Millions of Iranian people would like to see far-reaching changes in the amount of freedoms accorded to them by the regime. These are the same people who voted for Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election 2013 and who voted for reformists in the parliamentary elections in 2016. These are the same people who are being oppressed by the regime because of their sex, their religion, their values and their political ideals. They are forced to live in a manner which doesn’t suit them but they feel powerless to lead a change out of fear of another crackdown such as the one in the botched elections of 2009. And yet, too many Iranians have had enough:
- Minorities such as the Kurds and the Azeris have had enough.
- The Baha’is, the Sunnis and the Christians have had enough.
- The women and the youth who would like to lead more secular lives have had enough.
- The human rights activists have had enough.
- The Iranian resistance in exile has had enough.
But without a leader, from the “inside”, one who could lead these dissatisfied people to demonstrate in the streets, to demand their rights, to challenge the unelected regime, they will remain hopeless and no amount of foreign pressure can help them. It’s time to find and support an Iranian Martin Luther King or an Iranian Mahatma Ghandi, someone who will stand up to the regime and drum up enough support before he, or she, will inevitably be killed.
Rouhani’s voters voted for change
No one knows exactly how many people in Iran would like to change the nature of the regime and many Iranians are obviously hardline supporters of the regime since the regime is in power without a popular election. The hardliners in the regime would like the world, including the Iranian people, to think that the Iranians who strive for change are a small marginalized minority but one can intuitively find them within the people who voted for Rouhani (nearly 19 million people) in 2013 and for the “List of Hope” (41%) in 2016.
According to the Rouhani Meter, Rouhani made 20 distinct promise in domestic policy in his successful campaign to the presidency: these include freeing the leaders of the Green Movement who are still under house arrest, increasing the support to NGO’s, respecting and allowing minorities to practice of religious rituals, assuring equality for men and women, assuring equal rights for all Iranian ethnicities, encourage and welcome criticism of his administration etc… To this date, he has achieved 2 of these promises – 10% in 3 years. As opposed to domestic policy, Rouhani fulfilled 2 out of 7 (29%) of his promises in foreign policy.
The truth is that Rouhani, although rightly portrayed as a moderate in Iran, is actually helpless when it comes to fighting for the rights of the Iranian people quite simply because the regime, and specially, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, wants to maintain the status quo.
The upcoming presidential elections in Iran are already heating up as hardliners are proposing none other than Qods chief Qassem Suleimani to run against Rouhani. The problem is that Rouhani cannot be judged for all his good intentions, since he is cobbled by the regime, and the regime is working overtime to place the blame on Rouhani himself.
Pressure from abroad is not enough
There’s no doubt that many leaders and organizations are pressuring Iran into change. There isn’t a day that goes by without a new call on the regime to change. But since the regime is not listening and is so paranoid about “foreign influence”, the chances for such a change to reach fruition is minimal.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) is upping the pressure by presenting the world, and the Iranian people, with an alternative: a “Free Iran”. Tehran’s response to this alternative can be summed up in one word: fear.
Following the “Free Iran” rally in Paris on the 9th of July, the regime in Tehran went into “attack mode“, accusing the NCRI of being a terrorist organization (only Iran has designated it as such), accusing the French of allowing such a rally to take place (that’s the wonder of democracy), accusing Saudi Arabia of using the rally in its regional conflict with Iran (it did), accusing Egypt of sending a delegate to the rally etc…Not one word was expressed in regards to the claims of the NCRI. Such an attitude reflects Tehran’s response to any criticism in internal affairs: first, denial (“nothing’s wrong, everyone’s happy”) and then counter-accusations (“they”, meaning everyone but the regime, are the “bad guys”).
Such a stance is a result of the inherent weakness of the regime: the regime may legally retain its power “forever” but it will fall apart the instant that enough people within Iran will be disillusioned by the regime. In order to maintain the perceived support of the Iranians, Tehran cranks up its propaganda machine and presents any opposition to the regime as “un-Islamic”, “counter-Revolutionary” and “anti-Iranian”. The regime’s worst fears are that enough Iranians will actually consider an alternative to the regime. The NCRI is just such an alternative although its leader, Maryam Rajavi might find too many hurdles in her path to returning home as did Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.
There have been numerous instances when pressure from abroad did lead to positive results but most of these cases are isolated and are not widespread enough to make a crack in the regime.
Pressure from within is needed
What Iran needs now is a leader who will be ready to stand up for the rights of the Iranians who feel oppressed by the regime. Such a leader is bound to find himself or herself in jail or killed, just as King and Ghandi were, but if he or she has enough time and enough support, a movement can be started, the masses can make their voices heard and the regime might either panic and fight back too harshly, which would only strengthen such a movement, or might lose the will to fight at all.
This is not a task for the faint at heart but for a person whose belief in the struggle for change is unstoppable.
It could be an Iranian man, someone who was in the regime but is now disillusioned by it, someone like Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan Khomeini, who tried to run for parliament but was disqualified by the Guardian Council or someone like Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s reformist ex-president who is now under a strict “media ban”.
On the other hand, there’s a good chance that such a person might be a woman. Women represent the largest group of legally and morally oppressed Iranian citizens. They look about them and see that women around the world enjoy freedoms which they can only dream of since they live under the laws of a gender-segregated regime. For them, being forced to wear hijabs or not being allowed to ride a bike might be trigger to rise up against the patriarchal regime which will be place in an unbearable situation: if it allows such women to openly demonstrate against the regime, it will look weak and if it crushes these women by either imprisoning or killing them, it will look desperate.
Whoever it may be, the people of Iran are waiting.