When the US president complained to Russia’s foreign minister about Iran’s actions and the need to rein it in, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly warned his citizens: “They want to change our behavior, but changing it means changing our regime.” Tehran lives in a state of concern regarding internal change. Khamenei made no mistake when he portrayed a change in his regime’s behavior as dangerous to the state.
The regime is old in thought but not in age. It is suited to the Cold War, not the age of competing markets. Khamenei says the source of danger lies in politicians who flirt with the people and promise them development and change during the elections. He ignores the changing circumstances, succession of generations and high aspirations.
Candidates want to win voter confidence and promise positive change, which the regime regards as dangerous and unacceptable. Major powers and countries in the region complain that Iran has not changed. It is continuing the policy, founded by Khamenei’s predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini, of revolutions and wars in the region.
For this purpose, Khomeini founded and supported local organizations. He built a network of agents doing dirty work on his behalf, including hijacking planes, kidnapping and killing diplomats and academics, and trying to control local authorities in targeted countries. This is Tehran’s policy until now.
When the US administration came out against Iran’s behavior, it was complaining about a situation that had lasted for more than 30 years and caused regional chaos and unrest. Pressure is mounting on Tehran to change its behavior to adapt to the new world. The greatest danger it faces is not from the US or its regional rivals, but from inside Iran.
Iran is supposed to learn the lesson from what happened to the Arab regimes that collapsed because they refused to change and modernize.
The authorities are anxious that the elections could be uncontrollable, as happened in 2009, even though the political process is designed to take place within a formal framework in terms of allowing regime-backed candidates to run, limiting electoral letters, controlling media platforms, sorting ballots and counting votes. The challenges facing Tehran are represented in its refusal to deal realistically with generational changes.
Almost all the world’s regimes have changed and coexist with their surroundings. China, for example, maintained its regime but not its methods. It abandoned the legitimacy of ideology for that of modern civil administration and economic achievement. Even Vietnam, the most famous country to have engaged in wars for ideological motives, has changed and opened up to the world, including its enemy the US.
Iran is supposed to learn the lesson from what happened to the Arab regimes that collapsed because they refused to change and modernize. This ideological rigidity, political demagoguery and military dominance will lead Iran to its end. It will experience external crises via the adoption of war projects in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and backing extremist religious groups in Bahrain, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Iran’s internal situation cannot be tied to the clerical authorities who oppose the aspirations of young people, the vast majority of the population. Candidates have tried to entice voters with promises of openness, but Khamenei has warned them against doing so, even if it is a misleading promise. This electoral conflict evokes ideological and social differences, and reveals the expectations of the Iranian people, which the mullahs are trying to suppress.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.