West should help Iranians fulfill their democratic dream
With their public protests, many people in Iran have made it clear that their aspiration is to establish a democratic system of governance in the country. And after the boycott of Iran’s sham presidential election last month, the international community should have no pretenses about the fact that the Iranian people reject the ruling theocracy.
Many Iranians abroad have also voiced their opposition to the theocratic establishment. Last month, the Iranian people said “no” to the regime through their election boycott. And many Iranians abroad last week said “yes” to a democratic alternative as tens of thousands of people from 105 countries gathered virtually for the Free Iran World Summit 2021 and called for a free Iran. More than 1,000 well-known personalities and a stellar list of senior figures attended the three-day event, including more than 250 parliamentarians from the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere.
The Iranian leaders expressed their anger at the support of senior American and European politicians for the oppositional group the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which organized the event. The regime’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused these politicians of “(selling) themselves cheap.”
This shows that the regime fears Iranians abroad rallying against the mullahs and gaining Western support. Why are the Iranian leaders concerned about such rallies? First of all, some former European heads of state that were previously insistent on engagement with the theocracy have declared that “moderation” within the regime is a myth. For example, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi repeatedly told the conference that Europe, including him personally, had tried to negotiate with the regime but “we failed.” He said that the only way forward for the EU is to “try to give hope to the people who are fighting against the regime… I am absolutely persuaded that there is no way to give peace, prosperity and a (better) future to Iran if we do not accept the idea of radical regime change.”
For the first time at the annual rally or a meeting of the NCRI, a sitting head of state spoke and vehemently condemned the regime’s human rights abuses. Prime Minister Janez Jansa of Slovenia underscored Iran’s horrific 1988 massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners. He said: “For nearly 33 years, the world had forgotten about the victims of the 1988 massacre. This should change. A UN commission of inquiry is of crucial importance to shed light on the horrible 1988 massacre.”
The regime was particularly irate due to Jansa’s comments and it summoned the Slovenian ambassador in Tehran. But Slovenia continued to defend its courageous position and stood by its call for an international investigation into the massacre. Other European countries should learn a lesson from both Renzi and Jansa.
Tehran is afraid of uprisings that could overthrow it. Therefore, the regime has chosen Ebrahim Raisi to fortify its defenses.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The Iranian leaders are also concerned because the Free Iran rally revealed how illegitimate and unwanted the regime is among the Iranian people. Indeed, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also addressed the event, was right to say: “The central fight is the one in the streets and in the mosques and in the minds of Iranians. It is the divide between the people and the organized opposition seeking freedom and democracy on the one side, and the entirety of the regime on the other.”
It appears that realities on the ground in Iran have finally imposed themselves on the international community. After four rounds of major nationwide upheavals in as many years, the international community is waking up to the fact that Iran is on the brink of major change.
The Iranian people want a free and democratic republic that is focused on the future, not the past dictatorships of the shah or the mullahs. The impressive nationwide boycott of the June 18 presidential election, which even the regime admitted was a disaster for the theocracy, proved once again that the rulers are despised at home.
The rise of President-elect Ebrahim Raisi — a mass murderer who was involved in the 1988 massacre, according to leading human rights group Amnesty International — is a sign of weakness and desperation. It shows that Tehran is afraid of more uprisings that could overthrow it, and it has chosen Raisi to fortify its defenses.
Raisi’s rise also shows that concessions and incentive packages do not work. This regime only understands the language of strength and decisiveness.
The UN Security Council should finally listen to the Iranian people and hold those responsible for crimes against humanity accountable for their horrific abuses. Failure to do so will lead to a disastrous humanitarian catastrophe.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh