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Opinion | What Khamenei Must Do to Save Iran


27 Jul 2012 21:52Comments
Seyed-Ali-2-1600(1)-1.jpg A nation with little stomach for war must find another way.

Mohammad Alireza is a pen name for a columnist in Tehran.
[ opinion ] Over the past couple of months, ordinary Iranians, many of them in the growing ranks of the unemployed, have asked me whether I think there will be war, as they know I keep up with the news on the Internet. I tell them, "No, but things will get much worse."

Last week, a half a dozen people gathered in my office and once again the topic of war came up. They asked whether or not they would be obliged to pick up rifles if Iran were attacked. These are mostly ordinary workers in their 20s who don't read newspapers, surf the Internet, or watch the BBC or VOA. What news they get is mostly through car radio and the evening broadcasts on the state-run TV channels. I thought they should see a video that I had downloaded. It appears to record a U.S. Army Apache helicopter pilot singing "Bye-bye, Miss American Pie" just before his Hellfire missile splatters a group of purported terrorists.

I explained to them that if a military confrontation takes place between Iran and America, it will not be like the Iran-Iraq War but will involve drones, carpet bombing, and non-stop missile attacks -- and none of them would have to go to the front lines wielding a rifle because not one single American soldier would step foot on Iranian soil. The looks on their faces made it clear that this was information that nobody had ever given them.

During our discussion, one participant said something that I found very interesting. Abbas said he had gone to a mosque and noticed a group of Basij members sitting and talking about war, so he asked them some questions to find out how they would react. What the Basijis told Abbas was that they had joined the militia mainly -- almost exclusively -- because they were offered motorcycles and various other financial incentives. As far as fighting for the regime, all of them said they would refuse.

I bring this up because the issue of war is on the minds of most people here, and what they want to know is why. They are trying to make sense of very complicated geopolitical forces, but have access only to state-controlled media that they know can't be trusted, especially in light of the presidential election fiasco of 2009.

So if the Basij won't fight to keep the regime in power and angry protestors are pouring into the streets demanding either cheaper chicken or accurate tallying of their votes, how exactly does the regime hope to defend the country? Firing off missiles in the desert and making unrealistic threats about closing the Strait of Hormuz are not going to fool anybody.

Almost everyone in Iran believes that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the key to this complex and perilous situation. He has personally accumulated so much power that no other entity in Iran is in a position to make decisions regarding war and peace. As Iranians have seen before, once again one man's decisions determine the fate of an entire nation. Even within the regime, voices are now raised in alarm at this untenable concentration of authority.

The peaceful path is for the regime to come to terms with its failures and immediately begin the process of transitioning to a democratic system of government based on the rule of law, by allowing a real opposition to re-emerge after the savage crushing of the protests three years ago.

When Abdollah Nouri, a former regime insider suggests holding a referendum on Iran's nuclear activities, it is indicative of the existence of a dammed-up force ready to burst. The regime has enough intelligence and security agents across the country to know how serious the level of discontent and anger is and how close it is to boiling over. It can wait for the dam to burst and flood the nation, or it can play a constructive part in the process of Iranians taking control of their own country and creating the society they want. And this means revising the Constitution to give Iranians the necessary tools to manage their own affairs rather than suffer being told what to think, to wear, to say, and to believe in.

First, a few steps are essential in creating the necessary environment for revising the Constitution. One crucial element is a free press. Without a free press, it is impossible to know what the problems are and where they originate, and in the absence of that knowledge, how can the problems be solved?

There must be the freedom to gather peacefully, create political groups and parties, and hold nonviolent demonstrations, because these are the essential means through which citizens can organize and establish the society they desire.

There must be free and fair elections, conducted transparently and monitored objectively, so that the voting process can not be corrupted and manipulated, and the results rendered a hoax. Even the present Constitution calls or allows for all of the foregoing, but the hardliners have run things very differently.

Most important of all, Khamenei needs to make peace with Iranians. To begin with, he must free all the political prisoners and journalists, and allow the newspapers that have been closed down to reopen. Making peace on the domestic front is essential to make peace on the foreign front.

Iran should not be interfering in issues that do not concern its national security interests, most obviously the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The injustices being inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel should be left for them. There is no reason for Iran to be supporting Bashar al-Assad or the opposition to him; the problems in Syria are for Syrians to solve.

Unfortunately, such decisions are down to one man who appears to be surrounded by advisors who serve only to help blind and deafen him to reality, just as happened with the Shah and his coterie. When Iranians shouted "Marg bar dictator" (death to the dictator) from the rooftops in 2009, they were referring to Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad. If Khamenei refuses to address Iran's domestic problems at this critical time or makes the wrong move on the foreign front and military confrontation does take place, Iranians will start shouting from the rooftops again, but this time his fate will most likely be similar to the Shah's.

Assuming the Constitution is revised and it is decided that there needs to be a separation of mosque and state, the clerics might want to reflect on where they went wrong. They might ask themselves why Iran's best and brightest, around 200,000 people a year, are leaving the country. They might ask why corruption is rampant throughout every level of government. Why there are so many drug addicts. Why there is so much "parti baazi" (nepotism and bribery) in the judicial system. Why so many of their fellow Iranians have grown to hate them and even regard the highest-ranking clerics as non-Muslims.

Blind obedience and insistence on conformity to centuries-old thinking has not led to an Islamic utopia, which many thought they were voting for back in 1979. It has instead has bought the country to the very precipice of war.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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