Iranians for Regime Change
Most Iranians no longer wish to live in their Islamic State because their livelihood is in increasing danger and their leaders are absorbed with spreading superstition and intervening in regional conflicts. Indeed, Iranians today are confronted with a multiplicity of problems, including the transition from a religious regime to a secular State. Soon approaching the 40th anniversary of religious rule, Iranians are now calling for political change.
Iran’s Islamic regime has been incapable or unwilling to reestablish its previous prosperity because the privileged class has become cerebrally incompetent. The leaders are unpopular and corrupt, and public trust has plummeted to all-time lows, resulting in outbreaks of outrage across the population. Sectarian conflict and socio-economic malaise continue to diminish Iran’s stability.
The inflation rate has risen to sixty-percent; a third of the population is jobless. Factories have closed or are operating with diminished production capabilities. Forty-percent of Iran’s inhabitants are impoverished, and Iran’s middle class has long been losing both jobs and income. Nevertheless, a tiny minority of the regime’s cronies have amassed legendary wealth, provoking widespread discontent. The national currency, equated to U.S. dollars, has lost 300 percent of its value in the past six months alone.
More than 60 million Iranians are below the age of 45 and are at risk of not meeting basic human needs. Iran’s annual brain drain stands at 200,000, mostly university graduates who emigrate to foreign nations. Dress restrictions faced by women and discrimination against minorities are particularly disquieting, while other sticky issues include the growing divorce rate, rising prostitution, and rampant drug addiction.
The environmental emergencies facing the country are lethal: from drought-stricken lakes to major rivers and lagoons have dried up or are on the way to becoming bogs or marshlands. The soil is depleted, and forests have been destroyed. Farming is endangered because water is being squandered. In larger cities, the air is unbreathable, and the people’s health is in dreadful decline.
Fearing ongoing instability, wealthy and corrupt Iranian officials have purchased foreign currencies and gold in black market transactions and now hold their assets abroad, causing the flight of capital from Iran to reach unprecedented heights. Meanwhile, these same duplicitous officials are obsequiously pleading with foreign firms to make investments in Iran.
These domestic difficulties have fortified foreign concerns; most foreign governments have chosen not to work with Iran’s disreputable leaders (with few exceptions). Relations with the United States hit a low point when in May 2018, President Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear pact and began re-imposing the economic sanctions that had been beforehand lifted by that pact.
To save the nuclear deal, European members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have offered Iran an Instrument for Support of Trade Exchange (INSTEX) that President Hassan Rouhani has called “disappointing.” It resembles a barter trade package restricted to non-sanctioned humanitarian items such as medicine and food and is based on a virtual credit system involving no financial transactions.
Last November, Iran’s principal oil buyers (China, India, Japan and South Korea, among others) were given six months by the United States to reduce their purchase of Iran’s oil down to zero. Most have already cut their procurements. Iran’s oil exports are now down to less than 800,000 barrels a day, compared to over 2 million barrels daily only months ago. Furthermore, Iran’s non-oil exports have decreased by over 50 percent from the previous year.
Iran’s banks, including its Central Bank, are under sanctions, and most overseas banks prefer not to engage in Iranian transactions that might incite the ire of the United States. Iran’s banks are suspected of money laundering and terrorist financing, worldwide. In fact, the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has demanded that Iran comply with international banking laws and stop their ongoing financing of terrorism and money laundering. Tehran has resisted such demands, noting they are not members of FATF, and therefore will not bow to its guidelines.
Tehran’s support of groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine, and its growing inventory of missiles, have heightened cooperation among the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia against Iran. A mid-February conference is planned in Warsaw, Poland, where some 70 world leaders will gather to address instability in the Middle East, and Iran will undoubtedly be a focus of that impending summit.
For these reasons, and more, and the fear of living under a “Failed State,” most Iranians are now demanding regime change, despite their concerns about the consequences, both anticipated and unanticipated. When the Iranian people overthrew the Shah in 1979, the insurgency-backed leaders proved to be substandard. With that mistake in mind, Iranians now want the regime changed, hopefully without bloodshed, by leaders with superior governing skills.
Most Iranians are opposed to foreign intervention and hope to avoid the developments suffered in Iraq and Syria. So, they are calling for a national mobilization to unseat the ruling clerics and to implement measures such as the separation of religion from the State, early elections, and a groundbreaking secular Constitution. This is possible because they share core beliefs, including the necessity of forming a peaceful, secular and democratic Iranian State.
There is an organized movement of an ever-growing coalition of groups and countless individuals leading this crusade and expect to mobilize Iran’s disgruntled citizens to achieve a “negotiated transition,” in which the small clique of roughly 200 ruling Ayatollahs will vacate their political seats and approve an alliance of popular-secular and military leaders as an acceptable alternative. Meanwhile, street protests and workplace strikes continue, despite government crackdowns. If the clerics resist and military leaders fail to cooperate, the movement will almost certainly galvanize a people’s revolution.
Hooshang Amirahmadi is a Professor at Rutgers University and President of the American Iranian Council