites hostility with its regional environment, and with both the east and the west, a regime that uses subterfuge as a means for having influence in the countries of the region, while employing militias for the purpose of coups, threats and interference in the affairs of other countries. Thus, the aura around the head of the regime in Iran has fallen.

In fact, Iran’s influence in Iraq waned because of the regime’s excessiveness in the methods it follows, and in its ideology and calculations. While Tehran did indeed reap the benefits bestowed upon it by the George W. Bush administration’s war in Iraq, it has failed in achieving its desires and ambitions regarding dividing Iraq, a goal that it shared with the neo-conservatives in the United States who orchestrated the Iraq war.

Iran strongly wanted to divide Iraq. However, the wisdom of the Iraqis, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, thwarted this objective. Even the Shiite leaders who wanted to divide Iraq to satisfy Iran’s ambitions changed their minds. Moreover, the view that religion and politics should be separated, and which was maintained by Ayatollah al-Sistani, triumphed in the end. Even the cleric Ammar Baqir al-Hakim is speaking today about a civil state in Iraq. Hence, Iran’s attitude in Iraq has changed in conjunction with its influence. Iran now realizes that there is no dependency by default on Iran by Iraq’s Shiites, nay, there is no dependency whatsoever when the ambitions touch on a national question such as Iraq’s unity, and the protection of its wealth and natural resources.

Of course, this does not mean that Iran does not have a large influence inside Iraq; quite the contrary, its influence there cannot be compared with that of any other neighbouring country. Moreover, it is clear that Iraq is very basic to the regional Iranian strategy, and to the one it adopts in dealing with the United States. It is also clear that the Iranian regime is in the position to activate its saboteurs in Iraq, and that the options of the first scenario mentioned above are not yet off the strategy table. In addition, it is clear that the comfort margin that the Iranian regime has enjoyed prior to the reformists’ rebellion against it is shrinking. Iran has itself now become surrounded domestically by the reformists’ revolution; regionally, by the Saudis embarking on the extremely important strategy of Intra-Arab reconciliation; and internationally, by the sanctions part of the U.S dual policy of dialogue and agreement, on one hand, and of preparing sanctions and other measures, on the other hand.

This situation requires the regional players to play several roles in order to benefit from the current situation with some deal of positivity, and away from the equation of sectarian competition that generates a harmful mobilization in any circumstances. While it is true that Turkey is playing an important regional role, the Saudi role remains vitally important in more than one area, extending from Iraq to Palestine.

It is not required of Iran’s neighbours to play a direct role in the domestic Iranian scene, because the internal Iranian affairs are not susceptible for intervention, and it is wiser that no Arab countries get involved. Also, the support that the reformists are seeking is an international moral support. Moreover, it is the right of the opposition in Iran to expect from the West, the East and the Arabs to provide a professional media coverage of what is taking place there, on the rooftops and on the streets, as part of the revolution during the course of which young men and women were killed in front of mobile phone cameras in “the internet uprising”, which was set off by the vote rigging that took place during the presidential elections.

Those dissidents are rising up against the regime’s oppressive and extremist side. They also comprise, however, those who have despaired of the worsening economic situation caused by political corruption, and smuggling through the military channels in power. According to insiders, while the Revolutionary Guard is the elite force, factions within it are responsible for the corruption, while the smuggling of alcoholic drinks has led to the increase of supply which manifested itself in cheaper alcohol. It is thus no secret from the dissidents in Tehran that some of those who are now on the side of the opposition, are merely riding the wave of the opposition when they themselves were until a short time ago in power, and made billions during the course of the revolution.

Those who are closely aware of the domestic situation in Iran point out that the senior clerics in Qom are mostly on the opposition’s side today, while only two senior clerics support the loyalist camp. They also point out that the most senior cleric in Qom, the late Ayatollah Montazeri was against vileyet-e-faqih [clerical rule] in the first place, before the latter’s stature collapsed when Ayatollah Khamenei entered as a direct political party in the presidential elections.

Moderation cannot co-exist with the doctrine of a regime, or a party that adopts a religious-militaristic-dominating ideology that is ever mobilizing support for itself; yet, the impact of the events being unfolded may impose a change that was not expected. Morally, the Republic is no longer what it used to be prior to the reformists’ revolution. On the material side, a sudden interruption of financial support will definitely affect Iran’s regional allies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. This is while the divisions within the Republican Guard will definitely impact the regional ambitions and their supporting strategies in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen.

Last fall, some issued a rash obituary of the reformists’ revolution, or coup in the Persian language. This year, however, the cards will be reshuffled and reconsidered. The reformists’ revolution has thus been unleashed, and Iran is now at the threshold of a momentous change.

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