Iran’s regime remains immature 40 years on from revolution
Iran marks the 40th anniversary of the “victory” of the Islamic revolution in 1979 on Feb. 11. In Islamic culture, the 40s is a crucial age in a man’s life, as he reaches rational and intellectual maturity. This view of man and his progressive maturity can be used to analyze Iran’s political system.
David Easton, the renowned political scientist, has argued that a political system is like a living creature, as it exists in a certain environment and interacts with it. Therefore, the four decades since the revolution is an adequate amount of time to judge whether or not the Iranian regime has attained maturity and whether or not it is still imprisoned in the immature mindset of the early days of the revolution.
There is no doubt that the revolution was purely Iranian in nature and originally represented a modernization project that many Iranians had dreamt of since the turn of the 20th century. Ruhollah Khomeini, however, made it deviate from this forward-looking dream, turning it into a project for a Shiite Islamic republic based on a fringe theocratic Wilayat Al-Faqih ideology. The aim of this republic, according to Khomeini, was to enable Iranians to achieve complete humanity and attain their “moral requirements,” as well as to offer access to welfare and provide basic services to its citizens.
Khomeini promised, according to a book issued by the state-owned Al-Nour newspaper, that the Islamic Republic would ensure freedom of speech for all parties, including the communists, and guarantee democracy. Khomeini also promised to make Iran a force that would improve security and stability in the region. He vowed not to permit clerics to participate in politics and to limit their role to spiritual guidance. He stated that religious minorities would be allowed to freely practice their faith, with the state defending their rights to the best of its abilities.
However, four decades on, all of Khomeini’s promises appear to have died with him. No welfare state has been achieved, nor has the state’s hand been extended in support of the disenfranchised and underprivileged, despite the country’s massive oil and gas reserves. Official statistics suggest that 40 million Iranians — or around half of the population — currently live below the poverty line.
The regime attempts to cover up its failure through the provision of a few aid programs carried out by relief committees and charitable organizations as if Iran was a resource-starved country. These programs, however, help only 10 million citizens. According to Fars News Agency, 5 percent of Iran’s population controls 80 percent of its wealth, and it suffers from widespread financial and administrative corruption. These realities have unleashed waves of protests across Iran; the latest arose in December 2017 and continued for months, spreading to most Iranian cities. These protests did not end until the Iranian regime cracked down with excessive murderous force. Even so, others have sporadically broken out since.
Through its pragmatism, the regime has become the absolute opposite of what it had promised to achieve.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
The clerics did not abandon governance, breaking another of Khomeini’s promises. On the contrary, the supreme leader’s powers have been massively expanded. Rarely is Iranian popular will expressed, except through legislative and parliamentary elections that are themselves heavily restricted by the theocratic regime’s powers, with clerics loyal to the supreme leader determining who should run. Even amid these restrictions, the supreme leader and those institutions loyal to him spare no effort in wrecking political life by manipulating votes.
The regime has also shown no respect for values such as freedom of speech and human rights. It has failed to protect and nationally integrate minorities, prompting them to demand independence and take up arms against the state. And Iran is among the highest-ranking countries globally in terms of the annual number of executions, second only to China.
Regionally, Iran is no longer a vehicle for security and stability, as Khomeini promised it would be. Instead, the country, as part of its supposedly divinely mandated mission to “export the revolution,” has become a primary source of chaos and regional instability. Iran has infiltrated other countries and violated their national sovereignty, extending its hand to minorities within these countries, which has shaken the cohesion of these regional states. It has also heavily fomented sectarian strife, further hindering other regional countries’ efforts to address the major crises and challenges they face.
The regime also supports dictators, who it helps to kill their own people and inflict massive bloodshed, causing horrendous humanitarian crises that are unprecedented regionally or globally since the Second World War. Tehran sponsors proxy militias in several countries — these are indoctrinated into protecting its presence and serving its interests in the region. All these factors have helped expand the scope of violence, terrorism and militancy. Tehran’s policies aimed at enforcing demographic change based on sectarian motives will further destabilize the region and inevitably lead to further conflicts in the future. Meanwhile, the regime continues to develop its missile program and non-conventional weapons, as well as endanger maritime navigation routes.
In light of the aforementioned, the legitimacy of the Shiite political Islamic system has expired. The momentum of the state supposedly assigned a divine mandate to confront the arrogant and help the oppressed has diminished. Wilayat Al-Faqih, which recalled past Shiite historical grievances, failed to introduce a form of political Islam that others would want to follow. Through its pragmatism, the regime has become the absolute opposite of what it had promised to achieve.
Today, it begs “the arrogant” to devise a financial mechanism to save it from its self-inflicted economic woes, while its people chant on the streets: “Our enemy is not the US,” “Leave Syria and think about us,” and “Down with the Islamic Republic.” Wilayat Al-Faqih reveals the reality of rule by political Islam, especially the Iranian model, when it comes to administration and governance.
Khomeini was in his late 70s when he returned to Iran in 1979, meaning that he had lived nearly 40 years following his first 40 years of maturity. However, he was lured by power and massive popular appeal, leading Iran to deviate from its modernist project. He established a brutal theocratic political system and built a doomed project that did not take into account the requirement to meet the needs of the people.
In contemporary Iran, the state Khomeini established 40 years ago seems just as bad as it was before 1979, with its regime falling far short of attaining maturity, while not acknowledging the boundaries of responsibility and the need for peaceful coexistence with neighbors and partners in humanity. This has made the regime a threat to Iran’s people, as well as to regional and global peace and security.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami