Long Term vs Short Term Interests in the West

June 2010

The echo of 1978-79 and the Islamic revolution is everywhere, even for those too young to remember or those born later. A sea of protesters—men and women, of all ages, clad in western styles and in the full hijab—peacefully throngs the streets and chants from the rooftops, the demand for rights and opposition to injustice on everyone’s lips.

Today’s protesters against the official announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the presidential election on June 12 have already secured one concession: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s promise of an “investigation” into this outcome.

This is a signal of the intense pressure on the Iranian regime—from within the elite itself, from its own people, and from the international arena. This pressure was already evident during the election campaign, in (for example) Ahmadinejad’s attack on Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on grounds of corruption, which in turn provoked the influential former president to criticize Khamenei for not intervening to stop the allegations. Now, after the questionably fraudulent election, the people have piled more pressure on the regime with their immense mobilization in Tehran.

Those who have taken to the streets do not all advocate regime change, but they do want more openness and democracy. This is where the third source of pressure—powerful states outside Iran (especially the United States, Europe and Israel)—need to be cautious and sensitive, especially in refraining from any statements or actions that may unintentionally encourage the Iranians to move away from the path they are on.

A political system on the verge of change exhibits two major signs: a crack within the leadership, and a widening gap between what the people want and what the system can provide.

In the current fluid and delicate circumstances, the United States, Europe and Israel must be careful to allow the emerging democratic movement in Iran to breathe, and refrain from actions that imperil it.

The pressure from within may be enough to force change on the Iranian regime in the direction of openness and democracy. But the wrong sort of pressure from without could yet put this process into reverse. The external powers most concerned by and involved in events in Iran could, by seeing the turmoil in Tehran as an opportunity to promote short-term interests, thwart the Iranians’ historic struggle. The future relationship between the Iranian people and the international community will depend on how the world behaves towards Iran today.

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