Only the Iranian people
Recent events have demonstrated yet again why ‘regime change from above’ will only produce chaos, destruction and death, says Yassamine Mather
Two demonstrations in Tehran this week have once again shown the way to deal with the threat of war against Iran. On May 26 students at Allameh Tabataba’i university organised protests with the slogans, “No to war” , “No to sanctions” and “No to oppressors” - the last referring to the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And, apart from the placards against war, the students also carried photos of those arrested on previous protests, as well as labour and student activists arrested in the last few years.
In their leaflet the students wrote: “Recent discourse has concentrated on the threat of war - some Iranian exiles encouraging war, while others are demanding an increase in sanctions.” I assume this is a reference to those who have been promised US support by the Trump administration in any post-‘regime change from above’ administration, and have actually gone on air promoting war. One such idiot told a TV audience last week that the casualties of war will probably be no more than the number of people killed in traffic accidents in Iran - in other words, legitimising the devastation caused by military intervention. A number of Iranian ‘human rights activists’ in the US and Europe have also called for increased sanctions - to the horror of people inside the country.
The student leaflet also opposed sanctions, from which “it is the poorer classes who suffer”. However, that did not mean that the students advocated support for the Iranian regime. They state:
When we say no to war and no to sanctions, we don’t mean support for the ‘security of the state’. What we are referring to is support for the people - the true victims of these harsh conditions. When we say, ‘No to war, no to sanctions’, we are not just referring to foreign oppressors: we are also addressing our own rulers. We are telling them, ‘Don’t gamble on the lives of ordinary people!’ Using the excuse of possible foreign intervention, they have silenced opponents.
No to apologists
The students made very clear what they thought of ‘left’ apologists for either the Tehran regime or US-led military intervention:
Protesting against internal injustice is an integral part of being anti-war. There are those who tell us that, under the current circumstances, ‘You should support the government’. We reject becoming such apologists. Our slogan has two parts and neither part can have any meaning without the other.
At the same time we emphasise we have nothing but contempt for the exiled opposition, who call for more sanctions, who encourage the warmongers. In our eyes there is no difference between them and the current rulers - they have no legitimacy. Our hatred of the status quo does not mean we will ever forget the excuses they have chosen to utter in support of their anti-human activities.
But we also say, ‘No to the internal oppressors’. Today 90% of the Iranian population is working under contracts, in temporary jobs . Corruption and systematic discrimination has become institutionalised. Poverty and unemployment have increased dramatically. More than 19 million Iranians are shanty-town dwellers, deprived of the most basic facilities. Under such circumstances reducing the threat to our security to that coming from outside is shameful. The current appalling situation is not just caused by sanctions - although no doubt sanctions have played an important role in worsening the plight of the majority, that is only part of the story.
The leaflet went on to expose the hypocrisy of the regime:
When the state talks about safety, we ask, ‘Safety for whom?’ How can we talk of safety, when every day we are witnessing the arrest and imprisonment of those who criticise the government or who protest against the current situation? Over the last decades the actions of Iran’s rulers have had only one aim: to silence the opposition and not allow one single voice to be heard against the current order.
They have transformed universities into military garrisons, where every protest is attacked. Workers’ strikes and protests, and teachers’ demonstrations, are severely repressed - the workers arrested on May Day are still held in prison. Climate activists arrested last year are still in ‘temporary detention’. Afghan workers, who are amongst the most exploited sections of society, are threatened with deportation. Leaders of the green movement [a reference to the ‘reformist’ leaders of the 2009 protests] have been held under house arrest for more than nine years ...
The conclusion was: “Yes, we face two enemies: one internal, the other external. But we have no intention of supporting one against the other.” A demonstration with similar slogans was held on May 28 on Tehran University’s main campus.
For those of us who founded Hands Off the People of Iran, all this is very encouraging. We could not have written a better statement summarising the situation, and this can only encourage us to redouble our efforts around Hopi’s founding slogan: ‘No to war, no to sanctions, no to the Islamic Republic of Iran.’
Of course, this is not the same as the so-called ‘third way’, promoted by sections of the exiled Iranian ‘left’. In reality this means support for war. Using weasel words learnt from their British counterparts, such as the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, these groups repeat the nonsense about the need to oppose Iran as a ‘sub-imperialist power’! So they will not come out against any military intervention from actual imperialists - which no doubt will be labelled ‘humanitarian’, as it was in Libya and Syria …
All this comes at a time when, despite Trump’s aggressive foreign policy, the threat of war has dipped slightly since last week. No doubt this can change again very quickly, but there are signs that there might now be a delay before any military intervention. First came the news that the United States was deploying just 1,500 troops in the Middle East, although leaked White House memos had suggested that 120,000 troops could be sent to combat the ‘Iran threat’.
Then came Donald Trump’s conciliatory message. While visiting Japan, the US president told reporters he is not pursuing regime change in Iran - he just wants to stop Tehran from developing nuclear weapons: He added that Iran “has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership”.
The comment has led to rumours that, despite denials, the Islamic Republic has embarked on negotiations with the United States - either through intermediaries or directly. As I have previously pointed out, there is no reason to doubt Iran’s willingness to engage in secret negotiations. Of course, it could be that Trump has been advised that describing Iran as “a nation of terror” and promising “the official end of Iran”, far from paving the way for a rebellion against the country’s current rulers, has managed to strengthen the position of the religious state.
Be that as it may, Trump’s comments have infuriated Iranian royalists and other supporters of ‘regime change from above’. Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former shah, tweeted that Iranians “can’t rely on foreign powers” for regime change! This was rich, coming from a man whose grandfather, Reza Shah Pahlavi, came to power in 1921, thanks to the direct intervention of the British, and the man whose father, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, retained power only through a CIA-organised coup in 1953. The man who was busy spending the fortune he and his family took out of Iran in 1979 in casinos and leisure complexes until Trump brought him back to the political arena with promises of ‘regime change from above’. No wonder Iranian royalists, who had invested so much in supporting neoconservative Republicans in the United States, are now so furious with Trump.
Meanwhile, inside Iran, the currency has continued to nose-dive, while inflation is estimated to stand at around 30%. The departure of European firms, wary of further US-imposed sanctions, has increased the number of unemployed and partly employed, and it is clear that most Iranians, fearing a showdown with the United States, are opposed to ‘regime change from above’. According to the Financial Times,
… as the republic tries to rebalance the economy, people have found some certainty in the uncertainty and have acted to lessen their economic vulnerability. Their resilience and hedging against rampant inflation will make it difficult for US hawks to push Iran towards the street protests - as in the 1979 revolution - and eventual regime change that they may seek.1
It is now more than three weeks since the start of the US-imposed ban on the purchase of Iranian oil. The Trump administration had declared this to be part of its “maximum pressure campaign” aimed at halting Iran’s ballistic missile programme and stopping “its interventions in the region, notably its support for conflicts in Syria and Yemen”. The Wall Street Journal states: “One month after the Trump administration said it would tighten its ban on Iran’s oil sales, the country’s direct crude buyers have all but vanished.”2
However, Iran’s economy is surviving and it is clear that since April the government has mobilised all its forces to sell oil on the so-called ‘grey market’. It is believed that Tehran is currently selling oil at much lower prices through private firms. There are also reports of oil tankers switching off their geo-transponders, which, according to AP News, means that such ships “disappear from the world’s satellite tanker tracking matrix, essentially vanishing into the millions of miles of open ocean”.3 No wonder some refer to them as “ghost tankers”.
According to Manouchehr Takin, a UK based oil and energy consultant,
Tankers loading Iranian crude could bypass US sanctions by operating under the radar and making it harder to track actual volumes of oil shipments … when they get out on the open sea, they may switch off some of their signals, so they would not be tracked, and then change names or papers.4
Of course, Iran has a long history of bypassing oil sanctions, particularly under Barack Obama. The problem for those wishing to police oil exports is the sheer size of the global market. It is estimated that there are around 4,500 tankers carrying two billion barrels of crude per year in something like 140 million square miles of ocean.
In the last few weeks we have also heard reports of attempts to smuggle Iranian oil, and foreign minister Javad Zarif has also hinted at selling it in currencies other than the US dollar. Of course, in pursuing all these policies - thus maintaining a level of income from oil as well as the non-oil sector - Iran’s rulers realise these can only be short-term tactics in a country that is gradually moving towards deep recession.
Economic growth was estimated at around 3.7% in 2017, but, following the re-imposition of US sanctions in 2018 (affecting energy, shipping and financial sectors), Iran’s gross domestic product shrunk by 3.9%, according to the International Monetary Fund, and it is estimated that the country’s economy will shrink by another 6% in 2019.
Iran’s rulers hope they will only need to pursue policies aimed at bypassing oil sanctions until the end of the first Trump presidency or at worst his second term in 2025. But at this stage it is difficult to predict the future for either Iran’s oil-dependent economy or the current regime. However, given the growing discontent, particularly amongst the youth, combined with opposition to war, sanctions and regime change from above, it is clear that it is only the Iranian people who can replace the current regime with something better. All other options, including military intervention, will either create disaster on a scale far worse than what we have seen in Syria, Iraq and Libya, or even tighten the Shia clergy’s grip on power.