In 2009 after disputes over elections in Iran turned into the green movement, the world thought Iran was on the verge of change and all media focused on Iran. Then Michael Jackson died, and overnight all media seemed to be about Jackson and protesters in Iran were forgotten. Iranian leaders subdued the restless population.
Recent demonstrations in Iran, which seem to have been a spontaneous reaction to rising prices and other hardships, soon morphed into political slogans against the regime.
Iranians are non-Arab Persians and Shiite Muslims in a perpetual sectarian conflict since the Arab invasion of Persia ended the Sasanian Empire in 651 A.D. The current Saudi government, Sunni majority, is determined to slow Iran’s influence. The toxic anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. rhetoric by Iranian leaders has isolated Iran in the West while increasing its stature within some countries in the Muslim world.
The animosity between Iran and the U.S. goes back to 1953 when a CIA-inspired coup with British help overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, a democratically elected prime minster. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was promptly reinstalled as shah. Kermit Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Theodore Roosevelt who was involved in the covert operation, boasted in his memoir of the low cost to the CIA to unseat Mossadegh. Twenty-six years later, the shah was forced out by Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
When President Carter allowed the ailing Shah to come to the U.S. for cancer treatment, his arrival in the U.S. worried the Iranian revolutionaries that another coup was in the making. Iranian students overtook our embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The memory of the 1953 coup has continued to haunt older Iranians wary of U.S. covert intentions. Iranian opportunists and religious leaders have used the incident to continue their anti-American and anti-democratic rhetoric to stay in power. The United States, too, is still impacted by the consequences of the 1953 coup. One act of interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation at the height of paranoia over communism has resulted in losing a country whose people have shown more promise for democracy than any other nation in the Middle East excluding Israel.
President Trump’s support for the demonstrators, while helpful to those seeking a change, also rings hollow. Because support for human rights requires consistency, one cannot coddle authoritarian regimes like the Saudis one day and chide the Iranians for human rights violations the next.
At the start of Trump’s presidency the son of the late shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, who lives in the U.S., took to social media and said for many years people had asked him when a change would come to Iran. After 37 years he thought change was more likely now. Because Iran’s supreme leader is ill, the possibility of the creation of a power vacuum exists upon his passing; and the regime’s mishandling of the economy and expensive proxy wars are creating significant discontent.
Iranian people are nationalistic and take pride in their 2,500 years of history and civilization. While many aspire for democracy, the regime also has the backing of a large group of highly religious individuals who follow their religious duties, including the supreme leader’s fatwas. To underestimate the power and shrewdness of the current regime and its ability to survive would be imprudent. Overt efforts by the U.S. would only strengthen the position of the mullahs. While many experts believe change will happen, it’d be best to let the Iranians themselves make the change. It is likely that any change will be gradual. Many Iranians are reluctant for another revolution since they consider the 1979 (Islamic) revolution disastrously reversed Iran’s progress.