Iran regime should focus on its people, not its image abroad

Iran regime should focus on its people, not its image abroad

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Despite its defiant stance toward the US and the West in general, the Iranian regime cares about how it is perceived outside its borders. Therefore, through its lobbying and friendly media outlets, it works hard on the image projected to international audiences. It also targets a specific line of thought that can mobilize pressure on the political leaders in Washington or Brussels. This image is key for the mullahs.

It is an image they work on very consistently and strategically. It is the image of a country of resistance; a country that stands with the oppressed; a country that stands against the evil and powerful “Uncle Sam.” It is an image of a proud and peaceful nation surrounded by hostile, evildoing Arabs looking to rob them of their freedom. It is an image of David standing against Goliath. Iran portrays itself as a victim that stands against racism and apartheid, whether that is in Israel, Europe or the US. In this game, Tehran needs to continuously push a comparison with its Arab neighbors and show it is better.

It is, in fact, all a trick and a lie. Yet this is what various political and social groups — the useful idiots — relay in Western capitals to promote Iranian interests. Let us be clear, Iran does not stand against oppression; it is the master of oppression in the Middle East. It is not a regime of resistance; it is a regime of hypocrisy. Iran is deflecting from the fact that it is a racist and aggressive regime.

I will not go into the protests currently taking place in Iran that show the difference in rights between citizens of different backgrounds, especially in the Ahwaz region. Instead I will focus on the regime’s interference in Lebanon, where it claims to support the oppressed. Iran is pushing a divisive policy that separates the Shiite community from the rest of the country. It has created an apartheid state in Lebanon in which all the communities are miserable, including the Shiites.

Through Hezbollah, the regime has created a second state in Lebanon. This second state is exclusive to the Shiite community and is a dictatorship that rules ruthlessly on its own and keeps others away. As Hezbollah destroys the state’s healthcare and education institutions, it is applying something even worse than a “separate but equal” policy. Indeed, while Hezbollah’s leaders claim they will still receive fresh US dollars — printed by the evil Uncle Sam — from Tehran, the rest of Lebanon is barely able to survive. And so, I ask, isn’t this a racist foreign policy? Isn’t Hezbollah an instrument of an apartheid-like regime ruling over a crumbling state?

It is, nevertheless, quite impressive that a theocratic dictatorship ruled by the Vilayat-e Faqih concept can display such an image. Recent years have been good for this business, as Western capitals have been eaten up by the guilt of their past. Indeed, the Iranian regime has found strong allies in the liberal voices looking to re-evaluate and sometimes destroy past Western symbols. It is quite amazing how, by standing against racism in the US, you can get away with murder in the Middle East and get a nuclear deal as a cherry on top. No one stopped for a single second to question if the Iranian regime is, in fact, a ruthless dictatorship and a racist and apartheid-like regime. Just ask the Ahwazis.

Let us be clear, Iran does not stand against oppression; it is the master of oppression in the Middle East. 

Khaled Abou Zahr

The Iranian regime was even capable of focusing on small details. For example, when the widespread Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests were taking place in the US, the regime’s Twitter accounts were engaging with all the BLM ones. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went as far as tweeting a quote from late rapper Tupac Shakur in support of the protests. The Iranian regime does not care about racism in the US or anywhere; it does not even care whether Israel is an apartheid regime or not. All it cares about is using these incidents to deflect from its own murderous actions, as well as to put pressure on Western governments.

However, it takes two to tango and so there is also hypocrisy from the Western voices that support the Iranian regime while looking away from its crimes. Despite the sanctions and various containment policies, there has always been a red line that the West and Israel have never crossed with Iran. Western political leaders are always silent during protests against the regime in Iran, but this was not the case for Arab countries during the so-called Arab Spring.

One positive for the leading Arab countries in recent years is that they have been able to remove themselves from the negative dynamic of comparisons with Iran, which often played out in Western lobbying circles. Previously, every time something bad was done by the Iranian regime, voices popped up that made a comparison with leading Arab states to show that the mullahs were still better than their neighbors.

Saudi Arabia has successfully exited this dynamic by focusing on its domestic development and the well-being of its population. It has downgraded geopolitical issues to background noise as it achieves and focuses on its own people. Egypt and the UAE have followed suit. So this vicious pressure and blackmail does not work anymore.

The true image that the West should be relaying is that every country that has been left to the Iranian regime — such as Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Syria — is burning. All these countries are living under the oppression of an apartheid regime. Even the Iranian people are suffering.

So isn’t it time for the Iranian regime to change its policies and follow what leading countries have done? How many more years will Iranians have to live without water and electricity? Iran needs to stop its masquerade of resistance and focus on the real issues: Its own country. It needs to stop spending on Hezbollah and start allocating resources to the development of its own nation and the well-being of all its people. The moment the regime makes this decisive shift, Iran and its people will thrive and the Middle East will have a strong regional platform.

  • Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view