Saturday, May 14, 2011

The predicament of the Islamic Republic

Green Movement's focus on civil rights voids it of the appeal needed to spark an Arab Spring-like revolution.

Hamid Dabashi
(Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.)

"....The Islamic Republic will not go down alone so easily - the way Ben Ali's regime went down in Tunisia, or Mubarak's in Egypt. For the ruling clergy, for one thing, does not kill indiscriminately the way Gaddafi or Assad are doing in Libya and Syria. The custodians of the Islamic Republic maim, murder, torture, and even rape judiciously, measurably, purposefully - just enough to frighten the population to submission. Their rule is infinitely more pernicious. When and if the Islamic Republic goes down, it will take the rest of the geopolitics of the region with it....

The current democratic uprising embarrasses both sides of this divide, exposes their duplicities and hypocrisies. The US must laser-beam on the atrocities of the Islamic Republic and Syria - but downplay equally corrupt and abusive rulers of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain (where it has crucial strategic interests). Now that they have lost Tunisia and Egypt to the open-ended possibilities of the people's democratic uprisings, they are trying to control the rest of the region. By the very same token, the Islamic Republic must falsely identify the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as "Islamic", but dismiss the identical revolutionary uprising in Syria as a plot by Saudi Arabia and Israel - while at the same time bank on the military adventurism of US and NATO in Libya to accentuate the imperial project underway.

But the fact is that both the US and the Islamic Republic are deeply and identically in trouble. If the Green Movement, which the Arab and Euro-American "left" terribly misread, brought national politics to bear on the regional geopolitical scene, the Jasmine Revolutions and the Arab Spring have brought the regional geopolitics to bear on the national scene. The dialectic that has resulted is open-ended, inconclusive, and unfolding. Winners in the long run are the people and their uprisings, losers are not just the US and its allies and nemesis alike - but the very political DNA of the geopolitics of the region. We are, this generation, the bewildered discoverers of a brand new world...

Two simultaneous developments are not to the advantage of the Islamic Republic: (1) Now that they have brutally frightened people from the streets, the Green Movement has in fact become more radical, deep rooted, and will be entrenched in three simultaneous labour, women's rights, and student movements; (2) The sweeping democratic uprisings in the region are robbing the Islamic Republic of its ability to manipulate the geopolitics of its neighbourhood for its own short-term advantages. Syria here is of crucial significance - for if Syria falls to the democratic will of its people, the Islamic Republic will lose a vital link to its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is not a beneficiary of such an eventuality. Israel will not benefit from any of these democratic uprisings. Its own belligerent occupation of Palestine is becoming ever more blatantly obvious the more these democratic movements push to topple Israel's favouritism Arab potentates. Israel is the final and absolute loser of these revolutionary movements - and thus it does, just like the Islamic Republic, everything it can to stop or alter their direction.

The Iranian civil rights movement, code-named the Green Movement, is and will remain non-violent. It has neither a military wing, nor a militant ideology. Its radicalisation is not tantamount to its turning violent the way similar uprisings have in Libya, Syria, Bahrain - or even Yemen. The Green Movement has now reached deeply into its forceful constituent components: the labour, women's rights, and student movement. The ruling elite of the Islamic Republic does not have the moral or the imaginative wherewithal of withstanding the democratic challenges coming from the Arab world to face up to these far more deeply rooted discontents at one and the same time.

By indulging in sideshows, such as the one between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, it may try to divert attention both from the enduring resonances of the Green Movement and the consequences of the Arab Spring. But it will not succeed. It is too late. It may go down differently. But it will go down."

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