Tehran’s Sins, Like Chickens, Coming Home to Roost

Iran is burning. It is the same fire the mullahs have been lighting and fuelling over many decades wherever they saw adversaries among neighbouring enclaves and countries nearby. Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have borne the brunt of Iran’s machinations for decades. They are involved in Syria and as far afield as Lebanon and Yemen.

But funding of terrorists and upkeep of sleeper cells costs a lot of money these days. While the CIA could bring about regime change in Iran in 1953 for less than $100,000, by paying sundry thugs and rabble-rousers, today you need sophisticated weaponry to keep troublemakers busy.

But continuing to do that in the face of sanctions and on a tight budget meant the mullahs failed to fulfil the expectations of their populace. The mullahs were over the moon when the economic dividend of Barack Obama’s ridiculous nuclear agreement arrived.

Rather than using Obama’s payoff to stabilize their own country, the ayatollahs diverted the money to execute their evil designs around the region. Now they are reaping the chaos they failed to foresee. There are reports that people are using hunting rifles in the protests. US President Donald Trump’s tweets have not helped the issue.

The demonstration rallies began on Thursday in Mashad, dominated by Shia theocrats, and then to Qom – Iran’s seat of spirituality – and the demonstrators shouted slogans against President Hassan Rouhani’s social and economic policies. The troubles quickly spread across Iran. There were attacks even on police stations – a daring deed in Iran – and so far more than 20 people have been killed. This despite the government banning social media sites to prevent easy communication.

Rouhani’s government is in a tight spot indeed. It was bound to happen, after the clergy went through the motions of a presidential election, planting their own man in first place. He was reduced to a subservient position – president only in name – whereas the real power always rests with Khamenei. The ayatollah calls the shots and undoes parliamentary decisions at will. It was the same for the tenures of Ahmedinejad and Khatami.

Unemployment in Iran is currently 12.4 per cent, up 1.4 per cent over the last year, and food prices are going up. The populace is also restive with the slow pace of reforms which Rouhani in his hour of distress blames on hardliners and conservatives. Women feel shackled. There is a sense of foreboding and uncertainty as to what will happen if the cycle of violence continues and reaches the countryside as well.

Iran today is in the same process of turmoil and agitation as 39 years ago except that at that time, Iranians were looking to ease out the Shah and install Ayatollah Khomeini. Today, they want Khomeini’s successor [and near homonym] Ayatollah Khamenei to go.

In this context one is reminded of an Indian parallel of colonial India. It was in December 1911 that King George V of Britain visited Delhi and while laying the foundation-stone of the new capital, now called New Delhi, it was declared amid the panoply of imperial grandeur that British empire in India would last 10,000 years. The new capital was ready by 1931 and lo! The British had left India in another 16 years thanks to their relentless fury of repression and hangings between the 1919 massacre of Amritsar and the 1939 start of the Second World War. They had simply refused to accept they were no longer wanted until it was too late to negotiate.

It looks like the current Iranian rulers are also past masters in the art of glossing over their tribulations. Even as angry crowds were spilling onto the roads of every large city on the Iranian map over the last week and some demonstrators died at the hands of police, all President Rouhani could say in a comment was: “This is nothing.” Isn’t that sad, if not laughable?

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.