Eight months after the start of the “Arab Spring”, the ruling mullahs in Tehran are still wondering how to respond to a tsunami that is changing the political landscape of the region.
Initially, the mullahs, who believe that history consists of a succession of conspiracies, saw the Arab revolt as a plot hatched by Western intelligence services.
Official media echoed a view expressed by American conspiracy theorist Noam Chomsky. According to that view “the Imperialist powers” wanted to change their “Arab lackeys” who had grown old and out of touch. In the case of Libya, Chomsky claimed, the US wanted to topple Gaddafi because he had become “unruly”.
The mullahs’ media reminded their audience that, in 2009, the American “Great Satan” had also tried to topple the Khomeinist regime with a master-plan written by US and European philosophers, among them Michael Ledeen and Jurgen Habermas, with financial support from businessman George Soros.
When it became clear that the Habermas-Ledeen-Soros trio could not have produced a firestorm in a dozen Arab countries, the Khomeinist media started looking for another explanation.
The most plausible analysis came from Ali Motahari, a member of the Islamic Majlis, the ersatz parliament in Tehran, who is often sane enough to make one wonder what he is doing in that bedlam.
He suggested that, perhaps, Arabs had revolted because they were fed up with “oppression and poverty.”
However, that analysis, deemed too dangerous by the regime’s powers-that-be, was quickly abandoned. The reason was simple. If Arabs had the right to revolt against “oppression and poverty” how could anyone deny the same right to Iranians who also suffer from that double whammy?
Things became more complicated when the revolt spread to Syria, a client state of the Islamic Republic.
By June, the official line was that revolt in all Arab countries was legitimate except Syria. Thus, the conspiracy theory was valid only for Syria that, according to daily Kayhan, was “punished because it had embraced the teachings of Imam Khomeini.”
However, that claim was hard to sustain. Even the most gullible Iranians would not be persuaded that the only Arab country to have a “perfect government” was Syria simply because its leaders were on Tehran’s payroll.
Last month, the mullahs’ media launched a new analysis. This is based on the claim that the Arab revolt had is inspired by the late Ayatollah Khomeini. According to this analysis, the American “Great Satan” fomented a revolt in Syria to counter the tide of Khomeinist victories in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen among other places.
That theory, too, is hard to sell. Most Arab youths who spearheaded the revolts were not even born when the ayatollah seized power 32 years ago. Some may not have even heard of Khomeini.
And, yet, in an editorial on 24 August, Kayhan, which reflects the view of the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, claimed that what Arab revolutionaries want is a government based on the Khomeinist model.
Kayhan certainly knows that even its readers might see that claim as a joke. Why should Arabs, even if they wanted a religious government, imitate the witches’ brew produced by a semi-literate Iranian mullah rather than developing their own model?
Anticipating that question, Kayhan quotes two “eminent authorities” in support of the claim that Arab revolutionaries want “Walayat al-Faqih” or despotism in the name of religion.
The first “authority” is Fahmi Howeydi, presented as “ the leading Egyptian thinker” who is a frequent visitor to the Islamic Republic.
This is what Howeydi told Kayhan:” The leadership of Imam Khomeini, and after him, Imam Khamenehei (sic.) in the past 30 years and Iran’s powerful overcoming of plots and conspiracies has taught Muslim nations that power, pride, independence, freedom, scientific advancement, mounting to the summits of technology, and powerful presence in international domains are all possible... Today, the Islamic ummah will not swap this model for any other.”
The second “authority” is someone named as “the leading American thinker Immanuel Wallerstein”. Kayhan quotes him as saying: “We must lament the fact that our efforts to change the world faces an insurmountable hurdle in the form of Walayat al-Faqih in Iran, preferred by most nations to our model of democracy.”
Well, now you have it. Arabs who have been demonstrating and dying for the past eight months do not want democracy. What they want is Walayat al-Faqih!
The Kayhan editorial may be a sign of what psychiatrists call an inversion. This happens when a victim of ill treatment persuades himself that what he most fears is, in fact, what he most desires. A woman who is beaten black and blue starts feeling that the man who beats her loves her dearly.
The mullahs know that the system they have created is a banal form of despotism with a thin veneer of superstition sugar-coated as religion. Now dominated by the military-security machine with the “Supreme Guide” as its public face, The Islamic Republic, is as much of a police state as Ben Ali’s Tunisia or Gaddafi’s Libya, not to mention Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.
Howeydi and Wallerstein know that, relative to its population, the Islamic Republic has the largest number of political prisoners in the world and that it is second in the number of people executed each year, after China. No Arab despot created a cult of personality as scandalous as that built around Khamenei.
Under the Khomeinist regime even the most senior personalities of the regime are not safe. Two former presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami have had their passports withdrawn and denied the right to travel. Mir-Hussein Mousavi, the man who, as Prime Minister, led Iran through the eight-year war with Iraq, is under house arrest. Each time I visit Paris, London or Washington I am surprised by a wave of new arrivals from Tehran: former Khomeinist officials fleeing from Walayat al-Faqih.
Mr. Huweydi’s shining city on the hill is a figment of his imagination. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iran today is poorer than it was before the mullahs seized power. This is why Iran, which had never been a country of mass immigration, has become the source of “the biggest brain drain in history”, according to IMF.
The Khomeinist leadership is in a state of panic. It fears that it, too, may find itself on the path of the tsunami of change.
-This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 02/09/2011
-Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran (1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI)