Dr. Behrooz Behbudi, the founder of he Centre for a Democratic Iran gives his thoughts on how a democratic Iran would benefit it’s people as well as its immediate neighbours and the wider world.
As far as the geostrategic composition of the region is concerned, the presence of an Iranian government bound by the principles and values of human rights and democracy would have enormous benefits. Not least it would bestow upon the countries of the region – particularly those neighbouring Iran – a sense of confidence as to their future viability. Such a sense of regional security would undoubtedly have a stabilising effect on the international community as a whole. However, due to the current ruling regime of the Islamic Republic, the pivotal concern and principal concentration of neighbouring states remains keeping themselves safe from Tehran’s intrusion and making provision to defend themselves in the face of any malign interference from that quarter. Presently, various countries in the region are making multi-million dollar investments to enable them to repel any intrusion by the Iranian regime. Funds that could – if things were different – be directed towards much-needed social and economic development projects at home and abroad. The repeated interference of the Islamic Republic in the internal affairs of Arab countries has sadly, seriously eroded historically productive relationships that existed happily for generations. Where once Iran and its Arab neighbours worked together to advance and enhance science and culture now, understandably, the former is perceived as a threat by the latter, and the historic contributions of Iran to Islam and the Islamic world are all but forgotten. Unfortunately, past productive historical interactions have given way to mutual distrust and real anxiety on the part of Arab countries towards a regime whose very survival hinges upon the existence of constant crisis in the region.
Although Iranians and Arabs differ in race and language, the cohesive religion of Islam has historically been, and will continue to be, a binding tie between them. Alas, the current Iranian regime has turned this unifying force, which throughout history has been one of the major factors in the progress and advancement of the region, into a divisive one.
After the birth and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the ruling regime there has tirelessly endeavoured to export its version of Islam around the region. This has been disconcerting not only to the Arab world but also to the international community at large. Accordingly, regional Arab states view the regime in Tehran as a cumbersome agitator, which constantly seeks to overthrow governments and alter geopolitical maps in its favour. Thus, unifying under the banner of Islam and a single Islamic nation (Ummah), which is feverishly lauded by the Islamic Republic, is viewed with suspicion by the Arab countries and deemed by them to be perilous.
Additionally, military and nuclear considerations, as well as potential and actual threats from the Islamic Republic, have become cause for common concern amongst Iran’s near neighbours and other Arab states across the region.
Due to being neighbours, belonging to different branches of Islam and having divergent historical and cultural foundations, Iran and the Arab countries have often been thought of as rivals. However, any such rivalry has not usually descended into animosity; frankly what unites the two peoples far outweighs that which divides them. However, during the life-span of the current Iranian regime this rivalry, which for the most part has benefited the region, has turned to enmity. Consequently, from the many friends Iran used to have among the Arab states, only the Ba’athist regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as groups such as Hizbullah remain. Both are not only unpopular amongst other Arab countries but also isolated and eschewed by them.
After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran added its clout to the antagonism of Arab states towards Israel. The Islamic Republic was unable to utilise the common denominator of being a detractor of Israeli policy as a cementing factor in its relationship with regional Arab states. Its incapacity to do so stems from the intrinsic characteristic of the Islamic Republic as a meddler in the domestic affairs of other countries.
Although Iran and the Arab states have a common denominator where their political stance towards Israel is concerned, they do not share the same posture towards Syria. When, for example, Arab countries decided not to use the lives and livelihoods of the Syrian People as a weapon against Israel by backing the regime in Damascus, the Iranian regime unwisely decided the Machiavellian axiom to be correct, and erringly concluded that ‘the means justify the end’.
The Iranian government tried at length to depict the ‘Arab Spring’ as being an ‘Islamic Awakening’ inspired by, and stemming from, the values and the aspirations of the 1979 revolution that brought the regime in Tehran to power. However, as soon as the breeze of this Spring reached Syria, Tehran changed tack and began referring to the movement as a western-backed scheme designed to destroy a bastion of resistance against Israel. Tehran increased its backing for President Assad and, in doing so, positioned itself in opposition to Arab states, once more proving its total lack of interest in nurturing peace and stability in the region or transforming prevailing hostilities into harmony.
A robust and productive Iran would be an important component in the existence of a peaceful and prosperous wider Middle East and achieving such a development would lend weight to the formation of myriad useful alliances in the region. However, none of this can be achieved by a regime considered to be a constant threat to others, and one that sets out to acquire credibility by flexing its military muscle in an attempt to influence the internal affairs of other nation states.
Although Arab countries frequently differ in their laws and customs, achievements and aspirations, the bond that unites them is Islam, the religion that brought together Arabs and non-Arabs from around the globe under the same banner more than 1,400 years ago and, in doing so, made possible many improbabilities. Although, at present, certain alliances and associations with the Islamic republic seem impossible because of the ruling regime’s malign proclivities, the union of Arab countries around pure Islamic teachings – which eschew violence and advocate the value of peace and humanity – could assist in the resolution of the region’s many challenges.
An example of such a union can be observed in the backing of Arab governments for the people of Syria, rather than for the Syrian regime. Such united support is also required for the movements to liberate the oppressed people of Iran. If Arab countries seek peace and stability in the region, then they would do well to back the would-be liberators of the Iranian masses who are tired of conflict and confusion and seek only to live in peace and harmony with each other, their neighbours, and the rest of the world.
With Islamic inspired guidance and by taking stock of their historically derived experiences, the countries of the region can once more prepare the groundwork for a partnership with Iran. However, a democratic regime, which abides by the principles of human rights, must first come to the fore in the Islamic Republic. Sadly, such interaction with the current ruling regime in Tehran is impossible since it has shown total disregard for allies or alliances. Together, Iran and its Arab neighbours can benefit themselves, each other and the international community. Their common heritage, namely Islam, has the potential to provide the basis for resolution of these differences; it has frequently assumed this role at various historical junctures. However, if regional cohesion has thus far been impossible to achieve due to the presence of the Islamic Republic in the region, then cooperation must first be cemented amongst Arab countries and then between them and Iran. Such an accomplishment can only be achieved by a strengthening of the empathy between Arab states and the just cause of the Iranian people and the various groups aligned with them. The elixir to all of Iran’s ills is democracy and the fair administration of human rights.
The Centre for a Democratic Iran sees its duty as helping secure such conditions for the Iranian people and accordingly, seriously strives to achieve such aims. A true referendum of Iranians would help allay the fears of those nations to which Iran’s behaviour is a cause for concern and would leave no room for ambivalence about whether it is the ruling regime or the population at large with which they are at odds. Accordingly, the Centre, with its vast knowledge base and human resources, welcomes the willingness of other countries to establish alliances and believes that an Iran bound by the genuine principles of democracy and human rights would help free the region from instability and chaos.
By employing the various means at its disposal, the Centre is determined to ensure a democratic future for Iran, but also aims to analyse the possibility of a diverse range of alliances with Middle Eastern countries. Hence, its willingness to place its experience and know-how at the disposal of all those individuals, groups, factions, parties and countries anxious to see the attainment of democratic rule in Iran and the administration of human rights there.
A democratic Iran would benefit its own long- suffering, mismanaged and poorly-governed people, as well as its immediate neighbours and the wider world. Investment in the peace and liberty of a nation is a far better use of resources than investments in arms or armaments, which fail to relieve any existing problem and only further add to the plight and concerns of the Middle Eastern masses.
The good people of Iran genuinely wish to play a greater role in the international community of freedom loving nations and deserve nothing less than the opportunity to do so.
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