On Iran’s future dealings with ‘the Great Satan’
Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
Friday, 7 November 2014
Thousands of Iranian people gathered around the U.S. embassy, marking the 35 anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy (and 52 Americans) in Tehran by militant students. Demonstrators chanted “Death to America,” “Death to the Great Satan,” “Death to Britain,” and “Death to Israel.”
In the midst of international tensions and negotiations with regards to Iran’s contentious nuclear program, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps recently released a statement to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, stating that the United States, or “the Great Satan”, remains to be the Islamic Republic’s number one enemy. The IRGC stated, ”The U.S. is still the great Satan and the number one enemy of the (Islamic) revolution and the Islamic Republic and the Iranian nation.”
One of the current crucial debates, with regards to Iran-U.S. rapprochement and relationships, is whether there would be any fundamental strategic, diplomatic, or geopolitical shifts in Iranian-American ties after a final and comprehensive nuclear deal is reached. The deadline for negotiations between the Islamic Republic and six world powers (the P5+1: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) is looming, with less than three weeks left to make a deal on Nov. 24.
After the final nuclear deal
The characteristics and system of governance in the Islamic Republic can be defined as a combination of rational state actors and an ideological state. If a comprehensive and final nuclear deal is reached, there would not be a fundamental shift in the Islamic Republic’s geopolitical, foreign policy, ideological and strategic objectives. The Islamic Republic will continue pursuing its major existing foreign and domestic policies maintaining the status quo.
“The characteristics and system of governance in the Islamic Republic can be defined as a combination of rational state actors and an ideological state”
Some minor changes might occur though, if a final nuclear is struck. For example, Iran will be more incorporated into international organizations, particularly economically, and would gradually open up its market to foreign and Western investors. This follows that the Islamic Republic will have to embed some international standards into its economic system.
Nevertheless, the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the IRGC will remain to be the key economic generators, having a monopoly over major industries and showing reluctance to allow equal opportunity and redistribution of wealth to the lower classes.
Nevertheless, being incorporated into the world economic system, does not necessarily indicate that more political freedom, as well as civil liberties will be granted to ordinary Iranian citizens. Historical evidence reveals that economic prosperity for some states can result in the implementation of robust policies aimed to tighten the rule, further centralizing power and control over the population. In other words, economic liberalization will not go hand in hand with political freedom in the Islamic Republic.
On the other hand, even if a comprehensive nuclear deal is reached between Iran and the six world powers by November 24th, the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic relationships with the United States will remain strained for several reasons.
Having the largest Shiite population in the region, the Islamic Republic views itself as the major epicenter of Shiite revivalism across the region. Iran’s support for its proxies, Shiite militant or political groups in the region (such Hezbollah in Lebanon, Liwa al-Imam al-Husayn in Syria, Badr organization Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Asaib Ahl al-Haqq in Iraq, etc) will remain to define Tehran’s foreign policy.
Placing itself as the front runner and leader of Shiism has been at the fundamental core of Iran’s foreign policy and regional hegemonic ambitions since 1979. This foreign policy objective will continue to be a source of tension between Iran and the US.
Secondly, Iran’s unrelenting military, financial, advisory, and intelligence support to the Alawite-based government of Assad will continue to situate the Islamic Republic on the opposite spectrum of the White House and its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East.
Thirdly, one of the major underlying reasons behind the tension between Tehran and Washington is Israel. Projecting itself as the savior of “the oppressed“ in the Middle East and particularly Palestinian people, the rivalry between Iran and Israel (The United States’ close ally in the region) will continue to highlight and hinder diplomatic headways between the U.S. and Iran.
Domestically speaking, having an “external enemy” is crucial for Iranian leaders when it comes to controlling domestic oppositions or popular unrest. Oppositional groups or high profile figures have been usually silenced on the premise that they are conspirators and agents for the “Great Satan” and they are attempting to damage the interests of Islamic Republic’s national security.
In addition, Iran’s Supreme Leader and senior cadre of Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps draw most of their social support and legitimacy by opposing the U.S. and its foreign polices in the Middle East. In other words, Iranian influential leaders will need the “Great Satan” in order to maintain their rule, power, legitimacy, and suppress oppositional groups.
Finally, and more fundamentally, the “external enemy” for Iranian leaders is similar to the concept of the “war on terror” coined by the White House. It provides a powerful tool to deflect attention from economic challenges that ordinary people encounter on a daily basis, unemployed young people, inflation, social injustice and oppression.