OPINION: Why the Iranian Opposition Has Achieved Little Since 1979

February 7, 2019

By Fazel Gheibi

We who have been opposing the Islamic Republic are in the same place we were 40 years ago. We know what we don’t want, but are clueless about what we are searching for, and cannot see a clear path to where we are heading. Lack of unity among opposition groups exposes a fundamental weakness in Iranian politics. We believe that our shared pain unites us, and yet we spend more time defining what divides us.

Highlighting our inadequacies without searching for viable remedies is unhelpful, and plunges us still deeper into despair. A thorough review of the current situation could define the road ahead. The following is an attempt to shed light on the current conditions in Iran by highlighting three principal ideas.

That most Iranians have, In the past 40 years, discovered what they do not want is, in and by itself, a significant achievement. Rejecting dictatorship, denouncing racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination and embracing other cultures shows that we have socially and politically grown and matured as a nation. The only way to reach a consensus is by understanding our history and how we have arrived at this point. We cannot agree on a future for our country unless we first understand the genesis and true nature of the theocratic rule of the Islamic Republic, which has been slowly destroying Iran in the past 40 years.

Curiously enough, many people who have been persecuted and brutalized by the Islamic Republic still believe that the Islamists could not have succeeded in Iran through a popular revolution alone, but rather had to be enabled by others including the BBC, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the late Shah’s secret police SAVAK and the Guadeloupe Conference.

[aesop_image img=”https://kayhanlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2000-05-24T120000Z_290008275_RP2DRIBIJIAA_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-REFORM.jpg” panorama=”off” align=”center” lightbox=”off” caption=”A student from Tehran university holds a placard calling for democracy in Iran. Reuters ” captionposition=”center” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

The Shah’s dictatorial rule and SAVAK’s arrests and tortures of political activists and rampant corruption played a crucial role in giving impetus to the Islamic Revolution. There are many complex factors which contribute to the creation of a significant event such as the Islamic Revolution, but if we were to choose one key element in all of this, it would be the presence and strength of millions of people which no force inside or outside the country could stop.

To fully understand the evolution of Islamic-leftism (Islamist-socialism), we must review the events that led to the1953 Iranian coup d’état which overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in favor of strengthening the monarchical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The increasing popularity of Islamic-leftism prevented the development of liberal political ideology and democratic concepts in Iranian social consciousness.

It is mind-boggling to think that Iranian intellectuals (students, academics, artists) believed that the left and Islamists would solve the country’s problems. However, we must keep in mind that the global leftist movement was gaining momentum at the time, and many people hoped that Islamic awakening would be a force against reactionary Islam. One can, therefore, argue that it was inevitable for Iran to end up with a theocracy or a leftist totalitarian regime, given that the democratic movement was ineffective in the country at that time. Also, a victory by the left could have potentially triggered a civil war in the country which would have turned Iran into another Afghanistan.  

Ultimately, Muslim clerics were victorious in Iran and brutally crushed the left. Curiously enough, left-wing groups and organizations have refused to take responsibility for the arrest, torture, and murder of tens of thousands of their idealistic young supporters who have perished in the Islamic Republic’s prisons, and instead, blame the Iranian people for their deaths. They use the loss of so many innocent lives to justify their perverse sense of political entitlement.

It is not befitting of Iranians who genuinely love their country to blame the Shah for not taking a particular course of action, or officials from foreign governments for making certain remarks, or France for allowing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to move there, or the Iranian Armed Forces for capitulating. These speculations obscure the truth and are unpatriotic, because if foreign powers put Islamists in power in Iran, then logic dictates that they should be able to topple the Islamic Republic. The fact is that only Iranians can change the regime.

Understanding the Islamic Republic is the prerequisite to planning a correct way to fight it. We cannot oppose the regime if we do not fully comprehend its nature. For instance, some opposition groups use “fascist” or “totalitarian” as derogatory terms to attack rather than describe the regime. Others refer to the Islamic Republic’s rulers as “criminal gangs” or “occupation forces” which does not accurately explain the socio-political nature of the regime.

It is abundantly clear that the Islamic Republic’s unique nature has enabled it to last for four decades, despite numerous efforts to topple it. It is next to impossible to oppose the regime effectively unless we fully understand its true essence. If, for instance, the Islamic Republic was a dictatorship that held elections, then the people’s votes could replace or change the system. However, elections in a totalitarian regime serve as a propaganda tool, as we have seen in Iran for the past 40 years.

Those who believe the Islamic Republic to be a totalitarian governing system that came to power with the help of most Iranians 40 years ago and will do their utmost to topple it are the real opponents of the regime. However, others who argue that domestic elements and foreign powers helped create the Islamic Republic, and who take part in elections or oppose any sanctions against the regime–irrespective of their motives–are the supporters of the ruling system in Iran. 

How can we depose the Islamic Republic given that it shares the same traits as Stalinism and fascism — namely grassroots support and effective use of its propaganda machine? It brutally crushes dissidents and intellectuals and manipulates the naïve and uneducated segment of society with promises of world domination and heavenly rewards.

After invading France in 1940, Nazi Germany appeared unstoppable on its way to conquering the world. Similarly, in the 1970s, Communism seemed to be close to fulfilling its goal of global domination. However, both totalitarian regimes, which destroyed millions of lives, ultimately ended up on the ash heap of history. The Islamic Republic cannot compare in might to Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union. It is not even a regional power, let alone a player on the world stage.

However, it would be a grave mistake to think that the regime will unravel from within because of the economic and social crisis it is facing. Experience has shown that grassroots support for totalitarian regimes does not quickly abandon the ruling system, particularly in a theocracy where the state expertly manipulates people’s religious beliefs to its advantage. History has taught us that a popular uprising combined with global pressure can hasten the overthrow of a despotic regime such as the Islamic Republic, but only if there is a clear and viable alternative to the regime that could motivate and mobilize the opposition.

It is impossible for Iranians living under an oppressive, totalitarian regime to topple the Islamic Republic all on their own. Those who promote street unrest as the only way to weaken the regime act irresponsibly, because they forget that without a unified national movement civil disobedience would only empower the state to crush the opposition. Also, establishing democracy in the country would only be possible through unity and solidarity among various segments of Iranian society. Any other approach would lead to more violence and the creation of another self-serving regime.

Millions of Iranians have left their homeland in the past 40 years, most of whom dream of a day when their country is freed itself from the clutches of the Islamic Republic. Only by mobilizing this formidable force will the opposition have a fighting chance against the theocratic rule of the Iranian regime.

Besides strengthening their collective will in their battle against the Islamic Republic, the Iranian people have also discovered the anti-Iranian nature of the political left, which has used nationalist propaganda to instill “fear” and “hope” in the hearts of its supporters inside and outside Iran. It warns against the impending invasion and rape of the country by imperialist forces, while giving false hope that the regime will somehow change its despotic nature and become a softer and gentler version of itself.

After four decades, it has become clear that what separates the real supporters and opponents of the Islamic Republic is not whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, but rather whether they are friends or foes of the U.S. and Israel. Therefore, it is time to reveal the true nature of those who claim to love Iran and seek justice but warn against the return of “global hegemony.” They are the real supporters of theocratic rule in Iran.

It is curious why all Iranians who are living abroad could not “mobilize a global democratic movement” for their country.

The Islamic Revolution delivered a massive shock to Iranian society. It was arguably one of the most significant events that any nation has experienced in modern history. Before the 1979 Revolution, most Iranians believed that Islam laid the foundation for the country’s social and moral values. However, the bloody takeover of the country by Muslim clerics dispelled that illusion and turned their dream into a nightmare.

The new generation of left-wing ideologues claims to be free of any religious attachment, but has not offered a viable substitute for its moral guidance. Experience has shown that rejecting Islamic beliefs without abandoning an Islamic mindset does not solve the problem but instead disguise it and, therefore, making it even more dangerous.

Iranian society resembles a creature with two hearts, each beating with a different rhythm. It comprises two culturally and philosophically different groups. Lack of trust and an inability to cooperate have made it impossible for these two sides to unite. Every attempt to form a unified political and cultural institution by Iranians living abroad has failed. As a result, the fight against the Islamic Republic has not resulted in a single victory so far.

The inability of millions of Iranians living abroad to expose the human rights violations in Iran, despite having access to foreign media, astonishes Western observers. The international community has a skewed view of the Islamic Republic which prevents it from supporting a democratic movement in Iran wholeheartedly.

To summarize, the democracy movement faces three key obstacles: it does not fully understand the true nature of the regime; it lacks a coherent plan to overthrow the Islamic Republic; and it suffers from a defective mindset that is endemic.

A massive resistance movement cannot form organically after 40 years of political, social and economic mismanagement. Mass street marches and protests cannot overthrow the regime in and of itself. The leaders of such a movement must gain the trust and confidence of the Iranian people. The movement must be inclusive and comprise people from different colors, race, ethnic origins and religions.

Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi