US ramps up the pressure
Principled left says no to regime change from above. Yassamine Mather gives them critical support
As attention was focussed on Iran’s football team in the World Cup, protests against yet another hike in prices - at a time when the Iranian currency is daily falling - closed Tehran’s main bazaar on June 25.
Supporters of president Hassan Rouhani claimed some merchants were threatened by the government’s opponents in the conservative factions of the regime, and forced to close and join the protests. While some, speaking to international reporters, confirmed such stories, others said they voluntarily shut. They cannot afford to restock with imported goods, given the current rate of exchange, and because of rocketing prices customers are few and far between, except for essential items.
Over the winter, as expectations of a US withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action grew, the price of the dollar went from around 4,500 to 6,500 toman. However, six weeks after the confirmation of the withdrawal, a dollar now exchanges for 9,000 toman. Of course, in addition to existing international sanctions and the threat of new ones, Iranians rightly blame corruption and the abysmal economic policies of successive governments for the current situation.
The protestors marched from the bazaar towards the Iranian majles (Islamic parliament) in large numbers, but were dispersed by security forces using tear gas.
Even if the Rouhani government’s claims of incitement by rightwing factions is true as far as this particular protest is concerned, nothing changes the fact that, following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and Trump’s threats to European and international firms trading with Iran, the country’s economy is in a terrible state. The plummeting exchange rate is a clear indication of the situation - despite the assurances given by Rouhani, who appeared on state television on June 25, that Iran has “enough sugar, wheat, and cooking oil” and enough foreign currency.
Iran’s foreign currency reserves are estimated at just over $140 billion and the National Development Fund of Iran, which receives 20% of all revenues, has total funds of around $50 billion. However, it is difficult to see how its economy can survive the current crisis.
Amidst rumours of a military coup, and the possible impeachment of Rouhani in a couple of months, Yahya Rahim Safavi, who is a former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and a close ally of supreme leader Ali Khamenei, claimed: “Sometimes it seems the country will be run better without the government.”
It is in such a climate that many are pressing Rouhani to accept most, if not all, of the new US conditions for the sake of ‘the country’. Amongst them is Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of the late ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. Until his death a year ago he was considered one of the pillars of the Islamic Republic. According to Hashemi, “We should not act passively. Instead we should enter into negotiations with the US ... before the situation gets worse. There is no other alternative.” Referring to the Islamic Republic’s anti-US slogans and the position of the supreme leader, she added: “These are not verses from the Koran. We have said similar things in the past, but we have been wise enough not to let such words damage the country.”1
Of course, what she - along with many others giving advice to the government - fail to understand is that this time around it will be impossible to change the US position. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the current US administration is not interested in dialogue with Iran’s Islamic Republic. On the contrary, it is determined to pursue plans for regime change from above, and any pleading or calls for more negotiations will fall on deaf ears.
The second point to make is that - maybe with the exception of a handful of near insane individuals, such as the supreme leader in Tehran and Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and John Bolton in Washington, no-one believes that slogans such as ‘Death to America’, repeated endlessly at Friday prayers, have any meaning. Yes, Iran’s supreme leader is still under the illusion that Iran can pursue an independent foreign policy while being totally dependent on the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and international capital.
Iran’s military involvement in the Middle East soon after the US invasion of Iraq was indeed part of an ambitious plan to expand Shia influence. But we all know who was responsible for paving the way for this dramatic change in the balance of forces in the region: George Bush and Tony Blair. However, in the last few years, while Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates have been financing the brutal Sunni Salafi groups in the region, most of them offshoots of al Qa’eda, Iran has been mostly on the defensive. There has been a fear - a paranoia - that US neoconservatives are planning the overthrow of the Islamic republic and since 2016 a conviction that the US plans to tighten sanctions as apart of its plans for regime change from above.
Last week Iranian Kurdish leaders visited Washington as a part of the Trump administration’s plans for regime change. Mustafa Hijri, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, had a full programme of meetings with a number of rightwing think tanks, as well as officials of the state department.
According to the KDPI’s official website:
Unlike previous meetings, in which mostly human rights issues were discussed, the latest meetings were about some important political matters that affect Iran and the role of the KDPI … The American officials wanted to understand the demands of the Kurdish people.2
Hijri also met with the ex-shah’s son, presumably as part of a plan by sections of the US administration to forge an alliance between various Iranian opposition groups, similar to what was done before the Iraq war and the setting up of the Iraqi National Council. By all accounts the talks between Reza Pahlavi (a Persian nationalist who wants to be king of a new Iranian empire) and Hijri, who favours more autonomy for the Kurdish region, did not go well. Both sides admitted that no agreement was reached. However, the fact that the talks took place is in itself surprising - and an indication of how much the KDPI, with its claims to be on the centre-left of Iranian politics, is now coming under pressure from the US administration to discuss an alliance with rightwingers such as Pahlavi.
On June 13, the KDPI leader spoke at a meeting organised by the London Center for Policy Research, a rightwing foreign policy think tank, which is actually based in New York. Both Hijri and the LCPR itself say that regime change was discussed.
This is all in line with John Bolton’s vision. In 2017, before taking office as Trump’s national security advisor, he advocated “support for Kurdish national aspirations, including Kurds in Iran, Iraq and Syria” in a paper entitled ‘Iran nuclear deal exit strategy’. He also wanted to “provide assistance to Balochis, Khuzestan Arabs, Kurds and others” as part of a plan to confront Iran. That “should be the administration’s highest diplomatic priority, commanding all necessary time, attention and resources”.3
Clearly Kurdish leaders in general and Iranian Kurdish leaders in particular have learnt nothing from recent history - they continue to rely on foreign intervention to secure their personal advancement, all at the price of repeated betrayals of their people.
In response to all this, over 220 Iranian leftwing academics, writers, artists and activists have signed a statement entitled ‘Yes to the overthrow of the Islamic Republic by the peoples of Iran. No to regime change by foreign powers’.4
The statement comments on how new, “severe” sanctions will mainly affect the working class and poorer sections of Iranian society. It goes on to remind Iranians how this type of regime change will only lead to disaster, as the experiences of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria show only too well. The statement also denounces the anti-Iran alliance between the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia as an obstacle to any democratic change.
It calls on Iranians to oppose Trump’s allies for regime change from above, including the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and other “Iranian Chalabis” (a reference to the Iraqi opposition promoted by Dick Cheney and John Bolton prior to the 2003 invasion). Instead it urges support for the workers and students who were out on the streets in December-January. The working class in Iran can overthrow the Islamic Republic, while opposing US plans for regime change.
A number of those who have signed the statement, including myself, would have preferred different wording in terms of both the title and the content. However, given the current state of most of the Iranian left, and its illusions in either the reformist factions of the regime or US-style regime change, the initiative, which has the backing of activists from different left tendencies, should be welcomed.
4. Translated from Farsi. The original is at www.rahekargar.net/browsf.php?cId=1091&Id=35&pgn=.