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Iran’s regime faces moment of truth

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | January 3, 2018

An unexpected side effect of the ongoing unrest in Iran is that it will consolidate the Turkish-Iranian entente in regional politics. The Turkish leadership has openly reached out to President Hassan Rouhani. Following up on the contact between the two foreign ministers on Tuesday and the statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, President Recep Erdogan telephoned Rouhani today to express Turkey’s solidarity.

While talking to a group of editors in Ankara today, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gently ticked off the US and Israel saying, “There are only two [world] figures who support protestors: Trump and Netanyahu. We are against such foreign interventions.” Cavusoglu added, “I have not seen any other world leader making such supportive statements. You may not like the regime but Iran’s president and government, apart from the religious leader, can only be changed through elections. And there are no objections about the security of elections [in Iran].”

Turkey did not have to go this far but it senses an imperative need to intervene. Turkey’s main concern will be Iran’s stability. Having said that, although Turkey is voicing open support for Iran in the current difficult period, it cannot be oblivious of the strong undercurrents playing out in Iran’s political economy. Erdogan has shown empathy for Rouhani’s approach – allowing the protests to take place peacefully without any intimidation by the state security agencies but effectively curbing any violent incidents. Rouhani told Erdogan that he hoped that the protests would end “within a few days.”

Even so, this ought to be a moment of truth for the Iranian regime. For the first time, perhaps, the unrest is largely among the downtrodden people who are losing hope in a better future under the existing regime. There is widespread resentment among poor people that the resources of the country are siphoned off by the ruling elites. The draft budget that was presented to the Majlis last month itself flagged a shocking misallocation of resources – Al-Mustafa International University (which propagates Shi’ism worldwide) has a budget that exceeds the combined budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the National Organization for Food and Drug.

There were high expectations among the poor people that following the signing of the nuclear deal in July 2015, the economic conditions would improve. They were jubilant when Zarif returned home after the nuclear deal and spontaneously thronged the airport to receive him. But two years down the line, these hopes have been dashed. The bazaar gossip is that billions of dollars in blocked funds lying in western banks that were returned to post-sanctions Iran have either been squandered away in overseas enterprises (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, etc.) or simply misappropriated by the religious establishment.

The current unrest is doomed to fizzle out. The absence of middle class (which is in the vanguard of all revolutions in history) guarantees it. Again, the lack of leadership among protestors would mean that “fatigue” would set in sooner or later. The wretched of the earth do not have the luxury to protest till eternity instead of eking out their daily livelihood to keep body and soul together.

What is the way forward? The people, clearly, want “change”. Arguably, they no longer have faith in the so-called “reformists”, either. On the other hand, Rouhani faces dogged opposition from entrenched interest groups who masquerade as “conservatives” or “principlists”. If the protests in 2009 (led by the middle class) were about political empowerment and had a narrow social base, this time around, the demand is ‘Where is my money?’ and the social base lies among the the downtrodden sections of society. Shockingly enough, the cry “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) was conspicuous by its absence throughout this turmoil, although it has been the signal tune of Iranian street politics ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The regime may be right up to a point in alleging that there has been foreign interference. But, hopefully, it will not become the alibi for postponing reforms. Certainly, the regime is in no immediate danger. But a challenging period lies ahead. Iran has crucial choices to make. Iran’s foreign policies should become an extension of its national policies, attuned to its development agenda – economic growth, job creation and alleviation of poverty – and to the creation of a just society. Geopolitics is not the priority for Iran today – it is nation-building.

January 3, 2018 - Posted by | Economics | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. regime?
    you mean elected govt.
    and khamanei has expressed similar concerns as the legit protesters
    who support the govt

    the usisraelenglish tools
    need a private place in the desert

    Comment by 5 dancing shlomos | January 3, 2018 | Reply

    • At least in Iran protest is not confined to “free speech areas”.

      Comment by aletho | January 3, 2018 | Reply


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