By Saeed Abed
Iran’s 1979 revolution changed the face and the old order of the Middle East forever with American and European still trying to have a cohesive policy vis-à-vis the Islamic dictatorship that replaced that of the shah.
Over four decades after the religious mullahs’ regime took control of a strategically located country such as Iran, in a region fraught with ethnic, religious and political tensions, the policy makers on both sides of the ponds, have not been able to agree on the right approach to Iran. It must also be admitted that the intentionally conflicting signals and malign activities of this Islamic republic of Iran have also kept the West in an unending game of guessing and hope too.
While the West was concerned about the hostage taking practices of the Iranian regime and it’s clear desire to extort and bully the Europeans and the Americans in the region, with the revelation of Iran’s advanced nuclear program by the country’s leading pro-democracy opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the situation went from bad to worse. The Western countries and their intelligence institutions were in disbelief about the extent of Iran’s nuclear program.
Oddly enough, even though the nuclear revelations strongly influenced international perspectives about the threats posed by the Iranian regime, the western governments had been holding to the failed notion that they could change the regime’s behavior by offering concessions. Time and again they have tried and always failed to change the regime’s behaviours or tame it’s aspiration for regional and eventually world dominance. The West has overlooked one very serious fact that the recurring upraises and protests by the Iranian people is their unequivocal rejection of the ruling tyranny. In so doing, those governments have maintained inadequate policies while ignoring the pivotal factor of the Iranian people and the role of the opposition PMOI/ MEK. Recent and ongoing developments inside the Islamic Republic
Normalizing Calls for Regime Change
Within a year, since the supreme leader appointer Ebrahim Raisi as his president after a nationwide boycott of the election, the widespread mass protests have shown no sign of stopping. The latest of such nationwide protests and public outrage last month, started over the government’s decision to remove subsidies on essential foodstuffs. The impact of that decision included an immediate spike of roughly 400 percent in the price of cooking oil, and similarly catastrophic increases for chicken, eggs, dairy, bread, and pasta. Demonstrations began on May 6, primarily in Khuzestan Province, and since then they have spread to at least a dozen others. Anti-government protests continued subsequent to the collapse of a 10-story building in the city of Abadan (South-West Iran), which killed dozens and injured dozens more. The catastrophe was the direct result of rampant corruption and nepotism contributing to sub-standard construction.
The current uprising followed the same basic pattern as one that began in December 2017, continued through much of January 2018, and marked an apparent turning point in longstanding conflicts between the Iranian people and the Iranian regime. In that case, initial protests over economic conditions began in the country’s second-largest city of Mashhad, and then spread to well over 100 other localities. As they did so, they carried provocative anti-government slogans that seemingly normalized public calls for regime change.
The eight uprisings which have taken place over the past four and a half years are notable not only for their scale or for the fact that they were invariably preceded by public appeals from MEK Resistance Units, but also for their geographic and demographic diversity. This sets them apart from prior large-scale protests like the 2009 protests, which were dominated by middle-class activists in Tehran. Thus, it also undermines longstanding assumptions that poor, rural Iranians represent a stronghold of support for the theocratic regime.
Dawn of new realities calls for new approach to Iran’s realities
According to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the initial uprising was largely attributable to the MEK, which had “planned for months” to facilitate simultaneous protests in all major cities. In fact, Khamenei ultimately blamed the uprising on a “triangle of enemies” comprised of the MEK, Western governments, and Iran’s regional adversaries.
The MEK enjoys the support of many high-profile parliamentarians, government, security, intelligence, and academia, but their support has yet to translate into comparable attention from the actual leadership of the United States, the European Union, or its member states.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently commented upon this situation while visiting Ashraf 3, the community established by the MEK in Albania following the relocation of 3,000 of their members from Camp Liberty in Iraq. In his remarks to residents, Pompeo also addressed Raisi’s repressive mandate and his role in undermining that mandate by stoking the people’s economic discontent.
Mike Pence, the former US Vice President said on October 28 in Washington “One of the biggest lies the ruling regime has sold the world is that there’s no alternative to the status quo. But there is an alternative – a well-organized, fully prepared, perfectly qualified and popularly supported alternative called the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq). The MEK is committed to democracy, human rights and freedom for every citizen of Iran, and it’s led by an extraordinary woman. Mrs. Rajavi is an inspiration to the world. Her Ten-Point Plan for the Future of Iran will ensure freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom for every Iranian to choose their elected leaders.”
There clearly exists the need for new strategy in line with the growing new reality on the ground – one that recognizes regime change by the Iranians as a more viable solution to problems emanating from Tehran, and one that formally acknowledges the forces pushing for that outcome from inside the Islamic Republic.
No such strategy has been forthcoming in the past four decades, because Western policymakers have overwhelmingly been caught in a false dilemma, believing that their only options were to accept the current composition of the Iranian government or to remove it by force of arms and accept the chaos that comes of leaving a country leaderless.
But there is a clear lesson to be taken from the eight uprisings against the regime of the last four and a half years: the Islamic Republic of Iran is now ripe for a regime change.
To achieve this goal, it is needed a no longer deferrable commitment by EU and US institutions in order to assure a Transatlantic stance that openly supports and legitimizes the organized opposition movement now leading the country’s transition to democracy.
Saeed Abed is a Member of the NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee, Human Rights Activist, Expert on Iran, and the Middle East