Enough of the dialogs!

2010/03/07

Published in German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” on 7. March 2010
Source (German): http://www.zeit.de/2010/10/P-oped-Iran?page=all
English translation kindly provided by Josh Manning, edited by germantoenglish

The Iranian protest movement can overthrow the regime peacefully – if the West implements radical sanctions

by Saba Farzan

Green Protest: Member of the opposition demonstrating in Tehran against the regime of President Ahmadinejad (© AFP/Getty Images)

Iran and the weather have something in common: People talk endlessly about both topics, but only a few understand anything about them. The weather anchors on TV may be wrong all the time – but that is hardly tragic. In Iran’s case it’s a little different: Everything that is not correctly analyzed can have massive consequences for the future of the Middle East and the security of Europe.

So-called Iran experts have overslept on the developments of the past years. One could say they have consciously ignored them. There is, on the other hand, the advancing paramilitary of the Islamic Republic. It began with Ayatollah Khamenei’s seizure of power in 1989, whose power is not based on the Shiite clerics. Since 2005, the paramilitary has visibly and systematically nurtured a president with a relevant agenda. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a puppet of the Supreme Revolutionary Leader, and a puppet to the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Those who recognize this vicious cycle also know that Ayatollah Khamenei has little to say in the power structure of the Islamic Republic, and some puppet masters have long ago taken control and are pulling the strings from behind the scene. It’s an enormous security and political risk considering the Revolutionary Guards financially support terrorist organizations, logistically lead the nuclear program, control both airports and sea ports, and are given a budget that is not subject to parliamentary control.

Iran is actually a military dictatorship. The real danger which proceeds from this development is not even considered in the Iran politics of the European Union. It is not even being discussed.

Simultaneously with the the paramilitarization of politics, the Iranian society has gone through a crucial transformation which was hardly unaccounted for as well. In the past one and a half decades, Iranians have experienced three underground revolutions: through the internet, through rock and rap music, and through sexuality. In the beginning of the new millennium, Iran had roughly 250,000 internet users; ten years later the number has risen to 32.2 million in a country of 72 million inhabitants. The Iranian blogosphere developed rapidly into a resistance forum with critical content aimed at its authoritarian government. Also, the music of rock bands and rappers has been used as a form of political protest.

And in the repressive system, which punishes extra and pre-marital sex with arrests, fines, flogging, and stoning, sexual behavior becomes an expression of resistance. The Islamic Republic has always extinguished the political opposition, but it could never prevent the social resistance. All of these social phenomena clarify that the sound of freedom is unfolding in Iranian civil society. In the perception of the German public, however, this was often mistaken as a superficial escape into the spheres of private life. You do not have to be a sociologist to recognize that these radical changes in the past years are paving the road to another revolution in Iran. Iran stands at a fork in the road which will crucially change the future of the country, its people, the Middle East, and the entire world. The courageous Iranians have made their decision since the beginning of the protest movement that freedom will be achieved peacefully. These people deserve more than just a moral alliance with the free world.

The task of forming a democratic Iran will be taken over by the Iranians themselves. Though, if the transition is to be made peacefully, the resources of the Revolutionary Guards must be cut. The fanatical ideology cannot hold itself together if it is bankrupt. Then it is quite possible that members of the Revolutionary Guards will throw aside their weapons and join the side of the freedom-loving people.

What should the West do now? Which path should the international community take? It is clear that a free and democratic Iran would quickly become a rational acting participant in world affairs and a peaceful partner of the Western world. That’s the key note that the Iran politics of the West has been lacking till now. However, there is a gradual change taking place, especially in Europe, where several governments are losing their patience with the Islamic Republic. A break from the appeasement politics of the past years has appeared, and this process now needs to be accelerated.

In addition, several more factors have contributed. There is the change in leadership of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In his first report, the new director Yukiya Amano relentlessly identified the Islamic Republic’s plans for the construction of an atomic warhead, that are more than mere causes of concern for the West. He gave a realistic analysis, something that his predecessor, a close friend of the Islamic Republic, was not able to do. Thus the Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad ElBaradei made no true contribution to peace.

On the other hand, the European Union is going through a learning process, and after seven long years of endless dead-end dialogue with Tehran, they are finally understanding that the Islamic Republic wants to keep up the talks only to say “no” to every reasonable proposal at the end of the day. This does not just have consequences for regional security, but also for global disarmament politics: how, for example, does the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty look if one signer obtains a nuclear weapon?

The German economy, which is the largest European trade partner with Iran, is beginning to understand that a military dictatorship can never be a reliable trade partner. Using this overdue estimate is what matters now. The German middle class must follow suit with the larger enterprises that have finally stopped their business with Iran, such as Siemens, Allianz, and Munich RE. The security interests of Europe and the interests of the Iranian people striving for freedom overlap, while forming most favorable conditions for the German industry to return to a free Iran in the near future and make a lucrative contribution to the reconstruction of this country.

So far, Europe has not been in the position to imagine an Iran without the dictatorship of the Islamic Republic. Because of this, the idea is not some naïve utopia, but a realistic option: Would a democratic Iran continue to pursue a nuclear program? Perhaps. Would it have a militaristic character? Without a doubt, no. Why else would the protest movement take the slogan “A flourishing Green Iran does not need a nuclear bomb”?

Since June in Iran, the freedom movement has been uniting a split country by drawing to its side the remaining population and members of the dominant regime by peaceful means. It is not too late for the international community to sketch out new concrete Iranian political measures such as classifying the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards as an organization of terror, instating a complete economic boycott, and politically isolating the dominant regime. The Western world can make the Iranian people strategic partners. And so we can correct the West’s largest strategic error, that is, to respect a regime that does not respect its own population and represents a danger to peace.

With this new architecture in the Iran political landscape that places the goals of humanity and a peaceful future for the Middle East and the world first, the totalitarian system of the Islamic Republic cannot survive any longer.

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