By Afshar Koorosh
Not dissimilar to the pre-crisis years of the late 1970s, the world appears to have, once again, been caught off guard vis-à-vis its assessment of the political dynamics of Iran and the survivability of a regime, not long ago, classified as "secure" by most western intelligence and think-tank analyses.
September 11, the ensuing removal of the Taliban and the subsequent forced fall of Baghdad have brought a new and very real focus on the clerics of Tehran whom by most measures serve as the poster boys of radical extremism, in quest of the atomic bomb.
In many respects, the international
Not withstanding, there is a real and vibrant civil
discord brewing in
Approaching his seventh year of presidency and term limited, Hojatolislam Mohamad Khatami, by his own admission, has failed. Powerless or unwilling, the mid-ranking cleric president failed to draw on a mandate of "reform." Despite successive presidential and legislative elections, no meaningful challenge was ever risked against the ruling conservatives. Consequently, the recent student crackdowns, preceded by the rejection of "reform legislations," by the conservatives, are viewed as the final acts bringing as end to what was once dubbed as the "2nd of Khordad Movement" (named after Khatami's first election date).
Adding to its domestic turmoil, the regime's chronic inability to steer away from militant positions on a variety of international issues (i.e. pursuit of WMDs, obstruction of the Middle East peace process, relations with Al Qaeda operatives, overt and covert support of subversive anti terror forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the latest beating death of a Canadian-Iranian journalist, etc.) has strengthened the case against it, legitimizing its classification as a rogue, evil and non-conventional state.
This dynamic has brought forth an urgent
need, in many western capitals, for a serious reassessment of their respective
"Iran Policies." Any such
reevaluation however will only translate into an actual policy shift (away from
"dialogue and engagement") if its findings convincingly satisfy the following
questions: 1) Is there mass
Fractious, splintered, unimaginative, spiteful and apathetic are words often used to describe the Iranian opposition. Hence, despite years of "waiting for their moment," the Iranian opposition is today ill-prepared and not in position to provide leadership for a movement that has a very real and legitimate chance of bringing positive and permanent challenge to a visibly paranoid and de-legitimized regime.
Despite numerous attempts and calls for unity among and between the various opposition groups, factions and personalities, very little has been accomplished and prospects of a miraculous coalition or even détente among such groups are dim.
This is especially troubling, since the regime's efficient intelligence apparatus is, by and large, quite successful in regularly draining the pools of political leaders that emerge from the domestic front of its political opposition. Those "leaders," who escape incarceration by the regime, find themselves in exile, where they either get consumed by exile politics, or become ineffective when disconnected from their domestic peers.
Window of Opportunity
Rushed by an increased acceleration of
political events within
Irrespective of political orientations, a strong case can be made that the window of opportunity for meaningful change in Iran (either via internal "reform" or regime change) is approximately 7-16 months -- with the next Majlis (February 2004) and presidential (May 2005) elections as the critical focal milestones.
Based on this window, there are three
distinct schools of thoughts which attempt their best to foretell the unfolding
of events in
1) One school believes the regime will weather the storm: Arguing that the so called pragmatists among the ruling elite are survivors and, thanks to a leadership vacuum among the opposition, the regime will buy itself time by inevitably offering a series of strategic concessions. These concessions may come in two form: a) To the West: in the areas of WMD's, the Middle East peace plan, war on Al Qaeda and even human rights; and, b) To the Iranian people: it will loosen some social controls, offer an amnesty, concoct revisions to the election vetting process and shift some of the powers of the expediency council to the presidency. Under this formula, the regime will find the perfect opportunity to unveil "Khatami II," just in time for the next election cycle. (This time perhaps a western educated non-cleric, a former "dissident," or even a "liberal" female can become the dark horse to win the purse.)
2) The second school believes that the clerical regime will be unable to stand the socio-economic and political heat and will be left with one of two options: a) A "palace coup" by the conservatives in an attempt to save political Islam and its "Republic" from the pagans. Or, b) A "palace coup" by the pragmatists / reformers in an attempt to "bring to the people what they want." (In either case, it is thought that Mr. Rafsanjani will play the power broker. Unclear though, is which camp he will choose to pay his brokerage fee?)
3) The third school believes that regime change is inevitable. Irrespective of tactical maneuvers by the regime, or an absence of an organized leadership by the opposition, this school believes that the regime will be unable to stave off the energy of dissent and the demands of the youth - who want nothing less than a complete exit of the clergy from governance and the establishment of a secular democracy.
Haplessly optimistic, this group discounts the
absence of an organizational leadership for the freedom movement by subscribing
to one of two views: a) That the movement is on the verge of
spawning its leadership, from within
Notwithstanding its domestic problems, the Islamic Republic is also faced with increased and very serious challenge from outside its borders.
As the remaining superpower, and more
especially because of the inherent "conspiratorial" psyche of the Iranian
political culture, the
Yet, as reflected by grueling public
debates and the ambiguities emanating from various
Irrespective of which face of history one sides with
-- the coup or counter-coup of 1953 - there is clarity
in the opportunity afforded to
It is an undeniable reality that without a tangible
alternative, it is difficult for any argument, no matter how morally just, to
3) With or
With vast gas and petroleum reserves, a consumer
market of 70 million,
The clerical regime however, has not played its hand
very well with the EU in that, it has managed, on its own, to increasingly make
the case for
To exert successful pressure on the clerical regime,
Fix: For decades,
With national elections (Presidential, the entire
House and 2/3 of the Senate) 15 months away, the Bush administration will need
to stop the hemorrhage of public opinion support of its foreign policy efforts
in the Middle East. Suggesting that
the Administration's foreign policy choices will be severely limited by
temptations of "quick fixes" and "settling down" the
Unless something dramatically energizes the Iranian
political process, within the next six months, it would be unreasonable to
expect the Administration to take dramatic risks on
Serious or Curious?
Despite an overall pessimism among
The former crown prince, "Reza Pahlavi of Iran," as he prefers to be called, a few years ago embarked on a quiet campaign to re-introduce himself to the world at large, but more especially to the 50 million youth of Iran whom never knew him nor his father.
Young, modern, articulate and genuinely unassuming, Reza Pahlavi has found much success in the West, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, in presenting himself as a selfless "citizen-prince," calling for secularism by way of a referendum - brought about as a result of a non-violent civil disobedience campaign of political defiance.
Careful analysis, as reflected by
sentiments within power circles in western capitals, however, suggest Reza
Pahlavi's bold public relations campaign significantly outweighs his
organizational capabilities inside and, surprisingly, outside Iran.
This analysis suggests that in many respects Reza Pahlavi's strengths also appear to be his weaknesses: His high name identification among all Iranians; his recent success with a well disciplined public relations campaign; as well as, his articulate campaign message serve him as double edged swords: 1) To those who find it counter-intuitive to support a return of monarchy in Iran, the name Pahlavi is an insurmountable problem; 2) To those who find little problem with his message, the fact that he has become an "overnight" media darling in the west is suspect and immediately attributed to a "conspiracy by the powers" to yet-again return a Pahlavi to the peacock throne; 3) Ironically, to those who may be willing to take him at face value, there is a looming contradiction between Reza Pahalvi's public relations campaign and an obvious inability or, worse, lack of desire to assemble, forge, command or partake in a cohesive political mobilization effort (i.e. united opposition); and, 4) finally to those who are not convinced of his formula: "Nonviolent political defiance and civil-disobedience = regime paralysis = facilitating a referendum and secular democracy," he is suspect of either not being serious or, of having ulterior motives.
It remains to be seen, and especially difficult to gauge, whether the citizen-prince is able to translate his strong rhetoric into a solid emotional connection with the frustrated masses living under the Islamic Republic. His message has great appeal, but any legitimate chance for success largely depends on his ability to personally overcome the serious questions that have, for years, haunted him about his leadership skills and personal commitment to the cause.
Nevertheless, Reza Pahlavi has made inroads and is a name to be reckoned with. If for no other reason, for the very simple fact that the institution he represents still commands emotions among Iranians and can command a natural constituency deeply rooted in Persian culture dating back well before both Islam and Christianity.
... Payvand News - 7/30/03 ... --