Eyad Abu Shakra/Iran Deserves a Different Regime-إيران تستحق نظام أفضل/Leonid Bershidsky/Iran and the Need for Change-إيران وضرورة التغيير


Iran Deserves a Different Regime/إيران تستحق نظام أفضل
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/January 07/18

From past experiences in the Middle East we have learned that it would be naïve to expect political change simply because people in the streets rose against the actions of a totalitarian police state. In several cases, before and after “the Arab Spring” of 2011, people left on their own were unable to properly resist bloody suppression long mastered by such regimes.
Throughout the Middle East, totalitarian police states have never hesitated in confronting popular uprisings by bullets, and sometimes, by chemical weapons. Indeed, while some, citing its “democratic” nature, distance the Mullahs’ regime in Tehran from the atrocious actions of the likes of Moammar al-Gadhafi in Libya, Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen, old and recent historical facts prove the opposite. Bloody suppression in Iran was widespread, just like assassinations, coups, “demographic engineering”, and uprisings of marginalized and maltreated minorities.
In fact, many violent and blood-stained experiences have been instrumental in creating the modern Iranian political identity. The decision made by the Safavids – although originally Turkic – to move their capital from Qazvin to Isfahan because it was better protected from the threats of Ottoman Turks, the displacement of Turkic tribes like the Qashqai and Afshars and their resettlement in southern Iran in the heart of Persian territories, in order to separate, disperse and contain them, were among the examples of the afore-mentioned “demographic engineering”.
Then, there are the systematic assassinations; from the era of Assassins (late 11th century), through the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, to the recent murder of the Kurdish opposition leader Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in 1989; in addition to the emergence sectarian and organizational “oligarchies” such as the Sarbadars of Khorassan during the 14th century.
Finally, there are the suppressed uprisings through the centuries of marginalized minorities, such as the Arabs, Kurds, Baluch and Turkmen; as well conquests and counter-conquests which have sown the seeds of hatred and feuds in several places at various times.
Given such a background, there is nothing new or surprising in an upheaval against Iran’s rulers. However, what is really unprecedented, since “the Khomeinist Revolution” of 1979, is the fact that the sectarian “legitimacy” the Khomeinist movement has claimed for itself, and used to conceal its nationalist aspirations and regional expansionist project, has fallen in the two capitals of “Khomeinism”… the two religious cities of Mashhad and Qum, of all places!
The slogans and banners raised in Iran’s two Shi’ite “sacred” cities have unveiled the true face of the regime and the IRGC (The Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards), its tool of governance and control. They have uncovered the last facades of a false “legitimacy” that has crossed, since 1979, all boundaries of internal coexistence and regional goodwill.
During the early years of the “revolution”, when it began “to devour its own children”, accuse its leaders of treason, and exporting its problems and illusions, many impressions and convictions disappeared; yet, some preferred to ignore all the factors which caused the First Iran-Iraq War.
Many, then, blamed an Iraqi dictatorship which had shown a lot of patience towards the Shah’s regime that dreamt of becoming “the policeman of the Gulf” and the West’s regional partner during the Cold War, but refused to show the same patience towards a “revolution” calling for the liberation of Palestine!
Many others also preferred not to think of the deep meaning of “exporting the revolution, and the Khomeinists’ attempts to monopolize “true Islam”, which would spread destructive strife throughout the Muslim world, not just the Arab countries. Furthermore, there were those who refused to notice the Khomeinists’ attempts to gain exclusive rights to the Palestinian cause; although the “Iran – Contra Affair” was more than enough to alert those who believed the sincerity of the “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” slogans that Tehran had other intents. These intents have been actually laid bare in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, in addition to the Palestinian arena, where Tehran has exploited Fatah-Hamas political differences to destroy Palestinian unity.
In the name of confronting Saddam Hussein, Tehran founded inside Iraq several militias which have now become “The Popular Mobilization Force” – along the line of its IRGC – in order to become the real authority in the country. Before that, in Lebanon, under the pretext of “resisting” Israeli occupation and “liberating” South Lebanon, “Hezbollah” became the only militia allowed not to disarm among all other militias which had fought in the Lebanese War (1975-1990). Today “Hezbollah” is not only in effective control of Lebanon, but is also entrusted by Tehran to fight on its behalf outside Lebanon, including Syria.
Noteworthy in this venture is that, while Tehran and Al-Assad regime have supported and used “Sunni political groups” in Palestine to divide the Palestinians, they have made the Syrian versions of the same groups (and?) the ready-made excuse to abort and destroy the peaceful Syrian popular uprising, and uproot and displace millions of Syrians, as part of the Iranian “grand vision” for the Middle East.
Indeed, this vision has not been limited to “the Fertile Crescent” linking Iran with the Mediterranean Sea, but has grown extensively to become a larger crescent, comprising Bahrain, Eastern Arabia and Yemen. However, in politics as in business there is no free lunch. The Khomeinist regime, as it gradually metamorphosed into a Mafia-like security-business system, in which the IRGC play a major role, had to secure enough resources for its destructive expansionist venture. Thus, it was inevitable that some segments of Iran’s population would be deprived of their fair share from these resources now being spent on the regime’s nuclear dream and expansionist occupations.
Ordinary Iranians, have thus become the victim the regime has short-changed, used as cannon fodder, distorted its identity and culture, and hijacked its future and dreams.
The regime’s strategists, as well as its IRGC and mouthpieces of its lobbies overseas – namely in Washington – have frequently talked about Iran’s interest in fighting its way to the top, as a regional and global power, outside its territories. Some specifically said that not imposing Iran’s hegemony over Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa would mean having to confront its enemies in the street of its own cities.
However, the vast majority of Iranians are ordinary people preoccupied with their daily worries. They desire honest living, and ability to insure decent income for their families that would shield them from poverty, hunger, and illness. These people do not necessarily share the regime’s “strategists” and their henchmen their expensive murderous projects.
In short, the Iranian people deserve a different kind of regime!

Iran and the Need for Changeإيران وضرورة التغيير
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/January 07/2018
In a country as repressive as Iran, it’s difficult to gauge where the current countrywide protests are leading. But a bold theory that predicted the recent transition to democracy in Tunisia may offer some clues. In 2008, US demographer Richard Cincotta predicted that Tunisia — then under a well-established authoritarian regime — would probably democratize before 2020 based on the age structure of its population. When Cincotta aired the forecast at a meeting of Middle East experts sponsored by the US State Department, the audience burst into laughter.
“One well-known Middle East scholar laughed until he was in tears,” Cincotta recalled in a 2017 paper explaining his age-structural theory of state behavior. “Because the laughter did not subside, the session’s chair ended the question and answer session.”
Today, Tunisia is the one success story of the Arab Spring chain of revolutions that began there in 2010. It is classified as “Free” by Freedom House, whose rating system Cincotta uses in his analysis.
The reason Cincotta picked it out among regional neighbors — including those that would soon live through revolutions, too — was that thanks to a sustained near-replacement fertility rate, the Tunisian population’s median age was rapidly increasing, moving the country along Cincotta’s age-structural scale. The scale has four stages: youthful (median age under 25), intermediate (under 35), mature (under 45) and post-mature (higher than 45). In “youthful” countries with high fertility rates, schools are usually crowded, investment per student is low and competition for jobs among young people is intense. That raises their propensity to protest and increases the chance of a revolution. According to Cincotta, the probability that a regime controlling a population with a median age of 15 is free from civil conflict is about 60 percent. It goes up to 80 percent at an average age of about 27, and civil conflict becomes almost unthinkable when half the population is older than 40. While a country is in a youthful phase, however, an uprising is highly unlikely to result in sustainable democratization. Today, Iranians are getting older. Thanks to successful fertility-control policies of the 1980s (now regretted by the country’s religious leadership), Iran is rapidly going through the intermediate age-structural phase, just as Tunisia did. This, according to Cincotta, is a window for economic growth and political change favoring the middle class.
Countries in this phase usually have just enough resources for a workable education system, and there are plenty of young workers and consumers — and few enough dependents, both young and old — to ensure increases in prosperity, as well as demand for democracy. In the 2017 paper, Cincotta published his model’s predictions of the probability of certain Middle Eastern countries’ being declared “Free” in the current year by Freedom House.
The paper came out early last year, and Iran’s democratization looked so unlikely that Cincotta was forced to add a disclaimer: “Ideological political monopolies (e.g., Iran) characteristically behave without deference to the order of the list.” Now, after a week of protests and even riots that have combined economic and political demands, including liberalization and greater openness to the world, some lasting democratic change no longer looks out of the question.
It may not come through a violent revolution, though. In an article published by the Carnegie Endowment in December, but before the protests began, Cincotta and Karim Sadjadpour wrote:
As Iran’s youth bulge dissipates and the country’s median age increases, the population will likely become increasingly averse to risky, violent confrontations with the regime.
Some of the current protests’ dynamics suggest that this prediction may turn out to be accurate. Young people under the age of 25 appear to be the driving force of the anti-government actions, and they definitely make up the bulk of the hundreds of activists detained by the authorities so far.
While the country’s leaders have threatened tough action, and, indeed, some 20 people have been killed in street fighting, President Hassan Rouhani has offered some conciliatory rhetoric. He acknowledged the people’s right to protest and the legitimacy of their economic gripes. That may mean concessions and a partial liberalization are likely. Just as the protests were starting, Tehran police announced that they would no longer arrest women for breaking the country’s women dress code. Economic measures to pacify protesters unhappy about rising prices, corruption and inequality may well follow.
Iran’s religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blamed Iran’s “enemies” for the unrest. But perhaps the country’s demographics have more to do with it than any foreign interference.
Though Cincotta’s theory has been dismissed as simplistic and criticized for not providing robust proof of causation, it’s intuitively convincing: A country with a young population has a relatively higher chance to change, and as it matures and more people have something to lose, this change is more likely to be peaceful and sustainable. The corrupt, highly unequal, repressive status quo is shaky in Iran because it doesn’t fit the country’s demographic window of opportunity.
Regardless of how change takes place in Iran, it’s worth noting the high probability of democratization that Cincotta’s method assigns to Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime looks rock-solid and bent on tightening screws. But Iran, too, looked immutable just weeks ago, and so did Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in 2008.