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US POLICY TOWARD IRAN SHOULD PROMOTE CIVIL SOCIETY
Mehdi Semati and Nasser Hadian: 9/17/03
A EurasiaNet commentary
US policy towards Iran must tread a fine line. The Bush administration is in danger of succumbing to wishful thinking by holding out hope that Irans conservative leaders can be toppled by popular protests. Instead, Washington should engage Tehran, offering support that encourages the democratization of Iranian society.
The student protests that shook Iran in June underscored the possibility that the same forces that helped forge the Islamic republic could also, at least in theory, bring it down.
The Bush administration seized on the student demonstrations to encourage broader popular protests, evidently in the hope that they could topple Irans conservative leadership.
Washingtons desire to foment anti-conservative protests in Iran seems to have cooled in recent weeks. Nevertheless, the Bush administrations hostility towards Iran remains self-evident. Such hostility is potentially counterproductive to promoting regional stability.
While the student action in June was significant, its role in changing the political dynamics in Iran should not be exaggerated. A more nuanced understanding of what is happening in Iran today is needed to prevent the United States from taking steps that could actually damage democratization prospects in Iran.
The June protests can be considered a continuation of the 1999 student demonstrations, a seminal political moment that shook Iran. What began as student protests against privatizing higher education turned into a highly politicized call for democracy and freedom. Yet even if new protests erupt down the road, producing dramatic images beamed around the world, the Bush administration needs to understand the student movements limitations.
The bottom line is that the student protests were not as widespread and vociferous as they were portrayed in media reports. To begin with, the students had little organization, no cohesive leadership structure, and lacked clearly defined objectives. In general, Iranian students have tended to react to government decisions or actions. They have usually not been proactive in shaping the public political agenda with a formal organization or a detailed agenda. Finally, conservative authorities took action to ensure that the student movement doesnt coalesce into a threat. Over 2,000 students, including most of the protest leaders, were jailed during the protests and their aftermath. Many remain imprisoned.
The fact that the student action did not foster broader protests is an important point. The lack of wider or visible participation is just one of several signs of the loss of public confidence in the once popular reform movement. Judging by the low turnout in the local elections of February 2003, Iranians have little or no faith in the movements leadership, which has failed to fulfill bold promises of introducing the rule of law, democracy, and a free press.
The reform movement, led by President Mohammad Khatami, will now either have to become more energized in confronting conservative forces, or face becoming irrelevant.
Large numbers of Iranians have resisted getting involved because of a fundamental weariness and wariness about embracing radical ways to promote political change. The initial trauma and ongoing costs of the 1979 Islamic revolution have made most Iranians timid about participating in protests that might spark a second revolution or a counter-revolution. Most today distinctly prefer steady progress to revolution.
Rather than encourage student protests, it is far more important for Irans democratization potential to assist the development of civil society, especially promoting a body of non-government institutions that give people in all democracies the opportunity to participate in the issues and decisions that most impact their lives. Iran today has a vacuum of these intermediary institutions, from trade unions and public interest groups to volunteer associations. This is the issue critical to Irans political future. To a large extent, Iranian hardliners have managed to retain power by weakening or eliminating any institution that keeps open the channels of communication between state and society.
The Bush administrations response to the June proteststhrough its expression of support for the aspirations of the Iranian people and calling on them to take action--is insufficient and perhaps unhelpful. Any semblance of outside interference actually discredits the students and strengthens the hardliners position. In addition, extremists from both right and left, and from inside and outside Iran, appear poised to try to utilize for their own political gain any tension that is generated by future protests.
Statements are no substitute for a comprehensive policy that addresses US concerns about conservative-controlled Iran. Those concerns have potentially serious consequences, including the development of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, Iraq, and the Middle East peace process. At the same time, Irans national security needs, regional role, and economic interests ought to be considered as factors in the geopolitical equation.
Ultimately, to address all these concerns, it might prove more prudent for Washington to adopt a policy that helps the Iranian people make progress in a long struggle for a democratic society. That struggle actually began with the Constitutional Rebellion a century ago.
Editors Note: Nasser Hadian is on the faculty in the Department of Political Science at the Tehran University and currently a Visiting Scholar at the Middle East Institute of Columbia University. Mehdi Semati is on the faculty in the Department of Speech Communication at Eastern Illinois University. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav091703.shtml
posted on 09/18/2003 1:32:24 AM PDT
by F14 Pilot
To: DoctorZIn; McGavin999; Eala; piasa; Valin; nuconvert; seamole; AdmSmith; dixiechick2000; ...
Britain, Iran and archaic fears
The arrest in the UK of Hadi Soleimanpour, Irans former ambassador to Argentina, has again displayed the volatility and fragility of Anglo-Iranian relations. The arrest is unlikely to amount to anything significant in fact it is probably not the most important factor behind the recent tension in bilateral relations. Nevertheless, it is a reminder that for as long as memories of Britains colonial adventures linger in the Iranian psyche, the two countries will probably not enjoy sustained normal relations.
The origins of concerted British influence in Iran date back to the early 19th century, when Qajar Persia was perceived to pose a moderate threat to the western flank of the British Raj. By the middle of the century, the increasingly corrupt Qajar dynasty had fallen under British influence, and Iran had become a central component in the Great Game between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia for control of Central Asia.
British visitors to Iran are amazed at the longevity of Iranian delusions about the so-called perennial nature of British power. Iranians of the older generation still cling to the idea that Britain virtually controls the world. These victims of a post-colonial inferiority complex put an interesting spin on the reality of contemporary American power. The US, they argue, is a smokescreen for British domination.
Yet Iran was never colonized by Britain. Therefore, what is it that drives the intensity of this collective delusion? Ironically, the very fact that Britain never directly ruled Iran, choosing, instead, to gain almost complete control over the country in a subtle and clandestine manner. Britain imposed upon Irans incompetent elites exploitative trade concessions, such as the 1872 Reuter concession to build a railroad, the 1890 tobacco concession and the 1901 William DArcy oil concession.
Britain also directly influenced Iranian politics. It was partly responsible for frustrating the goals of the constitutional revolution of the early 20th century, and changed Irans rulers when they no longer served British interests. A case in point is the rise to power of the semi-literate Cossack officer Reza Khan Pahlavi father of the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who took office on the back of a British-sponsored coup in 1921. The British forced him out in 1941, after he forged a close relationship with Nazi Germany.
Britains disregard for Irans neutrality during the two world wars, its subsequent invasion of the country, its exploitation of Iranian oil for over 50 years and its perceived pervasive influence, firmly buttressed Britains incorrigible colonial nature in the collective Iranian mind. Yet the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979, by displacing the old corrupt elites and securing the countrys political independence, provided Iran and Britain with an opportunity to start afresh.
Initially, relations were drastically curbed as a result of upheavals in the 1980s. The British Embassy was closed down in 1980 and Sweden became the representative of British interests in Iran.
Yet relations were restored in autumn 1988. While these generated hopes that ties would substantially improve, they have been repeatedly dashed during the past 15 years. Every time relations were on the up, crises seemingly appeared from nowhere to sabotage what had been achieved. In February 1989 it was the Salman Rushdie affair. Once the issue was settled in September 1998 and relations upgraded to ambassadorial level in May 1999, a row broke out over what the Iranians considered excessive MI6 activity from the unusually large British Embassy in Tehran. In fact, in February 2002 Iran refused to endorse the ambassadorship of David Reddaway on the grounds that he was a top MI6 operative.
And now there is the Soleimanpour case. The obstructions to fully normalized Anglo-Iranian relations will not be lifted until memories of Britains highly questionable historic role in Iran fade. Irans new elites, of whatever ideological orientation, while they do not share the old generations delusions, still need time to get over their British hang-up. There is little prospect of this in the near future. In fact the two countries may be destined to endure another generation of volatile relations. This does not seem long taken in the context of 200 years of history. However, in the current international climate it assumes crushing significance.
The prospect of uneasy relations is particularly unfortunate for Iran, as it needs Britain on its side in the face of unprecedented American attempts to isolate and demonize the country internationally. This helps explain the Islamic Republics reluctance to make a fuss over the Soleimanpour case. Iran recently announced it would be sending its ambassador back to London. Clearly, it cannot afford a rupture in relations at such a critical juncture.
However, there are unmistakable signs that Britain will adopt positions that are increasingly in tandem with those of the US administration. Therefore, irrespective of the idiosyncrasies of Anglo-Iranian relations, Iranian policy-makers should not rely on British support in the crises likely to engulf the Islamic Republic in the coming years, particularly over calls for stricter International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of Irans nuclear industry.
It is also unfortunate for Iran that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has proved to be uniquely hawkish, with an ingrained skepticism of Iran. On Sept. 4, The Guardian newspaper was moved to publish an analysis claiming that Britain radically altered its Iran policy last July, after Blair had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The prospect of an alliance between Blair and Sharon must cause intense unease in Tehran. The fact that Israel might exert influence on British policy is proof that the UKs influence in the Middle East is now negligible. More precisely, the only state in the world that has a sizeable impact on shaping US policy towards Iran is Israel.
However, these realities are unlikely to have any impact on the collective delusion of millions of Iranians. To them the old fox, as Britain is sometimes called, is behind every major political event in the world.
Mahan Abedin is a London-based financial consultant and analyst of Iranian politics. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR http://www.dailystar.com.lb/opinion/18_09_03_b.asp
posted on 09/18/2003 1:36:30 AM PDT
by F14 Pilot
To: F14 Pilot
" Nasser Hadian is on the faculty in the Department of Political Science at the Tehran University and currently a Visiting Scholar at the Middle East Institute of Columbia University. Mehdi Semati is on the faculty in the Department of Speech Communication at Eastern Illinois University. "
I thought maybe these guys worked for the regime.
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