In the wake of demonstrations crowding hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Teheran, the world conjures up visions of the 1979 Islamic revolution. No such event is occurring today. The demonstrations are not revolutionary, but they will bring change.
If we were witnessing a revolution, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, along with the rest of the vast network of mullahs, would order the army to wreak havoc on the demonstrating public. There is no overt demand for change in the theological administration of the country. There is, however, a relatively peaceful and powerful request for alternate voices in governance, and for a lifting of oppressive measures.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponent Mir-Hossein Mousavi has indicated that he would seek to improve relations with the West and enhance the role of women, however, he should not be mistaken for a reformist. Had he been elected, change within Iran would have been minimal. Mousavi is a supporter of the ruling ayatollahs, and is unlikely to appear confrontational to the well entrenched ruler.
Many Iranians seek progress, but ayatollahs and religion will not easily surrender suzerainty over social, economic, and political life in Iran. Unless the violence on the streets escalates the demonstrations into visibly bloody confrontations that are filmed, and disseminated on YouTube, Khamenei will remain firmly in control for the foreseeable future. He will carefully manage Ahmadinejad’s newfound vigor following his landslide victory, and navigate around the Iranian President’s calls for cleaning up corruption among the powerful clerics.
Demonstrators, University Students in particular, are being threatened with the death penalty if they “insight unrest.” Reports indicate that demonstrators are being arrested by the Basij (the Revolutionary Guards), however, their ultimate physical abuse or dispositions will not find their way to our TV sets, or to our computer screens.
Even with the violence, there is a possibility that the marches will continue, and will have impact. The unusual size of the current demonstrations could coerce and change the inertia that has gripped Iranians wishing for an end to the economic and political abuse they are enduring. It may be that the growing crowds, comprised principally of young people, are the proverbial genie that cannot be repressed back into the bottle.
The vast diaspora of Iranians, who left Iran over the past two decades, provides a passionate international network supportive of the demonstrations favoring change. There are anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 Iranians living in the United Sates and Canada, many in Southern California as well as in Toronto and Vancouver. If, in time, the genie succeeds in remaining free of the bottle, a great many of these expatriates would rapidly find their way back to their homeland, bringing their education, contacts, capabilities and money with them. Their return would stimulate an economic growth for Iran that would rapidly escalate the country’s standard of living.
Iran is rich in natural resources, and Iranians have long demonstrated a propensity for hard work and creativity, along with a willingness to “build,” when they are not suppressed by autocratic governments. The lifting of sanctions alone would provide Iran an immediate and discernable economic boost. The resulting socio-economic transformation within Iran would change the Middle East. Iran would become positively pivotal in the region.
The mullahs may have long feared that change would eventually come in reaction to their abuse of the population. Many have moved the proceeds of their pilfering offshore, “just in case.” Some have built themselves Los Angeles and West Vancouver mansions, in anticipation that the gun might eventually not suppress the crowds in Tehran.
The potential for change is directly conditional on the persistence and endurance of the youth filling the streets of Iran. It will be unstoppable if the demonstrations move to the poorer rural regions of the country. Although the nature of the change that crowds are clamoring for may not for now be as dramatic as the video scenes escaping the crackdown, their demands will persist. We can expect that the extent of that change will gradually expand to encompass the nature of Iranian governance. It is now only a matter of time. The growing crowds are shouting, and are being heard.
James Raider writes The Pacific Gate Post