THOMAS FLICHY DE LA NEUVILLE | THE WEICHERT REPORT
Iran has been gripped with protests for more than a week. While several commentators continue talking about the goals of the protesters and the corruption of the Iranian regime, few are analyzing the organization of the protests and the purpose of the protests. In the first case, there are no discernible leaders of the protest movement, meaning that political opportunities will be missed, and it will be easier for the authorities to curb the protests in the end. Second, this was first-and-foremost an economic protest. After all, riots rarely occur when the protesters’ bellies are full.
Another question that pervades the Iranian discourse over the protests is: who is ultimately responsible for the unrest? Was it truly an organic, spontaneous protest from within Iran, or was it the result of external forces pressuring Iran?
The Iranians naturally attribute these troubles — the extent of which remains to be demonstrated — to an external intervention. This suspicion on the part of many Iranians shouldn’t surprise any Western reader. Keep in mind, that the United States (as well as the British and the Russians, to name a few) has a long history of covert interventions in Iranian politics since the Second World War. These interventions were officially theorized into a doctrine: transformational diplomacy, i.e. the art of overthrowing a regime by non-violent means.
The Iranians know that US foreign policy in the Middle East has been reduced to nothing –- because of its inability to speak to everyone — and needs a symbolic success. So, to the Iranians, it makes sense that the United States and its traditional allies would seek to perpetrate a regime change attempt through unrest.
There is of course an alternative to this hypothesis: that of organized disturbances from the inside by the cosmopolitan, Westernized youth of the northern districts of Tehran. However, this youth has too many interests in the protection of the regime, which assures its professional future, to encourage its destabilization. Let us also not forget that the Iranian liberal forces are not the alter ego of their Western cousins. They wish to combine religious and cultural rooting with technological openness to modernity. If it is proved that the disturbances are effectively remote-controlled from abroad, their sole effect will be to reconcile the right-wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — which considers Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a traitor -– with the regime. The effect will therefore be opposite to that desired. In this respect, the amateurism of Western networks, which widely broadcasted the image of a bare-headed woman brandishing her veil on a stick, as an icon of the demonstrators only discredited the movement, which -– for the time being -– is perfectly mastered by the government.
It should be noted that the time of the year is not adapted to launching an important protest movement. In the old Persian calendar, the month of December-January corresponded to that of the God without name. Is it for this reason that astronomers from Persia went to Bethlehem at this time of the year? Still, this month has been renamed Dey, which means the creator. It may be remembered that riots took place in Tehran in January 1829 against the Russian influence, however, it is rather during the spring that the opposition movements are launched in Iran. As a consequence, the highly measured and intelligent response of the Iranian government — guaranteeing cheap gasoline — while opening a space for debate, should help deflate the protests spawned by the new party of the wind.
So, don’t be pulled in by the breathless Western media accounts on the glories of the revolution befalling Iran today. The regime is as in control as it has ever been. I suspect that this will be nothing more than a blip on their proverbial radar. The reason for these riots have little to do with either democracy or liberalism; they were responses to an economic downturn and, specifically, the high-prices of consumer goods. There is nothing about these protests that lend themselves to the over-the-top rhetoric of some Western observers. The regime remains strong.
Thomas Flichy de La Neuville teaches geopolitics at France’s prestigious Saint-Cyr’s military academy. He has also recently been named as a Research Professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. Neuville has published numerous articles on international relations, some of which have been featured in The World Post.