Why hasn’t the US asked Khamenei to step down yet?
Only five days after protests started in Egypt in January 2011, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for “an orderly transition,” meaning it was time for Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years at the head of the country.
The White House was clearly stating that it no longer supported the Egyptian president, while it also put under review the annual assistance given to the country after tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in “days of anger.”
The growing violence and arrests of prominent public figures compelled the US to take this stand against a president who had stood by Washington throughout many difficult geopolitical situations, from the peace process to the Gulf wars.
I will not question whether the US was right or wrong, I will just ask why it has not taken the same stand against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has been ruling Iran with a bloody iron fist for more than 30 years. Why hasn’t the US called for an orderly transition in Iran? Why hasn’t it called for the supreme leader to step down, especially as people are being killed by the regime and protests are being repressed with extreme violence? Why haven’t we seen the same solidarity with the Iranian people?
It is quite interesting to notice that, instead of looking to really pressure the regime in Tehran to stop the violence, there are still discussions around how to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. And so, clearly the way to pressure the mullahs is to reward them with billions and billions of dollars and to rehabilitate the regime within international institutions. If the West will not ask for an orderly transition like it did for an Arab country, the easiest way to support Iranians would be to clearly state that there will be no JCPOA until the Basij stops terrorizing people in Iran. It would be a clear and straightforward message and would be logical with previous international stands.
Obviously, this will not happen for several reasons. The West needs to replace Russian energy and Iran is being lined up for this. There is also the argument that, by supporting the Iranian people, the West would legitimize the regime’s accusation that the protests are being manipulated. This is nonsense. There is also the will not to weaken the regime in Tehran too much in order to maintain the balance of power in a highly difficult region. And finally, there is the Iranian regime’s supposed position as a fighter against oppression and injustice. It is impossible to explain in any other way the overwhelming silence toward the horrible violence in Iran. It has also been a constant to shield the Iranian regime from criticism since the mid-1990s after the dust from the first Gulf War had settled.
It is quite unbelievable that Western intellectuals can be blindly enlisted by such a ruthless regime
Khaled Abou Zahr
Indeed, in recent decades, it seems easier to live as a tolerated enemy to the US rather than a friend. Friendship with power demands many efforts, while asymmetric disturbance demands much less. This is even truer when your friend is in an era of soul-searching. It is, nevertheless, clear that the regime in Tehran has a strong lobby in Washington and Europe that is capable of conveying its storyline of a fight against oppression and place the blame for everything on the mistakes of imperial Western countries. Hence, in this fight against global oppression, individuals, aka the Iranian people, can be crushed for the sake of this greater fight.
This current situation echoes the US reaction in June 2009, when Iranians protested the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term. The Basij repressed the protesters violently, yet this did not cause a strong US or international reaction. In fact, it was quite the opposite, with Ahmadinejad receiving numerous congratulatory messages. The same can be said when protests started in 2018, just before the pandemic, when the West stood silent because it was preoccupied with the nuclear deal. If it was happening anywhere else, the message would have been completely different.
In the current protests, the death toll has reportedly risen to more than 75 and the crackdown is becoming even more violent. Yet, in parallel, conversations about the nuclear deal are still going on. The Western media is adopting a bipolar vision of covering the protests and supporting women, while at the same time continuing to support the JCPOA negotiations, as if they were not linked. The essence of the Iranian nuclear program is not civil, it is military. It is a message of violent expansionism and absolutely not one of self-defense. And as always, the Western pro-mullah crowd finds ways to allow the Iranian regime to have everything. It is quite unbelievable that Western intellectuals can be blindly enlisted by such a ruthless regime.
The perfect illustration of this dual vision took place during this month’s UN General Assembly. Beyond the usual calls for not granting visas to Iranian and Russian officials, it was amazing to see Western pundits shake hands and sit down with President Ebrahim Raisi as if nothing was happening in Iran. Once again, I will not say whether this is right or wrong. Simply, these same pundits would be screaming with indignation and for a full boycott if Raisi was not from Iran. Their justification being that it is better to discuss matters and try to influence positively rather than boycott and alienate. However, this special treatment — as the people of Iran know — only applies to the Iranian regime.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.