By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, Asharq Al-Awasat Newspaper
While recent civil unrests in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon were initially triggered by the dire economic conditions in these countries and people’s desire to free themselves from the grips of their corrupt ruling regimes, the common thread among the angry and frustrated protesters in Tehran, Beirut and Baghdad was their shared intellectual identity and general characteristics.
Most protesters in Tehran, Baghdad, and Beirut were young people who rejected old, outdated, and backward-thinking ruling regimes in their respective countries. Although the governing bodies in Iraq are relatively new, the people who run them have the same mentality as the ultraconservative technocrats in Iran and Lebanon. The widening of the intellectual and philosophical gaps between the forward-thinking youth and the ruling Islamist regime in Iran has been the driving force behind the recent protests.
Young people protesting in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon not only oppose the corrupt, ineffective and obsolete governing systems in their countries but also demand fundamental social changes that would guarantee political freedom and civil rights of every citizen. Economic conditions might have sparked the unrest initially, but the protests have evolved into a fight for freedom and against religious extremism. The spiritual liberation of the youth who spearhead these protests reflects specific changes in the modern world.
According to a recent study, 70 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million are between 15 and 35 years old. These young people have a different mindset than the ruling elite in the capital city of Tehran and the holy city of Qom, the seat of clerical power. The establishments in Iraq and Lebanon face a similar problem.
Protests against political Islam and clerical rule are a significant development in Iraq, particularly in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, where people’s lives are intrinsically fused with religion. Setting buildings that belong to the Islamic political parties on fire and burning pictures of senior clerics signifies young people’s disdain for the backward-thinking religious extremists in power.
Protests in the streets of Tehran, Baghdad, and Beirut are against religious leaders. Iranian youth vehemently oppose religious conservatives and corrupt politicians who have been running the country for decades.
While religious hardliners have used despotic methods and means to strengthen their hold over Iran and less directly in Iraq and Lebanon, they have failed to implement coherent and workable economic policies to improve people’s lives. They have deprived the young segments of these nations of their liberties and the right to determine their future.
Are the protesters in Beirut aware of the size and strength of the forces in Lebanon? Don’t they fear the heavily armed Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias?
The answer is no.
The protesters do not fear the government or the Hezbollah. They are unyielding in their demand for a fundamental change in the governing system of the country. They proudly wrap themselves in the Lebanese flag and display their national identity. The protesters have called for a complete overhaul of the system without targeting the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese President Michel Aounor, or the group itself. They did not want to give any excuse to the Hezbollah and its supporters to brutalize the protesters by accusing them of “treason” or “spying for Israel.”
Protesters in Lebanon deprived President Aoun and the Hezbollah of the opportunity to create a false narrative about the unrest by chanting nationalist slogans that called for comprehensive reform.
Protesters in Iran have defied the theocratic rule more than ever before. During the recent unrest, young Iranians burned pictures of self-serving senior clerics who have controlled the country for four decades by enshrining themselves in fabricated religious iconographies.
The Islamic Republic has tried to brainwash the nation, particularly the country’s youth, through 40 years of systematic indoctrination. However, the backward-thinking clergy has failed to wipe out the inherent sense of national pride from the collective consciousness of Iranians.
The opposition movements in Iran are not liberal and democratic in the Western sense. They instead focus their efforts to liberate the nation from the grips of the theocratic system that has ruled the country for four decades. The religious model has failed in ran, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Iran was one of the most prosperous and modernized countries in the region during the reign of the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. It has, however, become a regional pariah under the theocratic rule of the Islamic Republic in the past 40 years. The disintegration of Iran started the day Shia clerics became politicians and leaders instead of preaching sermons to worshippers.
The clerics in Iran have not been content with turning the country into a religious state. They have tried to export the doctrine of the Islamic Republic to the region and to a broader world.
Islamists found a new foothold in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Pro-Iranian clerics and militias were able to take control of modern political institutions in Iraq, including the parliament and the government. Tehran exerts a great deal of influence in Iraq.
Lebanon inherited a religious-sectarian governing system from the time that the League of Nations mandated that France would administer it after the partition of the Ottoman Empire in 1921. The corrupt ruling class exploited the situation to its advantage. The current governing body in Lebanon has no clue how to deal with the young protesters who transcend all sectarian and tribal divisions in their call for national unity and resistance. They only care about Lebanon and Lebanese. Their resolve and determination have confused and scared the establishment in that country.
Recent protests in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon show the emergence of a spiritual awakening and intellectual freedom that embrace forward thinking and reject dogmatic and oppressive governing systems. People are concerned about a variety of issues than just the economy. Those institutions which do not recognize or acknowledge these changes are doomed to the dustbin of history.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]