Jaipur, Jan 18: The US has no virtually no leverage over Iran by keeping the country isolated and it is only the country’s inclusion in the global economic system that will lead to its democratisation, argued two Iranian diaspora authors settled in the West.
Reza Aslan and Fariba Hatchtroudi also contended that the spark, for what is now called the Arab Spring, rose in Iran in 2009 with the mass protests against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but failed to achieve any change as the middle class, who formed the revolt’s spearhead, failed to attract the poor to join the agitation, as had led to successful outcomes in the cases of Tunisia and Egypt.
Speaking at a session “Leaving Iran” at the Jaipur Literary Festival 2014 here Friday evening, both however disagreed as to the role and significance of Islamist parties in the Arab Spring.
Drawing on the reasons for the Iranian poor keeping away from the 2009 protests, Aslan, who has authored an acclaimed biography of Jesus Christ as well as a history of Islam and a thought-provoking account on the apocalyptic worldviews of the three Semitic religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – noted that around 40 percent of Iranians are below the poverty line and dependent on the state for basic necessities of life like bread and milk or even cash handouts and would be chary of any change which infringes their “entitlements”.
Describing as “self-destructive” the US policy towards Iran – keeping the country outside the international economic order – ever since the 1979 revolution that unseated the Shah and left the country in the hands of a theocratic regime, he contended this has eroded the presence of a middle class and stressed that no political development could take place in the absence of economic development.
“Why keep Iran out of the WTO? If it was a part, the Iranian leadership would have to follow certain rules – for example, they could not hand over any lucrative business to a Revolutionary Guards commander after denationalising it or make a mullah incharge of the telecom sector,” he noted.
“Just let the world open the door (to Iran) a little, and then the people, predominantly the youth, would bring down the whole structure,” he opined.
Citing the example of China, Aslan argued that the Chinese leadership of the present would be extremely wary of a brutal crackdown like on the Tianamen Square protesters in 1989 on the grounds it would be “bad for business”.
Ascribing the problems in Iran due to the policy of repression of women, Hatchtroudi said the change in Iran has to come from within and an outside attempt at regime change would not work in her country. She said if it was a choice to make for her between an outside intervention that would leave her country like neighbouring Iraq or other unstable Arab countries or the status quo, she would also go in for the latter.
In the session, both Aslan and Hatchtroudi contended that they, despite emigrating from their homeland when young, were still Iranians and “Oriental” in their hearts despite being unable to visit their homelands for years now due to the clerics taking a dim view of their records. On the other hand, they noted the difficulties of assimilation in either US or Europe.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )