By Arash Hejazi
An article published in Washington Post on June 16 2011, called ‘In Iran, ‘couch rebels’ prefer Facebook’, claims — based on its interview with three or four Iranians, whose identity (except for Abbas Abdi) is not known — that the Iranian people have given up on their protests that started in 2009, because they prefer ‘playing Internet games such as FarmVille, peeking at remarkably candid photographs posted online by friends and confining their political debates to social media sites such as Facebook, where dissent has proved less risky’.
To someone who knows about the undercurrents of the Iranian society, this simple explanation shows how ignorant the Western media, and probably politicians, are in interpreting what’s really going on in the Middle East and the socio-politico-cultural differences in each country. I have seen more that one ‘political’ analysis or opinion pieces in the media that try in vain to compare the successful rebels or ‘revolutions’ in Egypt and Tunisia to Iran and Syria and Libya, while these comparisons cannot be more relevant than comparing the 1917 Revolution of Russia to the Independence wars of America.
First of all, what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, could not be categorised as ‘revolution’, as what really happened was a successful process of removing a dictator from power, started by an uprising of the people, and then supported by the West. Had not the US forced Mubarak to leave his seat, it would be a much longer process for people to succeed on their own. The root of Mubarak’s power was the enormous support he received from the US. When the US stopped supporting him, it was just a matter of time when the army removed him from power and took full control over the country. Syria and Libya, on the other hand, received no support from the US and the source of their powers were either Oil, or their complex geopolitical arrangements in the region. This is why, after months of rebellion, uprising and civil wars, we can see no progress towards the fall of the dictators in these two countries, despite all the bloodshed and the courageous stand of the people. A real revolution is identified by a fundamental change in power and organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time. It includes complete change from one constitution to another, or modification of an existing constitution, according to Aristotle. We still haven’t seen a change in constitution in Tunisia and in Egypt, only the removal of one person from power.
Iran is not comparable to any of these countries. For one thing, the system ruling in Iran is not a dictatorship (although it is turning into one); it’s a totalitarian regime ruling in Iran, a system, not a single person. I keep being asked by the journalists that the Iranian people can release a sigh of relief once Ahmadinejad finishes his term as the president in 2013. What they don’t know is that Ahmadinejad holds no real power. No single person does. In the Soviet Union it didn’t really matter if Stalin died. The system was designed in a way to be sustainable for the foreseeable future, and was presumably invincible. The presumption was not far from truth. Only someone from within that system could introduce change, a mission that Gorbachev took on. The people could not defeat the system. For the very same reason, in 2009, the Iranians decided that among the approved candidates for Presidency, Mir-Hussein Mousavi was the only person who had the strength, determination tools for introducing this gradual change into the regime. People united behind him for this very reason, despite their varied ideas about the future regime of Iran.
The people of Iran had already experienced the consequences of a full blown revolution. They have witnessed two successful revolutions: The Constitutional Revolution at 1907, and the Islamic Revolution at 1979. Both resulted in fundamental structural and organisational change as well as transition to new constitutions. However, the new regimes that replaced the previous regimes proved a ‘revolution’ to be a poor resolution for the abolishing tyranny. The 1907 revolution resulted in the reign of terror started by a dictator, Reza Shah (who came to power aided by the British), who abolished the new-born democracy in Iran for nearly 70 years. The 1979 revolution resulted in the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, one of the cruelest and most suppressive totalitarian regimes the world has ever seen.
When the people of Iran who had united under the the Green Movement to reclaim their votes were brutally suppressed and the international community did nothing concrete to support them, they realised that their hopes for gradual change had come to nought. Now they were facing another dilemma, if there were no hopes for the gradual opening within the context of the Islamic Republic, how could this system be replaced with a liberal-democratic regime in the most peaceful way?
Revolution wasn’t the answer, as it would incur unspeakable bloodshed: The regime has all the militiary power, the wealth, the bargaining tools with the world, and all the media outlets. On the other side, the only tool that the people have in their hands, peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience, have proven to be ineffective in the short-term against an armed-to-the-teeth regime that follows no ethical or moral values and considers any disobedience and dissent as treason, punishable by death on the spot, torture, long-term imprisonment, and execution without fair trials. The international community hasn’t been supportive either. All the sanctions imposed on Iran has been fruitless in stopping Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions, and still, the Iranian oil is too precious to the western world to be sanctioned. The oil provides the regime with almost all of the budget it needs to suppress its own people and to sponsor terror around the world.
A few weeks ago, a prisoner attending her father’s funeral was beaten to death in front of peoples’ eyes; a week later, a politcal prisoner on hunger strike in protest to the crime, was beaten to death inside the prison. Right now, there are 12 Iranian political prisoners on hunger strike. The government of Iran is ready to go the full distance, as it feels that there are no consequences for what they do: ‘Let these 12 prisoners die too, who really cares in the world, or if they do care, what can they really do? They still want our oil, and as long as they do, they will work with us, no matter what.’
On the other hand, Ahmadinejad, once the favourit of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, has now apparently fallen out of favour, after disobeying a few direct orders from the Leader. The Supreme Leader cannot even tolerate the empowerment of his own puppet president and let him run the country. The Parliament is now closing down on Ahmadinejad, and the direction of the events implies a rapid transition from a totalitarian regime to a dictatorship: Ayatollah Khamenei wants to hold all the power, something unprecedented in the past 32 years, when the power was balanced between a few who would do anything to support the regime despite their variety of opinion.
This is why the Iranian people have now decided to slow the movement down, and take it to a deeper layer. The social media are still their only way of communication, where you can see real polyphony among Iranians. The people in Egypt wanted Mubarak to go and were united under this single slogan. The people of Iran want a democratic, liberal, and economically dynamic society, and before fighting to achieve it, they are debating it, so when the right time comes, they all understand democracy and freedom in its truest sense. This reflects the maturity of a nation who does not act on impulses, but on intellect; a nation who is closely observing the events, and preparing itself. Let’s hope that everything will work out fine for the Egyptians and Tunisians, but when change comes to Iran, it will be real and intrinsic change, not a shortsighted facelift.