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Protests in Iran: The need for reforms and unity

12 January 2018 12:40 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


It is no secret that the United States, still smarting over a series of setbacks the 1979 Iranian revolution has delivered, has a state-funded programme to destabilize Iran. It is also no secret that the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other pro-US Arab nations are part of this covert programme.

However, so far, the Iranian government has somehow weathered the threats. When the popular revolution led by the Shiite clergy ousted the pro-American regime of the Shah in 1979, many in the West believed the change was only a passing cloud. But the Islamic republic has been surviving for 38 years, despite in the 1980s a devastating nine-year war against Iraq which was backed by the West and the Arab Gulf states, sabotage by terrorist groups such as Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEQ) and Jundallah, tough economic sanctions, cyber warfare, assassinations of its nuclear scientists, and intermittent uprising, the latest of which was only last week. 

That Iran has seen during its post-revolution existence only two large-scale public protests, which lost steam no sooner they hit the streets, vouches for the relative stability of the country’s political system. Yet, Iran’s leaders cannot afford to dismiss last week’s protests, which began in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, on December 28, as part of a western conspiracy, though they could very well be. The protests were widespread, though, crowd wise, they were smaller, compared to the 2009 post-election protests in the capital, Teheran. They even spread to the religious city of Qom, a stronghold of the revolution. The protests are a reminder that Iran’s problems require sweeping socioeconomic and political reforms to meet the aspirations of Iran’s youth, who have not lived through the repressive rule of the Shah or seen the sacrifices their parents made for the revolution. The social media savvy generation clamors for well-paying jobs, high standard of life, and more political and economic freedom. Iran has been adopting reforms and relaxing some strict rules regarding social behavior such as the Islamic dress code, but the discontent appears to grow much faster than the speed at which reforms are introduced.

Trump, a fanatical Iran hater who wants to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, took to Twitter to back anti-government demonstrators

The protests were also a public outcry against the prolonged sluggishness of the economy which had not picked up much, despite some sanctions being lifted following Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with six world powers. 

Yet Iran is not a basket case. Despite 38 years of economic sanctions in one form or another, the country has emerged as a regional power, strong enough to prop up the Syrian regime, help neighbouring Iraq to defeat the ISIS terrorists, fiancne the Hezbollah militias in Lebanon, develop nuclear technology, make its own medium range missiles, anti-tank missiles, drones, aircraft and motor vehicles and take strides in heavy industry. 

Iran has in recent years improved ties with China, Russia, Turkey and Qatar and expressed willingness to join China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative to attract investments aimed at giving the much needed fillip to the economy. But the problem is that the economy which derives much of its revenue from oil and gas production is largely state controlled.  The private sector remains largely marginalized. During President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s economic reforms in the early 1990s, the private sector thrived, but the momentum died out, with the conservatives or hardliners taking the upper hand, while reform-minded popular presidents such as Mohamed Khatami and Hassan Rouhani looked on powerless. 

The protests were also a public outcry against the prolonged sluggishness of the economy which had not picked up much

Socioeconomic and political factors give only one side of the story. The government’s lenient approach to the protests at the initial stages indicated that it recognized the causes for the public protests. Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also acknowledged legitimate demonstrations against economic conditions. The government began to crack the whip only after it feared that the people could be misled and that the protests could be hijacked by a few subversives backed by foreign governments. With government supporters staging massive counter-demonstrations, the anti-government protests, where for the first time slogans were raised publicly against the spiritual leader, gradually withered away.

It is widely known that the MEQ -- listed as a terrorist group by the United States -- maintains close relationship with the CIA and Israel’s secret service Mossad. The Israeli intelligence outfit is also the handler of the Sunni Jundallah group in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province

The US has a long history of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs. Last year, the CIA released documents confirming that it engineered the coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953.  Operation Merlin and Operation Olympic Games were some of the other failed CIA covert programmes aimed at destabilizing Iran after the 1979 revolution. 

Undeterred, the axis comprising the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, among others, continues its efforts to subjugate Iran, which has a long history of resisting foreign invasions. Obsessive Iranophobia has pushed some Arab nations to embrace Israel and even US President Donald Trump’s outrageous plan to hand over the whole of Jerusalem to Israel, with no regard for the Palestinians’ insistence that East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.

As the Iranian protests drew wide coverage in the Western media, Trump, a fanatical Iran hater who wants to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, took to Twitter to back anti-government demonstrators. “Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!” Trump’s said in his tweet.

In response, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei also took to Twitter, slamming Trump as unstable and having “extreme and psychotic episodes.”

The twitter war apart, the US backing for Iran protests exposes the double standards with which the US approaches world politics. Trump did not tweet when food riots erupted across Egypt in March last year. There were no Trump tweets to urge Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade on Yemen, so that humanitarian assistance could reach the starving Yemeni people. There were no tweets in support of protesters who demonstrate for democracy and human rights in Bahrain which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. He would definitely not tweet calling on Israel to release 16-year-old Ahed al-Tamimi who has become the symbol of Palestinian resistance. 

Iran -- with 80 million people in a 1.64 million square kilometre land area – is no pushover. It is capable of countering attacks from the US, Israel or any other hostile power. Its people are united in the face of foreign aggression. This is why the US or Israel has not dared to attack Iran.  Its enemies think their best bet is dividing the Iranians by pointing out that the country is spending its hard earned money to prop up Syria and the Hezbollah at the expense of the Iranians: Perhaps, a case of tweeting Trump bearing gifts! The Iranians might do well to keep in mind that the success of the US formula for invasion is the divisions within the target country. This has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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