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Iran’s repressive regime on the defensive

If ordinary Iranians throw off their yoke themselves and elect a 21st century-style government, both they and the region will have reason to celebrate

Gulf News

Countries aligning themselves with Iran for various self-interested reasons, notably Turkey, Qatar, Syria and Iraq may find they have chosen the wrong side of history. The regime may be nearing its sell-by date.

Tehran is under pressure from the outside for its funding of terrorist militias, its aggression towards neighbouring states, as well as its testing of ballistic missiles contravening United Nations Security Council resolutions.

As reported by the Times of Israel, “Israel and the United States have secretly signed a far-reaching joint memorandum of understanding providing for full cooperation to deal with Iran’s nuclear drive, its missile programmes and its other threatening activities.”

The article maintains a joint strategy document was signed at the White House on December 12 to establish joint teams “to handle various aspects of the Iranian threat” such as Iran’s involvement in Syria and Lebanon. United States President Donald Trump is itching to negate the nuclear deal spearheaded by former US president Barack Obama and is frustrated that according to the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the agreement’s co-signatories, Iran has kept its commitments.

Obama pivoted US foreign policy towards Iran and was so determined to negotiate a deal that according to Josh Meyer of Politico, his administration “derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign (Project Cassandra) targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funnelling cocaine into the United States”.

Last October, Trump refused to recertify Iran’s compliance and gave Congress a 60-day window during which to impose sanctions on Iran, but did not wait to sanction Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

For the first time since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government is under attack from within as evidenced by peaceful protests throughout the country last Thursday and Friday — the largest since 2009 that were brutally quelled. The largest of these recent protests took place in the city of Mashhad where anti-government demonstrators began chanting slogans against rising prices, corruption and unemployment and ended with such slogans as “Death to the Dictator”, “Long live Reza Shah” and “The people are begging, the clerics act like God”. Smaller protests were witnessed in Rasht, Hamadan, Kermanshah, Isfahan, and capital Tehran. Even the city of Qom, home to the ayatollahs, did not escape angry shouts against President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for squandering money on the conflict in Syria, on Al Houthi militias in Yemen and on Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, even as ordinary Iranians go hungry.

The regime blames outside influences for stirring-up discontent while acknowledging people’s economic concerns. There have been dozens of arrests and warnings that illegal gatherings will be met with harsh responses. Saturday witnessed organised pro-government demonstrations around the nation. The ayatollahs are attempting to appease the dissenters by loosening the chains on a population deprived of personal freedoms. Just days ago, Tehran’s police chief announced that women who fail to conform to the nation’s strict dress code that includes, neglecting to cover every strand of hair, wearing nail polish and obvious make-up, will no longer face arrest and imprisonment. For many, the relaxation of this rule is too little, too late.

Whether the recent protests signify the birth of an Iranian ‘spring’ is too early to tell. The population is divided but my guess is that many — especially non-Persian minorities that are treated like third-class citizens, the poor, the jobless and the more secular-minded — will welcome a regime change, provided it is triggered from within.

Iranians are a proud people. Many still bristle that the CIA organised the coup that toppled Iran’s democratically-elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 in order to reinstate the Shah. And when the US decided that he had become too big for his boots, western governments provided sanctuary to Ayatollah Khomeini and his propaganda tapes were smuggled into Iran via diplomatic pouches.

Israel has long been threatening war with Iran and Hezbollah. Israel’s ambassador to the US says the threat of conflict increases weekly. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says investors should be concerned about an Israeli-Iranian war that could spill into the Arabian Gulf and choke oil trade.

Put simply, if the Iranian people are capable of throwing off their yoke themselves and elected a 21st century-style government worthy of joining the world’s community of nations, both they and the region will have reason to celebrate.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.

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