Feb. 11 marks a dubious day in Iranian history. 31 years ago on that day what could be called the culminating moment of the Islamic Revolution took place on the streets of Tehran. Rebel troops overwhelmed the loyal followers of Mohammad Reza Shah, the last king of Iran. About two months later the Islamic Republic that still exists today was formed.
However, new things are afoot in that country. Since June of 2009, during the presidential elections, there have been intermittent bursts of protests and unrest. This past week, the celebration week of the revolution, was a week the government certainly did not want to be humiliated on. Government officials reportedly sent out text messages the night before President Ahmadinejad’s speech warning of death to anyone who tried to protest. There is no controversy here. This is the story of a group of people oppressed by a dictator and a tyrannical religious government. Yet I believe that that the true conflicts in that country lay not in the bloodshed on the streets, but in deep rooted societal problems.
I am 100 percent Iranian by blood, and I still have family there. Thus, I have visited the country a number of times, most recently at the end of 2007. During earlier visits I was too young to fully appreciate the sorry state of the country. In my last visit however, I remember quite clearly being struck by the physical ruin and shoddiness of Tehran. The ruinous state seems to have ingrained itself into the populace, as there is an air of wounded acceptance about everyone. When I talked to my relatives, I got the same vibe. There are people in Iran with Ph.D.s driving taxis because they cannot find any other job. There is essentially an exodus of young people from that country. It is a continuous downward cycle that is much harder to repair than it may seem. One cannot simply create new jobs to keep the youth there. Young people are needed to create jobs, yet they will not be there without already existing opportunities.
The Western media has a tendency to portray President Ahmadinejad as the sole perpetrator in this whole affair. Yes, he is the president, and he is, to be frank, completely insane. However, the real power has always lied with the religious powers. The Ayatollah Khamenei pulls the strings, as anyone in that country will tell you. So, if you think that yelling “Down with the dictator” is the step to political freedom, you are underestimating the roots of the theocracy. Iran is not a secular country in the grips of a theocratic dictatorship. The people of the country are, and have historically been, quite religious. It is no coincidence that the mullahs have all the political clout, and there will always be a large group of people whose faith will keep them loyal to the leaders no matter how tyrannical their rule.
There needs to be a big—dare I say calamitous—event to spark a new revolution. The continuous weight of injustice weighing upon a people’s shoulders does not instigate revolt—it crushes their spirit and leaves them drained. After the rigged elections, I thought that maybe that was the moment. The fact that people even had the energy and the will to rise up after 30 years of being crushed by tyranny was shocking to me. The government put down the revolts, and yet, they sprung up again and again. I saw something I did not think I would see in that country, perhaps in my lifetime. So, it has been about six months, and the question remains, “Has the moment arrived?” I say, “No.” I do not think this is necessarily a negative comment on the revolts. They are, in fact, a very surprising and uplifting sign. However promising the signs may be, as I just mentioned, this is not the movement that will, or can, overthrow the theocracy. I certainly hope the West realizes this, too. Devoting time, money and soldiers to what I believe is a losing struggle will not help the Iranians. If anything, it will discourage future attempts at revolution; it will engrain the sense of hopelessness that existed before. This is an internal struggle that needs to draw its inspiration from the Iranian people, but, sadly, I doubt that this is going to end with democracy in Iran.
The country needs more leaders, not to criticize the brave souls who have opposed the regime. However, there needs to come a time when the opposition leaders can stand up and make their cases without fear of being murdered. These sorts of tyrannies inevitably weaken over time, and it will be some more years before Iran gets there. Once the ruling parties have weakened, then the country will be ready for change. Whether a new, violent revolution springs up, or whether the change comes through peaceful political processes, I do not know. I cannot even be certain that Iran will transform into a democracy, but I do think that the current regime is still far too entrenched to be overthrown. The religious powers that be will need to be challenged by secular ones. I do not mean to bash religion, but there cannot be a theocracy in that part of the world that also provides freedom to its people. Evidence has shown this to be true. Whether or not theocracy can exist anywhere in the world is a different question, but in the Middle East countries like Iran and Afghanistan have shown us that religious government can lead to disaster.
Clearly, I do not think that Iran is ready or able for huge change. Yet, at the same time, as an Iranian and an obvious supporter of Iran’s populace, I feel awful believing that these revolutionaries will not overthrow their oppressors. As aforementioned, I still think, regardless of the outcome, that these revolts are positive events. They are the first signs of hope—of a fighting spirit—for a country that has not envisioned a bright future for three decades.