Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Iranian Revolution in Another World

The developments in Iran concern the region and the world. Yes, changing the regime concerns the Iranian people alone, but Iran is involved in international tensions and immersed in several maps in the region.

The people of the region want to see an Iranian state that respects recognized borders, laws and rules. That is why the protests in Iran are being widely watched, especially since they appear to be more than a passing moment of anger and will not be so easily quelled by bullets.

The protests pose a difficult and significant question to the Iranian revolution: For how long will it continue to refuse to acknowledge that the world has changed?

The Iranian revolution was born in one world and it is now living in another. The world has changed dramatically in the past four decades. It has changed to such an extent that it is impossible for anyone to live in it while remaining detached from the changes it has witnessed.

The world was living in the shadow of two camps when the Khomeini revolution succeeded. The revolution boasted that it was born from outside these two rivals.

At the moment of their success, revolutions are often deluded in believing they will persist for all time and that they will change the world. They are delusional in believing that they have found the solutions that other uprisings failed to uncover. It is easy to misconstrue delusions for dreams in the heated moment of victory.

The Iranian revolution cannot continue to ignore the changes that have taken place on the international scene over the past decades. The changes have been massive and no one can be detached from them.

The United States of today is not the same United States that the Iranian revolution proudly celebrated turning its diplomats in Tehran into hostages. The “Great Satan” is still the world’s top economic power.

The Soviet Union is no more. It did not leave the map because of a nuclear strike or a world war. No, it left after it was exhausted by the arms race, the widening technological gap and the failure to preserve a deep connection with the generations that were born in the shadow of the revolution. It left because it did not succeed in introducing the necessary improvements in the lives of the people and heeding their aspirations. Foreign campaigns did not fortify it against internal challenges.

China was standing at a decisive crossroads when the Iranian revolution declared victory. The ideas of Mao Zedong were not enough to protect the regime born from the revolution. They were not enough to resolve problems and come to terms with developments and economic facts. The revolution had hit a wall and had no choice but to change.

Mao’s heirs maintained the party as a guarantor for stability, but they broke the rules that were once seen as sacrosanct. Words like “prosperity”, “progress”, “investment” and “trade” became part of daily lives. A change was necessary in mentalities and methods. The heirs succeeded in saving the revolution by adopting the mentality of the state. The real salvation came when hundreds of millions were saved from deep poverty and when the country joint the scientific and technological revolutions.

No one in the world can ignore the fruits of the technological and communication revolutions. The internet introduced massive change in how the individual interacted with the world. It allowed access to information that censors had tried to hide from the people.

Then came the smartphone or the biggest opponent or witness in history. Now, any citizen can access the world through the small device tucked in their pocket. The citizen takes photos, documents developments and presses the send button. Every citizen has been transformed into a journalist who takes notes, gathers information and voices their opinion over internal and foreign affairs.

The smartphone allowed the user to become part of an integrated world, in spite of international borders and strict censorship. It told the user that they have fundamental rights that they are entitled to demand. In this vein, a young Iranian girl living in one country is similar to an Iranian living in another or even in a different continent.

The smartphone also delivered the message that the models that have been put in place are not universal. These models are not immune to the changes and new ways of life that are brought about with the passage of time.

The Iranian revolution tried to fortify itself from the major changes. It kept the frontline with the West ablaze and rendered any demand for change, no matter how small, part of a foreign conspiracy aimed at destroying the pillars of the regime and the very foundations of its survival. It believed that it had the right to glean from the technological advances only the tools that would bolster its arsenal, tighten its grip and intensify its attack on the region.

The Iranian revolution transformed the concept of “exporting the revolution” into policies that succeeded in breaching the maps in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. But it failed in making progress in maps that had already been breached by stability or prosperity.

Officials even acknowledged that the breaches were part of efforts aimed at protecting the regime and its role, even if it meant taking place at the expense of the security and prosperity of the violated maps. The Iranian revolution seized the nuclear and ballistic missile files as insurance policies to protect its role in the region.

The Iranian revolution has acted as through the problem lay abroad and with foreign powers and that the internal scene was fortified and immune. It dealt with past protests, sparked by elections results or living hardships, as fleeting foreign attempts to destabilize it. It refused to acknowledge the malaise of the new generations and their aspirations for a better life and the need to focus on improving living conditions instead of pouring attention on small allied armies deployed abroad.

The insistence of Iran, which is slipping towards international or at least western isolation, in refusing to acknowledge that the world has change has allowed the protests that erupted over Mahsa Amini’s death to take a deeper meaning than previous ones. This was demonstrated in the slogans chanted by the protesters, who did so in spite of knowing the heavy price they may pay for doing so.

The spread of the protests to far-flung cities, the slogan of “women - life – freedom” and fearlessness in the face of deadly bullets have given the impression that Iranian authorities, under President Ebrahim Raisi, are now being confronted with an unprecedented challenge.

It is obvious that previous treatments are no longer effective and widespread oppression will lead to more rounds of protests. Perhaps this is why the authorities, under street pressure, agreed to abolish the “morality police” and appeared ready to discuss the hijab.

It would be hasty to assume that this is clear evidence that change is imminent. But it is obvious that the protests delivered a harsh message that the guardians of the revolution have no choice but to recognize that today’s world is different than the world that witnessed the birth of the revolution.

The essence of the message is that time shows no mercy. The revolution will be changed by the new generation that is living under its shadow or by street protests, no matter how long it takes and no matter the cost.