When I was a teenager in 1977, I watched from my middle-class home in western Tehran as Mohammad Reza Pahlavi hosted a state dinner for then-President Jimmy Carter. My family was strongly opposed to the Shah’s rule, but I listened to Carter’s speech with enthusiasmT New Year’s Eve, after I had learned something about the political system in the USA as a curious America tourist last summer.
I was stunned when, midway through his speech, Carter described Iran as “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” I looked at my uncle and said, “What is he talking about? Who told him that? Americans really don’t know what’s going on in Iran?”
My uncle went out of his way to tell me about the ubiquitous presence of Americans in Iran and tried to convince me that the president of the strongest country in the world definitely knew things that an Iranian teenager didn’t. A heated argument ensued, but I couldn’t convince him of Carter’s mistake.
Early one afternoon in September 1977, I was sitting in a taxi on my way home from my English class when anti-government demonstrations by college and high school students blocked traffic. I will never forget the first time I heard the chant “Down with the Shah” and saw glass scattered from the broken windows of government buildings in the streets of central Tehran.
Just 14 months later, on February 11, 1979, the monarchy was overthrown forever by a popular uprising demanding democratic government and the protection of human rights for all Iranians. Unfortunately, this movement was soon co-opted by the theocratic faction commanded by Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran eventually traded one form of dictatorship for another.
This week marks the 43rdapprox Anniversary of the Shah’s fall, and the world is struggling to find a way to deal with the theocratic regime’s malign activities, including moves to acquire nuclear weapons. I still can’t help but wonder how the international community has failed to see the writing on the wall for the Shah’s regime and hear growing voices for its inevitable overthrow.
Fast forward 43 years.
Regardless of what has changed, current Western leaders seem as confused about Iranian affairs as Carter was in 1977. Their naively optimistic and dangerously soft stance on the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna, for example, seems to imply that the regime holds on to power and one’s own negotiating position is strong. To their detriment, the US, Britain, France and Germany overlook Iran’s internal situation, which even Iranian state media and security forces consistently describe as “explosive.”
Since the end of 2017, the Islamic Republic has seen eight uprisings, three of them nationwide, demanding regime change. Protests by teachers, factory workers and various other social groups are now practically commonplace, and many of them contain the same anti-government slogans that defined the uprisings – slogans starkly reminiscent of the excitement that preceded the shah’s fall.
At the same time, activists known as “resistance units” affiliated with the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which played a key role in the uprisings, have increased their activities across the country and regularly post pictures of the current ones Leadership on fire and posting pictures of NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi poised to lead an interim government after the theocracy is overthrown.
To stem the tide, in June the regime’s supreme leader installed Ebrahim Raisi as president, a cleric notorious for his role in previous human rights abuses, including the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988. The result was not what Khamenei wanted, and some recent riots have been able to target Raisi directly.
History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes. Iran of 2022 is very different from 2020 or 2021. In the age of social media and instant global news flow, there is too much writing on the wall about the mullahs being in deep trouble at home and under siege by an outraged populace , especially youth and women, ready to seize any opportunity to express their anger.
The clock is ticking for another major shift in Iran. The sooner the international community embraces change, the better it can orient its policies towards an Iran without the ayatollahs, at least towards a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
Gobadi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
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