Iran In the Eye of Storm*

October 14, 2003

Daryoush Homayoun

The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) was born with an existential crisis. It came to power riding over the wave of a revolution that had no use in a modernizing society, experiencing the highest standard of living in its long history; something that soon became an unattainable dream. The revolution’s message and worldview was so anachronistic, and its leadership so out of touch with modern world that it was bound to alienate its disparate supporters one by one. People in their droves turned against the government, the message, and now increasingly, Islam in public affairs, it not the religion itself.

Resistance to the new regime, led by women, started from the very beginning, has continued in various ways, and has been met with ever more violent suppression. This confrontation between a population that feels betrayed and deprived of its rights and a Regime that has given up any pretension of popular support and is only concerned with its survival, by itself is threatening that very survival.

Like all governments in deep crisis, there are various factions all trying to save the regime; and there are competing strategies. One faction thinks that defiance and sitting fast is the only alternative to inevitable doom. This is the faction that controls all decision-making and the immense machinery of suppression. The other faction, the so-called moderates and reformers, was considered, for a while, as a rival and counter weight to the hard liners. A succession of spectacular electoral victories gave it a commanding position to challenge the vast monopolistic network run by the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the head of Expediency Council, and the powerful “coalition group” comprised of Bazari and clerical power brokers.

However the conservative nature of reformers and the fact that they had the same vital vested interest in preserving the Islamic government, prevented them from going along popular wish for meaningful change. Time and again where there was no choice between the people’s demands and the hardliners interests, they abandoned the people. The voters after supporting the reformist wing in four elections, at last gave up any hope in the possibility of reform and the ability, even the sincerity of reformers. The president, once one of the most popular political figures in contemporary Iranian history is now a despicable character, encountered everywhere by scorn. In the last local election, in spite of the exhortations and pleas by the whole gamut of reformers, Islamic dissidents, and “nationalist religionists,” people “voted with their feet.” That electoral debacle put an end to any meaningful struggle for power inside the Regime.

The process of turning the reformists into an official window dressing, a public relations ploy for the world arena, is now completed. The official organs of the government are trusted by the task of showing a moderate face to the world, alleviating outside pressure, and buying time for the hardliners to complete their dirty work, for example in developing a nuclear arm capacity.

Almost every foreign official after coming into contact with the public relation wing, meaning the official organs of government, has but one advice: do not put too much pressure; give more time to the moderates, so the hardliners would not become more powerful. But do those hardliners need any more power? While the organs of suppression are stifling any form of opposition and resistance, they warn against provoking hardliners to crackdown. If these dignitaries could take the trouble of talking to the victims of suppression, they would realize that there is no need, and almost no capacity for more crackdowns.

When a judge, with impunity, can beat a foreign journalist, a woman, to death in the courtroom, what is more to be feared? The woman, Ms. Kazemi, an Iranian born Canadian national, was reporting from Tehran during popular demonstrations in June 2003 and was arrested with no charge. After unmentionable inhuman treatment in prison she was brought to the courtroom where she was hacked to death. The judge, despite international uproar, not only has been given more power, but also is in charge of investigating that very crime!
* * *
After the crackdown of the unprecedented popular demonstrations of June 2003 (the very crackdown that we are warned by the reformers and foreign observers) it seems that the Regime has weathered the storm, at least on the surface. Under the surface of course troubles are accumulating – economic stagnation coupled with rising inflation; deep structural deficiencies, political paralysis in the sense that there is no remedy in sight. On top of it all a new crisis is looming on the horizon, ever more threatening.

IRI is now in a race against time. The hardliners and reformers have both come to the conclusion that for ensuring the Regime’s survival, Iran must become a Nuclear power. They are pursuing a North Korean strategy: to challenge a hostile US administration with nuclear arms; confronting United States by atomic blackmail. The US government estimates that IRI by Finding a shortcut, is very near achieving necessary technology and is putting pressure on IRI through International Atomic Energy Agency and after that the UN Security Council.

However, there is another real danger for the Regime. Both Israelis who consider themselves the prime target of such a bomb (and they have ample evidence in the statements by top leaders of the IRI) and Americans are convinced that even if the Islamic government agrees to comply with the IAEA rules, it would not cease its activities, and only tries to buy time. So the possibility of some surgical strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities is real with unknowable consequences for the Regime.

There is a difference of opinion between the reformers and hardliners, but only on tactics. The former want to play according the rules, defuse the crisis and speed up their weapons program. The hardliners are opposed to even giving a sign of weakness and want to defy international community. But it makes no difference. The Iranian government as a whole is bent on developing its guaranty for survival and go on exploiting and ruining the country. The Americans and the Israelis are equally determined to prevent this by all means.

The Iranian people have no interest in nuclear weapons and even nuclear energy. Iran is not threatened militarily from any quarter, if it itself does not embark on foreign adventures (on behalf of Islamic terrorists everywhere) and with the 4th or 5th oil and the second natural gas reserves in the world, it has a much cheaper and safer way to satisfy its energy needs. They also have no stake in prolonging their misery by having a nuclear Mafia as their government. They are helplessly watching the unfolding drama.

The mullahs reckon that like the Iraqi invasion of 1980, any attack by Americans and the Israelis would galvanize popular support for the regime and against the aggressor. Here lies another grave miscalculation. Iranians in their reaction to the war against Saddam Hussein showed their true feelings, and there is no ground for assuming that a surgical strike would be turned into a “great patriotic war.” The first miscalculation by the Regime is that they do not take the risk of an attack seriously enough and think that they could play games with Americans.

As could be seen, in what really counts for the Iranian People and for the world, there is only one source of power and authority in Iran. All the talk about a reform movement, which for its success needs concessions to be made to that real source of power and authority, is misleading to say the least. By playing into the hands of the reformers the outside world only strengthens the hand of the hardliners, thus aggravating the situation, both for the people and for world security and peace.

To solve any problem with IRI, especially now with the nuclear crisis, the exact opposite of the conventional wisdom is needed. The reformers should not be taken seriously; they have lost any standing they had in the eyes of the people and have no power base. Outside powers must realize that when it comes to take important decisions it is the hardliners who count and they are not in a mood to compromise their absolute domination.

In dealing with IRI one should realize the psychological and social background of the ruling elite, the politico-economic Mafia that rules Iran. They are not a government in the usual sense. After the fall of the Ba’thist regime in Iraq, a window was opened through which to have a closer look at the true nature of a gangster regime. It is the same with people who grabbed power in Iran by a Revolution that they started with setting a movie house on fire, suffocating more than 470 people to death. That was the first strike by “international terrorism.” Being soft to such characters is like feeding crocodiles.

* Speech at the University of Munster, Germany, October 14, 2003

  Email this article    Printer friendly page