Interview by Michele Brignone

Last update: 2022-04-22 09:42:01

After the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, also in Iran there have been anti-government demonstrations. In fact, this is not the first challenge to the Iranian regime. To what extent can events in the Middle East influence the internal situation in the Iranian Republic? The Iranian regime approves of this urban protest, believing it the equivalent of the 1979 revolution. In fact, neither in Egypt nor in Tunisia have Muslim clerics (‘ulamâ’) played a significant role – it is true that in Iran, in 1978, the clerics were not alone in mobilizing the crowds: the discontent affected intellectuals, wage-earners, young people, the left and the liberal nationalists. Without any real leaders or a clear ideology, the Iranian opposition used the pretext of the Iranian government supporting a demonstration of solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt and turned it into one against Ahmadinejad. The Iranian opposition identifies with the Egyptian and Tunisian protest movements formed in the name of political and ideological freedoms, in the name of political pluralism and democratic alternation, that is, those values which Ahmadinejad and his allies had repressed. But in Tunis as well as in Cairo the ousted leaders, Ben Ali and Mubarak, were political fossils hardened by decades of exercise of despotic power, so it was relatively easy to topple them. In Iran, a certain collegiality within the Pâsdârân (the Guardians of the Revolution), a certain section of the youth and the relatively dynamic political class surrounding Ahmadinejad – with some obviously different nuances – make the establishment much more difficult to overturn. The Iranian government’s reaction seems effective at the moment, somehow as in Algeria. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, on the occasion of the riots following the 2009 elections in Iran the army and the police were lined up against the people. Is there any chance of a different situation this time? The army of the Guardians of the Revolution is likely to include dissatisfied individuals ready to challenge Ahmadinejad. In the less ideologized Iranian traditional army there are probably some critical elements. But Ahmadinejad’s success derives from the fact that he is actually able to control the repressive apparatus. The people’s militia (basij) act as a complement to the police. On whom would civil society and anti-government forces be able to count, other than the army’s support? The middle classes are dissatisfied; the young want a better labour market; the intellectuals feel ill at ease with censorship and ideological repression; women hope for a recognition of their real role in the professional and political life... Discontent is rife. Among the clerics, some âyatollâh are worried by the rise of anticlericalism and declare that religion and politics need to be separated. The youth, who from their most tender age have been subjected to ideological drilling in the name of Islam, are moving away en masse from official religion but usually express their refusal only through individual adhesion to mystical groups or the search for alternative discourses on salvation. We must beware of supporting attempts from the outside (e.g., exiled Iranians, American pressures, etc.) who can only delegitimize a movement, as demonstrated in 2009 experience: by taking British Embassy agents or the Frenchwoman Clotilde Reiss as “proof” of foreign manipulation, the Iranian government tried to demonstrate that Iran’s independence could be defended by repressing the opposition. In the case of a change of regime in Iran, who could take charge of the transition? Those clerics who don’t identify with the ideas and actions of President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or the political opposition leaders? Within the frame of a reformed Islamic republic, surely some leaders could be found able to offer a more liberal solution; but this wouldn’t mean a real change of regime. A regime change would imply neutralizing the Guardians of the Revolution and the basiji, something unthinkable. In the present scenario, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami (both ex-presidents), Moussavi and Karroubi could represent a sort of reformist front. Therefore, if Ahmadinejad’s regime should fall, it wouldn’t be the end of the Islamic Republic but the beginning of its reform. If Ahmadinejad should fall, he could be substituted by someone possibly worse. On the other hand, it is likely that in 2013, at the end of his second presidential mandate, he will leave his place to someone else. The Americans have long hypothesized the restoration of the monarchy – but this is absolutely unthinkable – and in Iraq until 2009 they have kept the base of the people’s Mujahidin a small group which today has no real support from the Iranian public opinion. The change will come from the inside. Let’s hope for a progressive transition towards political pluralism.