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Iran's Crisis is Deeper than the Price of Bread

Iran's Crisis is Deeper than the Price of Bread

Wednesday, 3 January, 2018 - 12:00
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

After toppling the Shah in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini succeeded in one thing: eliminating the strongest, richest and the most successful country in the Middle East.

Khomeini established on the rubble of the modern Pahlavi empire a backward religious state with old left-wing economic ideology. Iran was a successful model in the eyes of the West and it was way ahead of other countries.

Then, Khomeini disappointed everyone who supported him and all those who thought well of him. Iran's youth hoped the Shah's successor will bring a comprehensive democratic system. Ethnic minorities thought that after the Shah's removal, dominant Persian nationalism will end and a unified Iran for all will be established. Communists thought he would be their ally against the US, the Shah's ally.

Meanwhile, US officials thought religious scholars were better than the communist Tudeh Party of Iran, which will also block the way before the Soviets who were occupying neighboring Afghanistan. In addition, they thought they could work together with the clerics later on. The Arab people believed Khomeini's pledges to liberate Jerusalem from the Israelis and Arabs in the Gulf hoped the Shah's departure would end the dispute over the islands, Bahrain, and Iraq.

They were all wrong.

After Khomeini assumed power, Iranian youth paid the highest price. Universities were placed under the clerics' control and women were oppressed. The first victims of the newly-established regime were the leftists, who suffered the prejudice of the mullahs although they had helped it in Azadi (Freedom) Square.

Moreover, the regime suppressed ethnic minorities.

US officials realized that the religious right in the region was not the same as the right-wing in the West. The religious right was more hostile to the West than the Tudeh Party.

Tehran limited its dispute with Israel over Arab areas of influence. As for Arabs in the Gulf, they discovered that Khomeini considered them his main enemy and permanent target as he reawakened the old sectarian conflict.

Those who think that the economic crisis is the reason behind the people's protest against the regime of the Supreme Leader are underestimating the more dangerous and deep-rooted causes. The demonstrations of 2009 were larger, and they were led by people from within the regime who enjoyed their livelihood privileges. The roots of the current crisis are everything I mentioned above.

The regime had eliminated all local forces and distanced itself from others. When it failed, it was easy for all the people to rally behind their sole demand: Overthrowing the regime.

Bread is not the only problem with Hassan Rouhani's government, and oil prices are not their main argument against the Supreme Leader's regime. Rather, they oppose everything the regime represents.

The majority of Iranians are not religious and they have national pride and reject marginalization by the clergy. During the Shah's time, Iran was more civilized, open and advanced in science and industry. It all disappeared after a group of "dervishes" assumed power, believing that their sole duty was to harness the state to serve the Ayatollah and spread his teachings and fight for them all over the world.

This naive selfish way of thinking did not convince the majority of Iranian youth who produce the best movies, recite the best poems and hold parties in basements away from Basij informants' eyes. For many months, Iranian women published once a week their photos without the hijab in defiance of the mullahs.

The Iranian people harbor a genuine hatred for the regime. Some of the banners held during the demonstrations had slogans condemning support for religious movements in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. This feeling is greater and far more dangerous than the demand for cheaper bread.

There are many enemies of the clerical regime abroad as well, including some of those who show their concerns, like Russia, which is locked in a dispute with Iran over the division of the Caspian Sea and several other issues.

This may pressure Tehran during the upcoming phase to change into real politics, treat its people according to their wishes and end its foreign adventures. If it does not make these changes, the antagonistic majority inside and outside Iran will succeed in toppling the regime.

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