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A Constructive, Secure Transition out of the Religious Regime

The Islamic Republic arose from out of a populist revolution and promised the people of Iran a healthy society that would be Islamic, free, just, and independent. Unfortunately, from the very beginning of that period after the revolution, religious forces departed from this path and resorted to violence, derailing the revolution with their religious prejudices, monopolization, and foreign adventurism. In the end, despite a few achievements, which were usually yielded by the country’s military, Iranian society after the revolution was denied the progress that it deserved on account of the country’s rich resources. Consequently, Iran has remained decades behind nations that it once surpassed. This retardation, taken together with national humiliation, has caused people to take refuge abroad. Even there, the Iranian passport and identity are often subjected to insults. Meanwhile, back at home, the Iranian people are bearing witness to the destruction of their material and environmental conditions. All of this has put the country on the brink of an impending sociopolitical explosion.

A majority of Iranians no longer want to live with the religious government of the Islamic Republic, which has suppressed and denied a large part of their legitimate demands. They have put up with this religious regime for forty years now, and have on the basis of their experience seen that the religious regime has no desire to improve their material conditions or livelihood. Instead, it is intent on promulgating superstition. Most people have been divested of their delusions regarding the destination and capabilities of the Islamic regime, and they do not see a bright future ahead of themselves. Today they are concerned about their future and that of their young children. The people of Iran have experienced hostage taking, war, sanctions, and threats. They have been divided into insiders and outsiders. They have been turned into electoral tools. In the guise of the Ummat, they have been used and abused by fanatically religious people. The majority desire transition out of this religious regime. Truth be told, for a majority of Iranians today the rhyme or reason for why things are such as they are is no longer a subject of debate or discussion. Rather, the only questions that remain are how to get out of this religious regime and where to go from here.

Despite the stubborn will of its religious leaders, the Islamic Republic does not have the power to secure a new lease on life. In addition to the deepening crises, the majority of the leadership and managerial forces of the regime have been worn out intellectually. The religious regime has lost its political coherence and its practical managerial capability. The governments of the region and in the world do not want to work with the religious regime, even if they occasionally appease it. Continuation of the two main games played by religious adherents to preserve the regime, in other words, the division of the political society into “reformists” and “conservatives” and holding elections between “bad” and “worse”, has become impracticable and unacceptable.  Today both of these forces are considered untrustworthy. In such a situation, the Islamic Republic has become more dependent on the military and security forces for the sake of its own survival. It is, however, impossible for a regime that once had massive populist support to sustain its life in this manner. Iran today is in an irreversible state of transition from out of the religious regime.

That having been said, the people of Iran do not simply want an “overthrow” as they did forty years ago. They are more concerned with contemplating what constructive endeavors there may be following the overthrow. Iranians clearly feel that transition from out of this regime must come to pass with as little cost as possible, and in a realistic, secure, and rapid manner. Above all, the transition must result in a regime that is concerned with fostering development and building a New Iran. ABAN has these same preconditions as the people. But unfortunately, the options offered by most political forces opposed to the regime fail to meet at least some, if not all, of these conditions. For example, there are forces that have no problem with “overthrow” of the regime through direct foreign military intervention, even up to the level of the models of Iraq and Syria. Then there are advocates of a “referendum” who, without having a strong base in society, are after organizing mass protests to force the regime to meet their demands. By contrast, the “reformists” have effectively become advocates of continuity, because their desire for piecemeal and gradual change will never become practicable within this regime. These proposals are lacking in attention to the challenging realities of the country. They are after courses of action that either will not resolve the crisis, are not practicable, or will magnify the dimensions of the crisis and the costs of transition.

A military revolt and an uprising of the working class are two other noteworthy and possible courses of action. The first would have the support of the upper class, and the second the support of the poorer people in the country. The middle class and intellectuals are, however, the most political and effective social forces in the country. They would consider the working class uprising to be a “revolution” and the military revolt a “coup d’état”, and they are terrified of both. The fear of “revolution” is an outgrowth of their experience with the “Islamic Revolution”, which gave promises of progress but in practice resulted in the retardation of the country. The word revolution has also lost much of the magnetism that it once had. This is why the opposition to the regime uses phraseology such as “overthrow”, “toppling”, and “regime change”, even though these words intrinsically have a more negative connotation than “revolution.” They place their emphasis only on a political regime change, without including a social program that would be constructive for the period after transition.

Fear of revolution is, of course, reasonable, since most revolutions, including the Islamic Revolution of Iran, were not constructive. Even so, most revolutions have indeed been constructive and many countries built themselves up and become developed through revolution. The revolutions of America, France, Russia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Constitutional Revolution of Iran are examples of successes. Iranians speak with pride of their Constitutional Revolution, which brought an oppressive quasi-feudal system to an end in their country and led to the beginning of “Nation-building.” Consequently, even if fear of revolution has a certain logic, it is illogical to dismiss it as one option (among others for transition out of the present regime). Although ABAN has no particular desire to drive the country toward a revolution, this option may be inevitable. Revolution is usually spontaneous, but one may expect its outbreak and prepare to guide it in the most constructive direction possible.

The fear of a coup d’état also has its own logic. Many countries in the world have become backwards on account of the fomenters of coup d’états, and in some of them extraordinary human tragedies have taken place. In Iran, the 1953 “coup d’état” is not remembered as a good experience. In today’s modern world coup d’états do not seem sensible, and in virtue of this there is not much popular support for them. That having been said, it is illogical to dismiss the option of a coup d’état under any and all conditions. This is especially so if it should take the form of a “military revolt” (against the Islamic Republic), which may be the least costly option for transition out of an unreasonable regime. Furthermore, some military revolts have in fact been constructive. For example, the 1974 coup d’état in Portugal that is known as “the flower cloves revolution”, and the military revolts of Reza Shah in Iran and Kamal Atatürk in Turkey. Military men are usually patriots and modernizing men of action. The best of them are also inclined toward development, but the worst type of them can really be destructive. Even though ABAN has no particular desire to push the country in the direction of a coup d’état or military revolt, such options can be taken as exigencies that are impossible to evade.

With a view to the internal situation of the country, foreign pressures, and the regime’s stubborn insistence on staying the course, all three options, namely revolution, a coup d’état, or a military revolt, have a high chance of materializing in either a spontaneous or an imposed manner. We write “unfortunately” because the preference of ABAN is for a peaceful transition, wherein we take administrative power into our own hands. In Iran’s current situation, what is sensible is that we take all of these eventualities under consideration and prepare to manage the materialization of any one of them. The best route is “preemption” rather than “treatment.” Preemption or preparedness demands knowledge of the personalities and capabilities of those who would most probably be the political and military leaders at the forefront of building a New Iran. Even so, ABAN must be prepared for treatments in the event that they become necessary in the course of events. Support for an uprising of the working class through non-violent protests and encouragement of the populist elite to lend their backing to a military revolt are among the tactics that would certainly be beneficial in practice. The most fundamental precondition for our supporting a military revolt is the alignment of the military men involved with the populist elite of the country.

Therefore, in order of priority, the preference of ABAN for transition out of the extant sovereign government, includes:

  • Dialogue and populist pressure for structural changes.
  • A military revolt with the backing of the populist elite.
  • A non-violent uprising on the part of the working class. 

ABAN would accept the last two options manifesting as exigencies and would enter onto the scene in a serious manner with a view to constructively guiding them. At the same time, ABAN supports any course of action that meets the following conditions: 

  • Seeing through the transition under conditions of security. 
  • Having a chance of success. 
  • Coming to pass with the least possible cost in blood and treasure.
  • Reaching its conclusion rapidly. 
  • Being constructive after the transition. 

With faith in these principles, the members of the ABAN movement propose the transitional program below and solicit the close cooperation of all patriotic Iranian forces for the sake of its success.

3.1. The Islamic Republic is a theocratic regime that arose from out of a populist revolution whose demands were justice, freedom, independence and a healthy Islamic society. The political clergy form the upper level of Iran’s administration and there are very few without a turban in the governing elite of the country. However, those in the opposition to the Islamic Republic wrongly consider everyone who works with this governing elite to be a part of the “regime.” On account of this misunderstanding, the opposition has alienated massive Iranian-Islamic forces that it could harness – including and especially military men and Islamic forces that are more patriotic, i.e. Religious Nationalists. Consequently, transition out of this regime can in the first stage only mean replacing these rulers with the rightful representatives of the people.

3.2. These rulers were once advocates of revolution and enjoyed broad popular support, but today a majority of them are no longer revolutionaries and they do not have such support. For the same reason, for the sake of extending the life of their regime, every day they become all the more dependent on military and security forces as well as fanatical religious elements. Consequently, for the expulsion of these rulers from power, a learned and pragmatically sophisticated approach must be taken toward separating these rulers from the revolutionary Islamic forces and religious fanatics. Non-revolutionary Islamic forces, such as the “Reformists” and “Moderates”, are also supporters of the religious regime of these rulers, but they are not the mainstay or cornerstone of the regime’s power. These moderates are usually from the middle and upper class of the society. Their support for the regime is conditional on the security of their capital and their standard of living, which is becoming more critically compromised every day.

3.3. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, more or less, and more so in rhetoric, still defends the ideals of the 1979 Revolution and has the support of revolutionaries and fanatics within the religious regime. However, the remaining credit of Ayatollah Khamenei’s revolutionary reputation has been tarnished to an extent for the following reasons: 

  • Support for a faction of the government during the Green Movement.
  • Engineering the presidential election in the interests of Sheikh Hassan Rouhani and then support for his administration full of unworthy oligarchs.
  • Putting his stamp of approval on the failed nuclear accord.
  • Strict silence regarding the unpatriotic Caspian Sea convention.
  • Fecklessness in the face of corruption, poverty, and inequality.

Just recently turning up the flame on antagonism against America has not been able to resuscitate his revolutionary reputation either.

3.4. Despite the decreased support of the rulers for the ideals of the 1979 Revolution, a considerable part of the fanatics and religious revolutionaries still believe in loyalty to the revolution. This group needs to be divested of their delusions and the rulers given a chance for peaceful transition. To this end, the members of ABAN must apply populist pressure on the government by proposing a package of structural reforms and publicly insisting that the rulers implement these within a clearly defined period of time. ABAN proposes the following package of changes:

  • Implementation of the original ideals of the revolution, including freedom, justice, and independence.
  • Freeing of political prisoners and those incarcerated for their beliefs.
  • The separation of religion from government.
  • Dissolution of the Guardian Council and other institutions controlled by the rulers.
  • Free elections to determine who serves in the executive and legislative branches of government.
  • Purging the judiciary and placing a judge who is not from the clergy, and who has the approval of the people, at the head of that branch of government.
  • Revision of the constitution and dissolution of the sovereignty of the clergy in favor of that of the sovereignty of the people.
  • Unconditional assurance of personal and social freedoms, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of dress, of gatherings and parties.
  • The elimination of every form of discrimination against citizens, Iranian peoples, and the minorities of the country.
  • Emphasis on peaceful international relations.
  • A constitutional prohibition of political revenge regardless of the excuses made for it.

All of the elements of this package are inextricable from one another and must be implemented in their totality.

3.5. The chance that this package will be accepted on the part of the rulers is very slim. However, in the event that internal and foreign pressures are sufficiently severe, or if for any other reason, this package is accepted and implemented, a huge step forward will have been taken. This would be a very good beginning for that peaceful transition that the majority of Iran’s people are awaiting. However, the chance that the package will be rejected is much greater than that it will be accepted. In the event of a rejection, an opportunity will arise for the people of Iran, particularly the Islamic revolutionaries, to more clearly perceive the unwillingness of the religious rulers to effect any change in the current situation or reconcile themselves with those who seek meaningful change in the country. This would be a strategic victory over them.

3.6. After the rejection of the proposed reform package, or the cessation of its implementation, divisions among the rulers and revolutionaries will deepen. The revolutionaries will explicitly see how the rulers have deviated from the 1979 revolution, which is the only basis of their legitimacy. At the same time, the unity among populist groups, patriotic military men, and Islamist revolutionaries, will be reinforced. All three of these forces will find that the rulers are those primarily responsible for disorder and unrest on account of their resisting structural changes. This unity will result in the seclusion and cloistering of these rulers. In the end, with the increase of civil disobedience and street protests, they will either depart voluntarily or be forced to leave.

3.7. The vacuum of leadership will in all likelihood be filled by a revolt of military men, which is either spontaneous or pre-planned. This eventuality should not be welcomed, nor should it be passed over or feared. On the contrary, the conditions for its becoming populist must be set in place, conditions which in practice consist of an alliance between the populist elite and the military. Under these conditions, the resistance of the elite against the military men could be catastrophic. On the other hand, tactical acceptance of the revolt, and entrance into leadership of it, would be a patriotic and constructive course of action on the part of the elite. After being freed from dependence on the present rulers, the military men will necessarily become dependent on the populist elite. One can even imagine them voluntarily relinquishing power to representatives of the people’s elite and, as the people’s army, concern themselves with providing security and order to a society that has undergone implosion. In other words, even if a military revolt follows it, dignified expulsion of the rulers in the first stage can make way for a powerful entrance on the part of the populist elite in the subsequent stage.

3.8. It is certainly conceivable that after dismissing the religious rulers military men might want to hold on to power and be in control without the participation of the political elite. In such a situation, where they decide to move in the direction of a military dictatorship, a working class uprising will materialize and return the country to a state of political upheaval. While supporting this spontaneous uprising, ABAN will guide it in the direction of non-violence. The leaders of ABAN will also try to open a dialogue and initiate negotiations between the military forces and the populist elite of the country with a view to bringing about a unified, patriotic power structure. At the same time, a spontaneous populist uprising with the backing of the elite will put military men under pressure to accept a compromise. It would be in the interest of both the military and the country to preempt a vast and uncontrolled revolution of the masses.

3.9. Unlike other options, ABAN’s proposed option for a multi-phased transition beyond the present rulers, does not primarily or necessarily entail “enmity” with these rulers and their followers – including military men. On the contrary, and up to the extent possible, ABAN wants these rulers to be afforded a “dignified” exit and replaced by representatives of the people or, in the event that this does not succeed, with military men and populist elites. In subsequent stages of the transition, and with the help of popular support, the real representatives of the people will rule. The rejection of political revenge under a transitional leadership structure, on the part of the members of ABAN, must be a strong incentive for the peaceful departure of the rulers from political power and their return to the country’s civil society.