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Understanding the current anti-government protests in Iran

This article is written by Brother Adnan Khan

The Western media has once again gone into overdrive as mass protests have hit the streets of Tehran. On the day of Ashura mass protests took place across Iran's main cities and images of baton wielding security officers were broadcast across Western news channels. On the day of Ashura as many as 15 people were killed in the clashes during the protests. The demonstrations although small in number have been the continuing result of what followed the June 12th 2009 presidential elections. The defeated reformist candidates claim the entire election was against the sentiments of Iranians, the majority of whom opposed incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his policies but whose will was thwarted by a falsification of the electoral results by an unpopular and dictatorial ruler who made it appear that he had won the election massively rather than lost it. The Western media has continued to beam this narrative around the world and argue that the demonstrations represent the will of the Iranian people for Freedom and Democracy.

Western-Iranian relations

The Western coverage of the elections is rooted in the old axis of standing against the Islamic revolution and supporting the reformists who want a free and liberal Iran. The West has engaged with Iran on this basis for decades and continues to do so. The myth the Western world has duped themselves into believing is that the fall of the shah was due to a mass movement of people demanding liberalisation. If such a group of reformists are supported by the West they would become the majority and rule the country. Western reporters believe that anyone who knows who Beyonce is, owns an iPod, has a blog and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Freedom and Democracy. Such individuals can be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to Western journalists, diplomats and intelligence services. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and it is from such people Westerners receive the information that a revolution is on hand.

This is why it is important to bear in mind that almost all reports coming out of Iran on the demonstrations are originating from opposition Web sites, which are inclined to make the crisis appear as intense as possible and to maximize the apparent strength of the protesters. Many of these sites are based outside of Iran and depend on the same intermittent communication with Iran as others do.

Western interference in Iran is not new. The West has constantly interfered in Iran's domestic affairs throughout recent history. In 1953 the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew the elected government of Mohammed Mosaddeq at the request of, and with support from the British government due to the nationalisation of Iran's Oil wealth in what the CIA called Operation Ajax. This brought to power the pro-Western Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who became the lynchpin for protecting Western interests in the region until he was overthrown in the Islamic revolution in 1979. US financial support is in fact aimed at regime change and goes beyond the allocated $75 million. In May 2007, ABC News reported that President Bush had authorised a covert CIA program against the Iranian regime. In addition to public and covert funding of Iranian opposition groups, the United States also supports individual dissidents through various means.

Failed State

The current unrest has its origins in the elections. However what we are witnessing is a backlash as both the conservatives and reformists have been unable to solve many of Iran's problems especially its economic issues. 3 million people are unemployed in Iran and the trend is set to continue.

Currently less than 30% of the Iranian population witnessed the Islamic revolution, as 70% of Iran was born after 1979. Those born after 1979 view the economic problems as a result of the failed policies of the Islamic revolution. As the conservatives dominate the key ministries some have taken the slogan of reform, established political parties on this basis and taken to the streets.

The fundamental problem with Iran is the fact that the people of Iran have been failed by successive governments. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi focused on modernising Iran in the name of advancement. This modernisation was in many areas and included social reforms. However nothing materialised. The construction of a few factories did nothing to halt poverty and poverty increased even though more and more oilfields were discovered in the Persian Gulf. The Shah wanted to break the existing economic structure which was built upon farming and made the clergy immensely wealthy. During the 1960's the Shah concentrated on his Social reforms. His reforms were built upon the emulation of the West and instituted western dress, symbolised by his wife and daughters. Such behaviour only alienated the mostly Muslim population from the ruler and this led the Shah to resort to brute force. As the 1970's were in full flow many viewed the Shah as a despot, and the economy had not modernised as he promised. As the Shah became ever more authoritarian many began to demonstrate in what they saw as injustices perpetuated by the Shah. The Shah's failure to solve the problems of the country resulted in many to look for alternatives.

Ayatollah Rahulla Khomeini came to symbolize ‘change' and many groups that were not even Islamic mobilised with other groups and brought the country to a stand still. When the Shah ordered the army to open fire on the demonstrators - that was the final straw. Before anyone could shout revolution the Shah had fled the country.

As soon as the Islamic revolution was in full swing cracks began to appear with the groups that brought Khomeini to power. What had began as an authentic and anti-dictatorial popular revolution based on a broad coalition of all anti-Shah forces, it soon transformed into a power grab. Except for some of Khomeini's core supporters, the members of the coalition thought Khomeini intended to be more a spiritual guide than a ruler. However his core supporters took positions in important offices whilst many of those who had sacrificed to bring Khomeini to power found they were either exiled, imprisoned or sidelined.

The 8 year war with Iraq resulted in the nation's production being geared towards the war effort. The economic concerns of the people were completely neglected. Islam was nowhere to be seen. Islam was never applied, however Khomeini did everything but refer to the Qur'an or the Sunnah. Khomeini had been in exile for over 10 years and had no ruling or leadership experience, however he held his grip on the nation through hook and crook - in reality Khomeini turned out to be no different to the Shah.

Like the Shah Khomeini did nothing to address the economic problems of the nation. The 1997 landslide victory of Mohammed Khatami, brought the reformists to power. Many students viewed reform as the way forward. Khatami openly campaigned for engagement with the West and Western values in the shape of freedom and democracy. The reformists have attempted to end the animosity with the US but decades of mistrust between Iran and the US remains. Reformists attempts at moving closer to the US was undermined when Bush made his state of union address and included Iran in his axis of evil speech. Many Iranian seeing this brought Ahmadinejad to power, a staunch conservative.

The Iran economy has long relied on its energy sectors. Iran has the world's largest gas field, the world's largest gas reserves after Russia and the world's largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. However Iran's 1940's constructed energy infrastructure is crumbling and inflation and unemployment is rampant and out of control. Ahmadinejad came to power on back of many economic promises that have not materialised. Today's Iran suffers from a major prostitution problem. According to many surveys up to 500 000 women under the age of 30 make up Iran's prostitution problem. Many have been forced into this due to poverty and the stigma of divorce. A number of such girls are also runaways who were forced into temporary marriages. Iran also has a huge drug problem. According to the Iranian government there are over 1.2 million drug addicts, with HIV on the rise. Alcohol is widely available and if one is not a cocaine addict they are most likely addicted to Alcohol.

The demonstrations that have filled the news stories of the West represent those who want change due to Ahmadinejad's economic failures. He has reneged on all his economic promises and created an economic bomb that will go off at any time. Ahmadinejad's 12th June 2009 election victory is seen by many in Iran as a continuation of such failed policies. Ahmadinejad has done nothing for the 3 million unemployed. While the catalyst for these demonstrations was an election, the election issues were the economy and unemployment. The Western media continues to propagate that the demonstrators represent Iranian public sentiment, but they fail to see the economic legacy that haunts the people of Iran.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad symbolises the failure of the conservatives who have unable to revive the economy. Iranian society is polarised, the educated middle classes adore the West whilst the poor although Islamic are unable to understand how the Islamic texts deal with modern problems. This confusion is leading many to conclude Islam has been the problem. Whilst the Reformists call for the developing of relations with the West, the Conservatives on the surface have remained anti-Western which resonates with large sections of the Iranian public. However behind the scenes the conservatives view the US very differently and have worked hand in hand with the US and protected their interests in the region. Tehran continues to extend support to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a party Tehran created in 1988 to maintain Iran's influence in Iraq's Shi'ah South. The ISCI gathered many of the groups in the South together in order to partake in America's political settlement for the nation. In Afghanistan, Iran runs extensive reconstruction and training programs in Kabul, Herat and Kandahar. Thus far, Iran has successfully prevented American embarrassment in both countries.

The Conservatives in Iran have like many leaders across the Islamic world used Islam for their own ends. They have failed the Ummah and have used the sincere Islamic sentiments of the Ummah to keep themselves in power whilst the Ummah languishes in poverty. Such insincere leaders will meet Allah سبحانه وتعالى and will receive what they deserve. The people of Iran like the wider Ummah want change, however the imitation of the West has a track record of failure. Only through unification of the Muslim lands cannot the Ummah take her destiny into her own hands.

Other related Article
Q&A: The Iranian Election Crisis


shab said…
assalamualikum- sorry- i forgot to give u my email- it is:

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