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Regime change -- for dummies
Why a military attack, a revolution or invasion will not cause Iranians to greet you with open arms

January 21, 2007

For the past couple of months the international political pressure on Iran has increased, even including a latent military threat from both its enemies Israel and the US. These current events caused the Iranian opposition to get rather excited. The bold thought of changing Iran's political regime of the clerics arouses many academic and non -- academic thinkers to put their ideas on display. Since this is a matter that gets more Iranians excited than just the people who would care to call themselves "the opposition", I find it important to explore the options so that we all know what we are talking about. And I know this equals blasphemy for an academic to say, but I hate turning simple things into difficult and complex theories and sentences that would be a bit too much to fathom for someone who is simply trying to understand the nature of this world.

That is why I refuse to engage in a verbal weightlifting championship. I would even prefer the Kafkaesque short and staccato way of expression that is efficient enough to get the message across. We use way too many words and too few examples that could just simplify so much. Ok, so here is a go at explaining the theory of social and political change from an institutionalization point of view, which is my method of choice in this matter:

In the alarmingly red light of the political background of this moment, one tends to fantasize about a Regime Change in Iran, obscurely -- perhaps conveniently -- leaving out the "how" part. That is why I refer to this as "fantasizing", because the theoretic one -- plus -- one that is being done by anyone who is thinking over a sudden new world order in Iran, has very little to do with reality. For the few politically engaged Iranians who now are frowning and reconsidering reading any further into this article, I would courteously ask them to stay with us and consider a different point of view and let it rain on them for a while. If after all is said and done you feel like shaking off the drops of rain, feel free.

So, as I mentioned earlier, Regime Change -- this term has been heavily assaulted by the neocons, thank you for putting yet another word on the politically incorrect blacklist! -- has to have some kind of acceptable and human-friendly tool. And no, in this case the saying "all means justify the goal" does not count. So an external military intervention should remain far away from our list of options.

Back to the feasible tools or means to achieve political change in a human-friendly and enduring way. A lesson in Public Policy that I always find useful is: social change -- thus including political change -- is a process and not a project! Dear reader, remember what I wrote earlier about letting the words rain on you, this would be a good time to do just that. Process, NOT Project! The reason why I emphasize so much on this is nothing more than a reaction after hearing and reading these words hundreds and hundreds of times spoken/written by politically engaged Iranians:

For 27 years we have let the mollah's ruin our country, nobody does anything because their hands are tied, so we have to DO SOMETHING NOW!  Ironically this DO SOMETHING NOW is being said since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution! That is the whole problem. You cannot just DO something in order to change a country's social, judicial and political existence! Regime change can therefore never be a project that has a beginning, middle and an end. So now that we have eliminated this thought of doing one thing in order to change Iran's regime, let us have a look at the remaining options.

For the ones who read the last few sentences feeling some kind of aversion, I will shortly explain why a military attack, a revolution or invasion in Iran will not cause your fellow countrymen to greet you with open arms:

The era of revolutions has passed. It is outdated. Remember the times that the news on TV was just filled with a coup d'etat here, a revolution there, "vive la resistance" ,Che Guevara and men standing in front of tanks. Those things just will not happen anymore. For you not to think that I have some crystal globe or a Jame Jam for that matter, I will explain why revolutions are not likely to take place anymore. Reasons supporting this statement regarding Iran:

1. The generation of people who revolted against the Shah in 1979, fighting for equality and a better life (economically and politically speaking), now notice just how much of their efforts have resulted in a regime that is 1000 times worse than the previous one. Understandingly, they want to hold on to anything they have in life and support their own family avoiding anything that could endanger their safety or their breadwinning;

2. The younger generation, who saw their brothers, fathers and friends being killed in the Iran-Iraq war need to hold on to a sense of meaning to this regime. Turning their backs to the Islamic Republic of Iran would be like treason to your schoolbooks, your teachers, your life and your God;.

3. The more fortunate young and carefree richer part of the population, who buy their way into their own individual freedoms, they don't see a direct need into endangering their own lives by revolting against this regime while they can have all the individual freedom they want up on the ski slopes of Dizin and Shemshak;

4. The ones remaining, the politically engaged students, the human rights and woman's rights activists, and the few intellectuals that have stayed in Iran, are too few and too valuable to risk their lives through starting a revolution on their own while having no support from the rest of the nation. The few brains that are left in Iran who are willing to invest their energy into political activism in a revolutionary way have little power to use when stuck in a dark and damp Evin prison cell.

So revolution is not an option. Aside from the socially-based reasons I already mentioned, there is also a practical reason why a revolution would just not work in Iran. Before the existence of the Islamic Republic, Iran was ruled in a centralized manner by Mohammad Reza Shah. The power structure being central means that the Shah made all the relevant decisions. By eliminating him from the political scene, the whole power -- structure caved in like a house of cards. That made it a little easier to start a whole new government, with new decentralized power structures, as the Islamic Revolution did.

There was a short period of chaos, but because every "Muslim" was allowed to join in the game through the mosques and local institutions, a new structure was quickly made without any to little hindrance. Only now, the power structure of Iran is a decentralized one, having politically empowered people in local places, who would not easily give up their place due to some revolution. They all work together using the bureaucratic system like a glass bell on their positions. So a revolution would only work in this case if ALL government employees, politically empowered people, clerics and politicians would be terminated all at one, which is an unthinkable option.

So now that we have concluded that revolution in Iran as a means to Regime Change is no option, we will look at the one option that does have potency for success. The answer, dear reader, is through institutionalization. And for you who is thinking of institutionalization as in the meaning of being locked up in some sterile building without windows and having people come and drug you from time to time, no, that is not the kind of institutionalization I mean. Institutionalization means gradual domination. The ones realizing this gradual dominance are called the "drivers of change".

Drivers of change are the people who are in positions that could alter the course of society. These do not necessarily need to be people in high governmental or political positions. It could be volunteers working for NGO's supporting human rights, women's rights, children's rights, etc. It could also be teachers, lawyers, university professors or captains of industry. These people could function as drivers of change institutionalizing values that are aimed at improving the quality of life. By the expression of "quality of life" I mean a life in which one's human rights (the ones written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and social and political rights are protected by the constitution and respected by the government and judiciary. This is called a Rule of Law.

In general, institutionalization or gradual dominance occurs when the highest level of power commits itself to the goal. I state that this does not need to be the case. When change can occur from top down, it should also be possible bottom up. Since all change is performed by people, in organizations, in institutions or society in general, the direction of change could just as well ignite from the layer of people who are the ones performing their social duties. Some might call this social disobedience. This process would need support in the shape of education (for example independent courses in sociology, political science and international law), financial support (for example to set up hotlines to report human rights violations) and psychological support (for example online think -- tanks in which Iranians from all over the world can share idea's about institutionalizing social and political change).  

Once the drivers of change succeed in institutionalizing these new shared values, they can create a large platform from people from all parts of society who could pressure the authorities to grant them their demands. These gradual changes should be aimed at decreasing the power and influence of the clerical order and create a dominance of the people. This gradual dominance will take many years of incremental changes and needs the Iranian people to hold their breath for a long time. But through this gradual dominance, the Iranian people will have the time and chance of developing a culture that can handle a democratic and coherent political system. One could compare this process to the process of childhood, puberty and maturity. If these stages would be skipped, one would have a child wanting to act like an adult. We have seen the consequences of this after the Islamic Revolution, when all wanted something else, fought for it, and ended up with something they did not really wish for.

Therefore I plead for a Regime Change through institutional development as a gradual dominance of the people in the societal arena, instead of a revolution or an external military intervention. I believe in this case we could draw a valuable lesson from this old Iranian expression:  "rahro aan ast ke aaheste o peyvaste ravad". Comment

letters section
Tina Ehrami

Tina Ehrami


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