Who Wins If Iran Loses?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

They say in Urdu that the first victims of a revolution are always its own people.  Watching the apocalyptic events unfold in Iran over the past couple of weeks, one has often been reminded of this piece of wisdom. Has Iran’s Islamic Revolution turned on its own people? The scenes of young men and women standing their ground and bravely defying security forces are eerily familiar.

The last time they had similar protests in Iran was more than three decades ago. And we all know where those protests ended. The late Shah, the great Aryamehr Raza Shah Pahlavi, who claimed to represent a 3,000-year old dynasty, had to flee like a common thug with his family.

The Iranians have always been an exceptionally mature and politically proactive people in a region that has for long been identified with tyranny and suppression. The majority of those protesting on the streets of Iran today had not been born in 1979. But the same spirit of change that inspired and drove the Iranians three decades ago appears to be driving the crowds today.

Of course, the crowd does not necessarily mean Mir Hussein Moussavi won the election or Ahmadinejad stole it. After all, there had been a far bigger crowd to celebrate Ahmadinejad’s victory. 

This is a movement for change all right. But it targets Ahmadinejad, rather than the Islamic Revolution. This is a power struggle between the religious mainstream in alliance with the country’s poor and lower middle classes as represented by Ahmadinejad and the more affluent and liberal, Gucci crowd represented by Moussavi and former presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami.

At another level, this is a class struggle, rather than a battle of ideas, which has deepened with the growing economic woes. Ahmadinejad may not be exactly popular with the rich and pro-West Iranians in Tehran. But he has done a great deal for the silent multitudes in provinces. Which may be why Ahmadinejad has done well in rural areas. 

And, for God’s sake, spare us this CNN-BBC balderdash about ‘people power’ and democracy driving this phenomenon. How can you have two criteria of democracy in the same region? The people who celebrated the “victory of democracy” when Saad Hariri’s alliance won in Lebanon against all Western apprehensions, are today crying ‘foul’ in Iran because Ahmadinejad has won against similar expectations.

If ‘people power’ is the real criterion here, Hezbollah has always brought out more crowds on the streets than its opponents.

If we are really talking about ‘genuine democracy’, what about the 2006 election that Hamas won fair and square? It is yet to be recognized as such by the US and the West.

Besides, after what the US and UK did to bring down Iran’s first democratically elected leader Mosaddeq in 1953, they have no right to lecture the ayatollahs on democracy.

That said, Ahmadinejad could not escape the blame for bringing about this crisis. Much of this mess is of his doing. If, instead of constantly pontificating to the US and the West, he had paid more attention to the business of governance and enormous problems at home, Iran wouldn’t be in the mess it finds itself in today.

Despite being one of the richest countries in the world with abundant natural wealth and the third largest oil producing nation, Iran is still a Third world country.

Then there’s his posturing on the Mideast conflict. God knows, I am no fan of Israel. But even I find it hard at times to stomach Ahmadinejad’s endless harangue and tendency to see Zionist conspiracies behind every bush (Bush?). His theories on the Holocaust are embarrassing and his predictions about Israel’s future are downright dangerous.

Again, his endless rhetoric on Tehran’s nuclear program has been incredibly naïve and counterproductive. With his dangerous proclivity to offer “good news to Iranian people” from time to time, it was as though Ahmadinejad was inviting and daring the US and Israel to attack the country. Throughout Bush’s second term, the world had been holding its breath, waiting for an imminent attack on Iran. With friends like Ahmadinejad, Iran and rest of the Muslim world need no enemies.  

Our messianic hero wouldn’t be facing the chaos he confronts today if only he had held forth less on the state of the world and done more to help his people at home. And today all of them – opposition, CIA, Israel’s Mossad, Western governments, bloggers, think tanks and the media – have all ganged up against Iran.

And this “people power” could very well accomplish what the US and Israel failed to do militarily against Iran over the past few years. You cannot thumb your nose at Israel and its powerful friends and get away with it. You cannot challenge the almighty Israel and its military supremacy and political clout and survive to tell the tale. This is what you get if you dare to stand up for the voiceless and vulnerable and speak out against injustice and oppression. 

Iran is clearly paying for its leaders’ audacity to say it as it is. The land of Hafez, Saadi and Khayyam faces unprecedented threats today, threats far greater than Iran’s leaders and people seem to realize.

Have we forgotten the detailed plans disclosed by US journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker two years ago to destabilize and subvert Iran from inside. In another report last year, Hersh had talked of scores of CIA and Mossad teams already inside the country targeting its strategic and nuclear installations.

I understand that majority of those protesting on Iran’s streets today are young people genuinely seeking a change. But there may be many out there in their ranks who would want Iran destroyed and neutralized, just as Saddam’s Iraq has been. It’s hardly a secret Israel has been itching to strike at Iran for some time now but never got the go-ahead from the US already stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. So Israeli involvement in the current crisis in Iran is not as improbable as it might sound. 

This is why Iran’s politicians on both sides of the divide must step back from the brink and sit together to defuse this crisis that not just threatens their pretty perches but the Islamic republic and all that it stands for. 

This is much bigger than Ahmadinejad and Moussavi. At stake is not just the future of this great country with a 5,000-year old past. As a very pleased Reuel Marc Gerecht argued in the New York Times this week, the very idea of Islam as a way of life and its claim to offer all the answers is also being tested.

By refusing to bow to the dictates of big bullies and ‘big Satan’ and ‘small Satan,’ Iran defiantly charted a new path for itself 30 years ago by turning to religion for guidance. This experiment — however flawed — has demonstrated that Islam and democracy can co-exist and are not mutually exclusive. 

Who would benefit if it is proved otherwise? Who stands to win if Iran is lost? Answers are not far to find. Besides, if Iran unravels, its tremors will shake the whole of the Middle East and beyond. God help us all if that happens! This is a problem that has to be sorted out by the Iranians themselves.

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aijaz@khaleejtimes.com.

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