Iran, prisoners of a revolution

(To Gino Lanzara)

Jimmy Carter, 1978, “Thanks to the Shah's greatness, Iran is an island of stability in the Middle East.”

Ali Ansari, “Iranian tolerance is legendary, but when it breaks, it breaks big. The political elite is aware of this reality, and this explains their paranoia.”

During the last few weeks the Israel - Hamas confrontation has inevitably taken center stage, a conflict that will involve geopolitical analyzes for a long time destined to survive the more immediately media aspects; what only partially saturated the newspaper pages was the Iranian factor, with the exception of the aspects of more direct Lebanese-Palestinian involvement.

Iran is a country that boasts thousand-year history and civilization, it cannot be limited to contingent aspects; at the very least an overall picture capable of highlighting i because of events. Going back in time a possible and nostalgic soundtrack follows the notes of Barbra Streisand with hers The Way We Were, un how we were universal that touches everyone and illuminates any moment, the few advantages and the many and inevitable defects.

Politically, modern Iranian identity took shape in the 1979th century, when Shiite Islam became the official Persian religion, a counterpart to Ottoman Sunnism; it is therefore Shiism alone that forged Iranian state unity, assigning an exclusive political-religious position to the XNUMX revolution. If the West perceived political Islam as a new and disturbing fact, Muslim countries immediately looked not to the Shiite tradition, but to its unprecedented republican dynamic, aimed at merging political and religious ambitions.

Iranian foreign policy extends over three levels, national, Islamic and international, overlapping and paradoxically sometimes contradictory; evaluating only the Islamic aspect would neglect nationalism and the demands of the bourgeoisie grappling with a difficult globalization; Iran intends to gain a leading role in the hoping of the Believers, an intent which was opposed by both the Sunni resistance and that of the Arab Shiites, refractory to Persian domination and the adoption of velayat-e faqih1 therefore the power belongs to the Supreme Leader2 Iranian, cannot be delegated to individual ayatollahs in contexts where there has also been the rise of bourgeoisies and young, cultured and globalized generations.

It was the unaware USA to have given Iran the scepter of Iraqi power since 2003, so much so as to induce the king of Jordan to speak of a Shiite crescent extended from Tehran to Lebanon passing through Iraq and Syria, despite a doctrinal weakening, an inevitable duty to pay on the altar of secular power that ignores Iranian supremacy, but has managed to make Hezbollah, a political party founded on a militia, dangerous.

That Iranian politics, despite successive autocracies, has always been very sensitive, is demonstrated already in relatively recent times by the coup d'état of 1953, instigated by the USA, UK and led by Artesh, which led to the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in favor of the monarchical strengthening of Shah Reza Pahlavi, who was also threatened with deposition by the CIA, and where even the Shiite clergy, with the President of Parliament, Ayatollah Kashani, played a notable role while the influence of the communists became perceivable of the Tudeh. Imprisoned and then died under house arrest Mossadeq, the martyr of oil nationalization, 26 years later, history prepared a ferocious retaliation against the Shah, who Mossadeq tolerated only as a symbol useful for cutting ribbons and not as a ruler. Already in 53 we noticed a political characteristic that had been reiterated over time, that is, an opposition that was not very cohesive and lacked catalyzing leaders.

Monarchist politics is not only pro-Western, but since 1962 it has promoted the so-called White revolution3, a series of modernizing reforms aimed at making the institutions increasingly secular. However, the reforms appear unpopular outside the large urban centres, also because the economic transition tends to favor the richer classes. The problem for the Shah is twofold: his reforms are not only not appreciated by the clergy, but not even by the nationalists who fear excessive Westernisation. The program provides for the end of feudalism and large estates4, redistribution of lands confiscated from Shia clergy, nationalization of forests, privatization of some government enterprises, creation of a free and compulsory education system, establishment of a collective health system, universal suffrage and parliamentary eligibility for women5; the toll for the reforms was paid by both the nobility and the clergy, averse to reforms perceived as an existential threat. The new family law, promulgated in 1967 and extended in 1975, limited polygamy and defended divorce by prohibiting the possibility, guaranteed by sharia, of repudiating one's wife, while the minimum age for marriage was raised from 15 to 18 in 1975; Reza Shah had already outlawed the veil in 1936 and opened universities to women.

On the other hand, we cannot forget the repressive policy, the economic crisis and a Westernization within a context linked to Islam, all elements that at the end of the 70s brought together a protest movement supported both by the left and by religious fundamentalism . It must be said that the Shah's modernization did not contemplate forms of democratic opening: Reza Pahlavi intended to continue to be an absolute sovereign in a modern Iran, a political oxymoron in a country where White revolution it had been supported by Kennedy in an anti-Marxist vein. They take to the streets against the Shah i Fedayyin-e khalq, the people's volunteers, Marxist formations made up of university students and workers; groups of Islamist inspiration rooted in the provinces and in fact in ideological antithesis with the Tudeh are improvidently welcomed among them.

The return of the exiled Khomeini unbalances the political alchemy, depriving secularism of any possible primacy in order to hand over primacy itself to the ayatollahs. Stalin, as an old revolutionary, probably would not have appreciated the Tudeh's suicidal policy very much6.

The return of sharia also coincides with the degradation of women's rights in various areas, starting with the abolition of the 1967 law for the protection of the family, the legal age for marriage being raised to 9 years, the ban on married women from follow a regular education, ending up with the hijab imposed by law and with the preclusion of being able to aspire to a judicial career7. With the restoration of polygamy, adultery becomes a crime punishable by stoning, as does having sexual relations outside of marriage.

In the media, thanks to his charisma, Khomeini steals the show from everyone, even if he is not the most learned of scholars; audio/video cassettes with his speeches prepare the ground for the belief that the alternative to the regime is within reach. Everyone realizes this, except Tudeh, who is so naive as to think that Iran embodied mature capitalism and that the clergy would give way.

With the end of the support of the USA, already completely unaware of the consequences of the Islamic awakening, the first Western column in MO collapsed while the armed corps of the Revolutionary Guards, the Pasdaran, was founded which, thanks to the war with Iraq (1980 -1988), rise to ever greater power by controlling vast sectors of the economy. 

Today Iran is a prisoner of its past; he is less religious than you think, and less wealthy than he could be. velayat-e faqih, by imposing a political purification, it silenced secular groups, led to a constant increase in capital punishment, to the ever-ready political-religious justification for any measure deemed necessary8; repression of the green wave still brings to the memory of generations of Iranian forty-year-olds the images of the dying Neda Agha-Soltan9, killed in the street by a sniper. It is no coincidence that, with the waning of revolutionary ardour, hundreds of thousands of educated Iranians abandon the country every year: it is difficult to reconcile the vision of rigid religious people in their seventies with that of cultured young people who, today more than ever, seem to refer to the image and to the thoughts of Oriana Fallaci who, already on 26 September 79, had well understood the Khomeinist ideology and its possible evolutions, an anticipation of the revolt sparked by the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini, Kurdish woman from Saqqez, beaten to death by the morality police10 on September 16, 2022 for not wearing the hijab correctly, followed by what he saw as a victim, a few weeks ago, for the same reason, Armita Gerawand of 16 years.

The protest movement originated spontaneously, from below, with unprecedented characteristics, while the popular protests are defined as a global conspiracy plotted by the enemies of Iran, the USA and Israel. Despite at least 800 protesters killed over 12 months and around 22.000 arrested, the repression has hit Kurdistan and Sistan Baluchistan. The more libertarian fringes fear that the deeper meaning of the revolt could be misunderstood, given that already in 190511 and in 1979 the progressive demands were betrayed by a leadership divergent from the original ideals.

In spite of everything, the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Iranian women; the Prize Committee of the Swedish Academy has in fact named the winner Narges Mohammadic, 51-year-old activist currently detained in Evin prison; she was arrested 13 times, she suffered five sentences for a total of 31 years in prison and 154 lashes. In the XNUMXst century.

Despite almost continuous detention, since 2011 Mohammadi has continued to denounce the abuses committed against women; paraphrasing Dance with wolves, we can say that “here is a woman who knows what courage is”. The thin red line that unites Mahsa Amini, Armita Geravand, Narges Mohammadi is that of a civil resistance that does not bend, that strikes and makes the turbans of the imams fall in the street, which transforms into continuous frustration for a theocratic regime which, shaken from a declining demographic, is unable to make sharia accepted by a people who stairway to heaven he wants to find her alone and not through intermediaries.

The problem therefore lies in the generalized belief that the good governance does not reside in Iran, despite the fact that the uprisings of 2009, 2017 and 2019 did not produce the desired change in a regime that sees the hijab as an insurmountable limit to be defended with violence similar to that used by the Savak intelligence12 imperial. From Savak to the Pasdaran, from one praetorian guard to another, the step was short, with the difference that the IRGC transcends its military functions to behave as a central political actor in the balance of the state of the Khamenei era, which needs the Pasdaran to ensure their survival in exchange for growing economic power13 thanks to Foundations14 and to Credit Institutions which have allowed, among other things, the establishment of a parallel welfare system, combined with an increasingly pervasive and effective external strategic depth.

In summary, the Pasdaran can be considered as a deep state in possession of the ideological and material preconditions for the acquisition of power with the Malaparte technique15 and the Luttwak organization16.

While forms of disobedience continue to manifest themselves, and the movement Woman, Life, Freedom, does not take a position in favor of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, there is the fear that society will hold the executive responsible for bad government, which creates the constant need to generate a false external enemy to whom all responsibility can be attributed, in the face of the aspiration spread to a secular democracy.

At this moment, given the demographics, it is the youth that shakes the Iranian future; the wavelength is tuned to the desire for better economic prospects, for greater political and civil liberties, for a responsible executive. This is a young population, disenchanted with the established order, who will however have to deal with very strong resistance aimed at repressing dissent in order to maintain control.

The Revolution of '79 and the Arab Spring of 2010 were in fact characterized by the political weakness of authoritarian regimes. The initial religious idealism has given way to a pragmatism and nationalism necessary for realpolitik; Iranian political dialectics has highlighted the competition between the various elites for the pursuit of their own interests. Economically, state control over productive and financial activities has proven to be inefficient, which has led to neoliberal policies that have increased growth by worsening inequalities. Social and economic malaise and intolerance towards authoritarianism have created the melting pot of intergenerational discontent.

In Iran the protest is therefore not only female against the hijab, but a phenomenon that involves the whole country. The majority of the Iranian population is under 30 years old and, having not experienced the revolution, does not even recognize its cultural principles; the problem, if anything, is that of not having managed to express a unique and recognized leadership.

If in Iran the revolution is in fact now over, it is however true that the political leadership has managed to preserve its external shell, with the hope of repeating itself perhaps already with the re-election of Rahisi in 2025, and keeping alive a financial political system which constitutes the true backbone of the real state and above all the deep state.  

1 Government of the jurist. The system developed by Khomeini envisaged the establishment of an Islamic government based on the idea of ​​the city-state of the Prophet, with power in the hands of the followers of Islam and headed by the Supreme Leader.

2 Currently Ayatollah Khamenei, at the head of an institutional system which is neither a dictatorship given that it provides for various centers of power (some elective), nor even a democracy, because the members of various important institutions are nominated and not elected, almost all belonging to the more conservative camp.

3 Reza Shah, father of the last Shah of Persia, was inspired by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and undertook a work of modernization. Industrial and infrastructure development was given impetus and the railway system was built; the bureaucratic apparatus was strengthened and the health system improved; social equality for women was promoted. At the same time the Shah weakened the power of the clergy, depriving the religious of the monopoly on education thanks to the state public school, and banishing them from the courts with the establishment of a secular judicial system. In implementing modernization, the Shah repressed opposition, especially religious opposition, through detentions and forced exiles.

4 The agrarian reform fueled urbanization following which the peasant class turned to the clergy as its sole institution.

5 Ayatollah Khomeini led protests against women's suffrage and compared it to prostitution.

6 The leaders of the Fedayyin and the People's Mujahideen and the cadres of the TUDEH, who survived the Savak purges, were then largely executed under the theocratic regime.

7 Posting photographs without a hijab is punishable by being banned from entering banks, offices and public transport for six months to a year. Women cannot sing unless they duet with a man, they cannot dance and they cannot attend sporting events in stadiums if men are playing. Women are discriminated against in inheritance and cannot travel abroad alone if married. Abortion is prohibited by law. An article published in Human Right Watch by Rothna Begum reports that in 2019 women made up 18% of the country's workforce, a percentage that dropped to 14% in 2020.

8 The Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari, who in '63 had appointed Khomeini as ayatollah to avoid the death penalty, was placed under house arrest for his opposition to current politics. In choosing his successor Khomeini contravened the rule that he wanted the leader as he was most learned member of the clergy. When the chosen one, Ayatollah Montazeri, called for greater democracy, Khomeini chose Ali Khamenei.

9 Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, was killed by a security forces sniper while going to a demonstration held in June 2009 to protest against alleged electoral fraud that had allowed Mahmud Ahmadinejad to win the presidential elections

10 It has the power to arrest women and girls who have clothing deemed inappropriate.

11 Iran's constitutional revolution took place between 1905 and 1911 during the Qajar dynasty. The revolution led to the establishment of a parliament in Persia.

12 The Shah's secret police

13 The Corps manages approximately 1/3 of Iran's economy. The Pasdaran control the majority of economic sectors, from energy to infrastructure, from the automotive sector to the financial and banking sectors. Former president Rouhani has repeatedly asked the Pasdaran not to interfere in political-economic life, inviting them to deal exclusively with the military sphere, a request that went unheeded.

14 The body exerts strong influences on the Bonyad, the charitable non-governmental organizations and foundations led by Shia clergy.

15 Coup d'état technique

16 Strategy of the coup

Photo: IRNA