popular protests erupted in Iran’s top 100 cities, including the capital
Tehran, last month, it soon became clear that the ruling elites were at pains
to decide what was really going on.
led by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei started by dismissing the uprising as a
déjà vu version of the protests that have punctuated Iran’s history since the
1979 revolution. The daily Kayhan, reputed to reflect Khamenei’s views,
dismissed the uprising as “sporadic disturbances fomented by a handful of
hooligans.” Khamenei himself saw it as “a bump on the road” to the “Great New
Islamic Civilization” he says he is building.
official media dismissed what it claimed was “a blind riot with no leadership.”
voices in the West mocked the whole thing as “a storm in the twitter cup” and
pontificated that a few exiles campaigning for human rights would never be able
to provide the leadership needed for a serious challenge to the Iranian
remnants of the “reform seeking” faction tried to label the uprising as nothing
but a protest against the tripling of the price of petrol.
lobbies abroad tried to promote a third version, claiming that while
“hooligans” were leading the protests, the mass of the people who followed had
no political grievances against the regime. They insisted that President Hassan
Rouhani was trying to raise revenues to keep the ship of state afloat.
Almost no one
in the ruling establishment bothered to ask why so many Iranians were prepared
to risk their lives to make their voices heard and what could the regime do to
address their grievances.
initial hesitations the elite regained its unity by responding in the best, not
to say the only way, it knows best, that is to say a brutal crackdown that
claimed hundreds of lives and over 10,000 arrests.
Switch In Approach To The Uprising Meant A Change Of Narrative.
“hooligans” were rebranded as “trained combatants armed by foreign powers” sent
to turn Iran into “another Syria.” Khamenei’s top military aide, Major-General
Hussein Salami, pushed hyperbole to the limit by claiming that Iran faced “a
veritable world war.”
that the uprising had no leadership was abandoned.
asserted that “the evil Pahlavi family” was leading the riots with the People’s
Mujahedin, or in his words Munafeqin, in tandem. The Khomeinist propaganda
machine generated a new narrative: The Islamic Republic had faced an epic
challenge, and succeeded in crushing it without the slightest concession let
alone re-casting any of its domestic and foreign policies.
although medium-term effects of the uprisings remain subject to speculation,
its immediate result is already visible in a multifaceted retreat by the
First Facet Of That Retreat Is Ideological.
all talk of conquering the world and creating the “Great New Islamic
Civilization” is consigned to oblivion.
unusual speech, Khamenei spelled out the new gospel: “If Iranians wish to
preserve their good life and security,” they should stick to the Islamic
said that around 70 percent of Iranians live in poverty while the remaining 30
percent “enjoy a prosperous life.” Now, Khamenei was making it clear that he
looks to the “prosperous” 30 percent for support in keeping his regime. In his
time, Khomeini had claimed that his revolution was for the “mass of the poor”
which he designated with the term “dispossessed” (mustadhafin in Arabic and
Persian.) Now Khamenei was saying that the term had been misunderstood.
Khamenei claimed in a fatwa, “The term dispossessed has been misinterpreted as
poor and vulnerable people.” He added: “That is not correct; the dispossessed
means the imams and the leaders of humanity.” Khamenei’s argument is that the
12 Imams, and by extension the clerics who are their heirs, have been
dispossessed of their right to rule the world. Thus, when it comes to worldly
affairs, the Islamic regime is not meant to help the poor and the vulnerable
but to protect the “security and prosperity” of those who enjoy those
into simple terms, Khamenei is calling on the “prosperous 30 percent” not to
take their current well-being for granted and help the regime crush the mass of
the poor who wish to upset the apple cart.
revolution against the Shah was started, manned and led by middle classes that
had emerged in his reign. The “ordinary masses” that is to say urban workers
and peasants who might have fitted the term “dispossessed”, remained loyal to
the Shah almost to the very end. The Shah wrongly believed that the newly
created and increasingly prosperous urban middle classes would never challenge
his regime. He feared a Communist-style revolution based on a workers-peasants
alliance of the type Lenin or Mao Zedong imagined but never experienced.
thought that by giving land to peasants and granting workers a share in the
profits of companies he would prevent such a revolution. He ignored the fact
that the peasants who became landowners, albeit on small-scale, used their
title deeds as collateral, to enter the capital market and within a generation
joined the middle classes. Something similar happened to the top bracket of
urban workers who invested their share of the profits to reach a middle class
Know That The Shah Never Faced Any Danger From The Mass Of The Poor.
to his regime came from urban middle classes that in any society do not remain
content with economic prosperity and social freedoms for long; they always end
up demanding political rights commensurate with their economic and social
status. The best symbol of modern urban middle classes, or the bourgeoisie as
the Marxists like to say, is Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist who, the more he
gets, the more he asks for.
Khamenei Making A Similar Mistake Albeit For Different Reasons?
percent he is counting on may remain loyal as long as he is able to keep the 70
percent “unhappy ones” on a tight leash. However, if he manages to crush the 70
percent, thus removing their threat, he would face the 30 percent’s increasing
demands for social and political freedoms no clerical regime can grant. And, if
he fails, the 30 percent in question will look for someone else who can do for
them what the Khomeinist regime cannot. In either case, the “Supreme Guide” is
playing a losing game.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of
the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for
innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for
Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987
Source: The Aawsat