The CIA under US President Dwight Eisenhower orchestrated a coup d’etat in 1953 against the Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, one of the first democratically elected leaders in the region. It took the US government half a century to admit any wrongdoing and offer a tepid apology to the Iranian people for meddling in their affairs. Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State, announced in the twilight of the Clinton administration that “it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs”. Too little, too late.
Mr Mossadegh had irked Britain and the US when he nationalised the Iranian oil industry. The Iranian people never forgave the US for his removal and 30 years ago this month they expelled the Shah after months of riots and rallies in the street, replacing him with the Ayatollah Khomeini as their unquestionable leader. Ironically, the revolution of 1979 included not only religious leaning conservatives but also communists, nationalists as well as liberals. People from all walks of life resented what the American government had done in 1953 as well as the wide spread corruption in the Iranian government, and the Shah as its embodiment. Similarly, Khomeini, consciously or not, came to embody a way forward. He was the anti-Shah who called for the outright ousting of the former emperor and won the support of Iranians across the board.
Initially, Khomeini appointed a western educated liberal by the name of Mehdi Bazargan who had volunteered for the French army to fight against Nazi Germany. Mr Bazargan campaigned for human rights and democracy during the rule of the Shah and continued to appeal for calm and reason throughout the revolution.
On November 4 1979, upon hearing the news of the US embassy’s takeover by Iranian youth, and the Ayatollah’s condoning of it, prime minister Bazargan resigned in protest as he had previously given American diplomats assurance of their safety. That is the day the revolution lost its way. Iran has gone from crisis to crisis ever since.
First Iran tried so called “collaborators” within the previous regime in makeshift overnight courts and went as far as executing some of them. Then the hostage crisis emerged, lasting 444 days, and when it concluded, Iran entered into a futile war with the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that lasted eight long years.
Iran paradoxically seemed to be more occupied with issues further afield and neglect matters in its immediate surroundings. Backing Hizbollah, Hamas, Venezuela and Syria would be less odd if Iran had spent some time tackling issues in its immediate vicinity and within its own borders. For example, Iran reinforced its occupation of three of the UAE’s islands, refusing to enter into any talks with the UAE Government toward a settlement, contributing to tensions with its Arab Gulf neighbours.
On its north-western border, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has yet to be resolved. The re-emergence of the Taliban, an ultra conservative rival to Iran’s Shia regime to its north-east seems to have escaped the Iranian government’s attention. And to its west, Iran has neglected the Kurdish question. Kurds comprise 15 per cent of the population and share sympathies with their brethren in Iraq and Turkey. News reports have even claimed that Osman Ocalan, the brother of the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan sought refuge in Iran’s Kurdish territory in 2007.
On Iran’s south-west border with Pakistan, the Jundollah, or God’s Soldiers, made up of disenfranchised Sunni militants from Iran’s neglected Baluchi minority, have taken up an armed struggle against the government. In 2007 they kidnapped 30 people and killed 11 Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In 2008 they abducted and killed 16 policemen.
And most importantly, within its borders Iran has to deal with an unemployment rate of 20 per cent and a staggering rate of inflation at 26 per cent, as well as dwindling oil revenues.
This is not an exercise in bashing Iran, a country for which I have a lot of respect. It is however an exercise to point to the challenges that are facing the country on its immediate borders and within.
Thankfully, the UAE Government has taken the right path in its dealings with Iran by continuing to emphasise good neighbourly relations as well as trade links. A revealing example of how importantly Iran regards its trade with the UAE emerged when it described the US pressure to limit the UAE’s trade with Iran as “illegal”, saying it would jeopardise the region’s economy.
Finally, maybe Iran should consider concentrating on its immediate challenges such as tackling unemployment and cross border terrorism rather than waste time with Hugo Chavez’s deliriums, Hassan Nasrallah and Khaled Meshaal’s empty rhetoric and the Holocaust denial conferences.
Maybe then, just maybe, the Iranian revolution would once again find its way.
This article was first published in The National on Sunday, February 8th 2009