What Do We Know About Iran?

Iran’s goal is to further entrench the repressive Islamic regime and Western leaders are falling for it by continuing to engage Iran in dialogue.

Revolutions are cumulative affairs. And, because they are premised on a notion of constant change, they rarely reach a cessation after achievement of the original goal.


Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Credit: Wikipedia

Therefore, we may presume that a revolution requires consistent measures of reform in order to adhere to the strict code of improvement that subjects come to expect from their revolutionary governments. It should be no surprise, then, that the Iranian government has recently donned an air of progressivism.

It is important to remember, however, that true power in Iran lays with the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, who sees himself as an Islamic divine ruling in the absence of a messianic Hidden Imam.

And, with such a strong belief in the righteousness of his cause as a great redeemer of Islam, Khamenei no doubt seeks to exploit political opportunities in order to further retract Western influence from the Middle East. He has already succeeded in a remarkable bargain with the P5+1 countries (who were no doubt jealous to obtain such a deal notwithstanding its inherent setbacks) to roll back a successful sanctions regime.

How has Khamenei achieved this newfound success? And why have Western governments given breathing room to a regime that provocatively speaks against Western society?

A revolutionary regime, such as the Islamic one that has presided over Iran since 1979, is required to keep the revolutionary spirit alive in order to prolong its projected value to the internal society. In order to achieve this illusion, Khamenei craftily replaced a visibly corrupt presidency (Ahmadinejad) with one that promises to bring enlightenment (Rouhani).

While there is very little indication of meaningful internal reform, this so-called “charm offensive” seems to have paid-off with daily announcements of new Western business ventures in the Islamic country.

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Iran’s “charm offensive”

Moreover, the Iranian nuclear program is advertised as a way to promote internal development. While the Iranian government would like to sell its people and the world on the basis of bringing a highly advanced electrical infrastructure to the country, there are valid concerns that bringing atomic energy to a country that still considers itself invested in an ongoing revolution is the basis for a disastrous security issue.

In short, the sudden turn-around in Iran’s system of government is designed to reanimate support for the regime by mobilizing the population. This is achieved, foremost, by the promotion of democratic values which seem at odd variance with the strict Islamist interpretation of law that accompanies the revolutionary regime.

Hence, Khamenei continually calls for a ban on nuclear weapons in the Middle East and, most recently, highlighted freedom of the press as essential to a system of checks and balances in Iranian society; while, on the other hand, he simultaneously incites anti-American demonstrations and indulges archaic conspiracy theories involving Jewish power and privilege in the Western world.

A recent article by The New York Times editorial board hailed the positive effects of the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. But, given that we can recognize a familiar trait of revolutionary regimes making false promises of progress in order to stimulate development, it is important not to underestimate the Iranian regime by failing to understand its tactics.

Instead, it would be ideal to isolate the Islamic rulers in Iran and allow their regime to flatline. Unfortunately, continuing to engage Iran in dialogue will only result in the repressive Khamenei regime growing stronger.

Gabriel Glickman is a doctoral candidate in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London. Read other articles by Gabriel.