Monday, November 17, 2014

Iran: ‘The Great Satan’ Still Our ‘Number One Enemy’ - Majid Rafizadeh

by Majid Rafizadeh

Hassan-RouhaniThe deadline for a final and comprehensive nuclear deal between the Iranian leaders and the six world powers (the P5+1: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) is approaching in less than two weeks on November 24th .

It seems that the White House is also investing in the notion that after a final nuclear deal is struck between Tehran and the P5+1, and after economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic are removed, Iranian leaders will alter their foreign policies and regional hegemonic ambitions. This argument is anchored in unrealistic and naïve expectations. If we closely analyze the Islamic Republic’s political and power structures, as well as its major sources of legitimacy, it becomes evident that a major and fundamental change in Iranian leaders’ political calculations is completely unlikely.

Domestically speaking, for over thirty years, by blaming and pointing fingers to the United States and Israel for almost every social and political challenge that the Islamic Republic encounters, the government has been capable of deflecting attention from the high unemployment rate among the youth, high inflation, corruption, nepotism, social injustice, lack of freedoms (speech, press, assembly, etc.), and lack of equal opportunity. The fundamental and underlying tenets of the Islamic Republic are anchored in opposing the United States and Israel and their foreign policies in the Middle East.

Secondly, from the Iranian leaders’ perspective, in order to be capable of legally oppressing and cracking down on domestic opposition, the regime must maintain an anti-American posture. 

Normally, any individual that criticizes the structure and legitimacy of the Iranian government, ruling clerics and the Supreme Leader, is characterized as a US agent, conspirator and traitor. These charges allow the government to use its judiciary system to oppress opposition and maintain its power.

Recently, in the midst of the international tensions and negotiations regarding Iran’s contentious nuclear program, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) released a statement to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency pointing out that the United States, “the Great Satan,” remains the Islamic Republic’s “number one enemy.” The IRGC’s statement read, “The U.S. is still the great Satan and the number one enemy of the (Islamic) revolution and the Islamic Republic and the Iranian nation.”

Also recently, thousands of pro-government Iranians gathered around the US embassy to mark the 35th anniversary of the capture of the U.S. embassy and fifty-two Americans in Tehran by militant students. Demonstrators chanted  “Death to America,” “ Death to the Great Satan,” “Death to the United Kingdom” and “Death to Israel.”

Even if a comprehensive nuclear deal is reached between the Islamic Republic and the six world powers by November 24th, Iranian leaders’ position towards the United States, Western allies and Israel will not be altered for the following ideological reasons.

Having the largest Shiite population in the region, the Islamic Republic views itself as the major epicenter of Shiite revivalism across the region. Iran’s support for its proxies, Shiite militant political groups in the region (such Hezbollah in Lebanon, Liwa al-Imam al-Husayn in Syria, Asaib Ahl al-Haqq in Iraq, etc.), will remain to define Tehran’s foreign policy. Establishing itself as the front runner and leader of Shiism has been at the fundamental core of Iran’s foreign policy and regional hegemonic ambitions since 1979. This foreign policy objective will continue to define the Islamic Republic’s identity as long as the Ayatollahs are in power.

In addition, Iranian leaders have been investing in the Syrian regime, economically and politically, for over three decades. It is totally unrealistic to argue that if a final nuclear deal is sealed and if economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic are removed, Tehran will alter its unrelenting military, financial, advisory, and intelligence support to the Alawite-based government of al-Assad.

Without a doubt, some minor changes might occur if a final nuclear is struck. For example, Iran would be more incorporated in international organizations, particularly economically, and it would gradually open up its market to foreign and Western investors. It follows that the Islamic Republic will have to embed some international financial standards into its economic system. Nevertheless, the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and IRGC will remain the key economic generators with a monopoly over major industries and will be reluctant to allow equal opportunity and redistribution of wealth to the lower classes.

Furthermore, being incorporated more into world economic systems does not necessarily indicate that more political freedom, as well as civil liberties, will be granted to ordinary Iranian citizens. Historical evidence reveals that economic prosperity for some states can result in implementation of robust policies to tighten control over the population and further centralize power. In other words, similar to other authoritarian governments, economic liberalization will not go hand in hand with political liberalizations in the Islamic Republic.

Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a former senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He can be reached at Follow Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.


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