Iran regime likely to repeat Syria’s violence to quell protests
The past week has seen some uncertainty from the regime in Iran. Indeed, the news of the disbandment of the so-called morality police ended up not being confirmed. Whether this was a ploy to create confusion among protesters or a test balloon, it ended up showing the determination and resilience of the Iranian people. None of the protests, strikes or movements were stopped in response to this news. This popular movement is and always has been about more than just the morality police. The morality police is just one of the symbols of this regime. And the people want real change. They do not want theatrics and will not be duped.
The unconfirmed news of the disbandment seemed to most please the Western pundits. They jumped to share their views that this showed that the regime was ready to bring some change. In an ironic twist, the same people that state that Ukrainians should not negotiate with Russia for their freedom have ruled that the Iranian people should renounce theirs. Moreover, they quickly put this into the frame of the nuclear negotiations and that these should move forward. Never have I seen such desire to rehabilitate or protect a regime and deny ordinary people their will.
The Iranian regime has been emboldened by the weak statements of its declared so-called enemies. Obviously, no one can bring about change for the Iranian people. Not a single country can or should send troops to do this. But giving the regime international legitimacy puts a bigger wall in front of the protesters. After four months, hundreds of deaths, violence in the streets and ruthless repression, the situation on the ground has reached a dead end.
What comes next in Iran? Will the protests bring change? Will the people be able to overthrow the current regime, as they clearly now demand? Will the protesters answer the regime’s violence with violence or will they stay peaceful? Can the regime dissipate protests through divisions? Would people accept the structural transformation of the country? Is the regime even willing?
The only certainty is that in order for the protests to succeed and bring change, they absolutely need the support of a strong military apparatus. This is the only way they will be capable of forcing change. This cannot be the police, for obvious reasons. Historically, including in Iran in 1979, the shift always comes when the army switches sides. However, the regime in Tehran has built enough militias globally to avoid this or make such a transformation futile. The army might not even be able to do so in fact.
The people want the pursuit of happiness and not the pursuit of death to be the slogan of their country
Khaled Abou Zahr
And so, we are now in the classic vicious cycle of increasing violence. There is, for now, not even a “too little, too late” situation because the regime is simply offering nothing. It does not accept or recognize the protests as being legitimate. And so, if this turnaround from an armed institution that would take on the cause of the people does not happen, what are the chances of Iran following the same track as Syria did in 2011? Could Iran fall into full confrontation and chaos?
The situation in Syria was different. Firstly, the Assad regime was part of a different religious minority — the Alawis — than the Sunni-majority protesters. And so, the regime’s pillars and military did not hesitate for one second to use absolute violence and with terrifying methods to protect themselves. Those who split from the army and joined the protests were hence Sunni and nonessential to the military institution, which stayed in place. But they had combat knowledge and changed the nature of the confrontation. The appearance of Daesh against the Assad regime gave it the opportunity to use absolute violence with the support of Iran and the blessing of the international community.
Facing the resolve of the people, will the Iranian regime and its members be able to kill in big numbers, like the regime in Syria did? And would any sizable numbers split from their military to join the people in their fight ? This all comes down to the answer to a single question: Will their religious beliefs blind them to horrific violence, just as it did with elements of the regime in Syria?
The regime’s accusations of foreign interference in the protests gives us the first indication. This is the first step toward justifying more violence against the protesters in order to protect what this regime claims it stands for. The regime, which openly negotiates with the West on the nuclear file, is nevertheless capable of issuing a moral accusation against the people of Iran. This is the hypocrisy the people will not stand for. And so, if the protests drag on, extreme violence can definitely take over Iran and the regime.
Is there another route? Former President Mohammed Khatami stated this week that the rulers must heed the protesters’ demands. Is this a true appeal or another ploy to divide the people and create confusion, just like the news of the dissolution of the morality police? Could the reformists present an acceptable alternative or transition to avoid Iran sinking into absolute chaos? The voices coming from the streets in Iran indicate the opposite. They no longer accept the dance between reformists and hard-liners. They see them as one. The people want the pursuit of happiness and not the pursuit of death to be the slogan of their country.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is chief executive of Eurabia, a media and tech company, and editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.