The Domino Effect: Is Iran Next?

The earth is shaking again in Iran, and the smug President Ahmadinejad is feeling the tremor. The hundreds of thousands of protestors in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities like Tabriz, Yazd, Ahvaz, Mashad, Shiraz, and Isphahan were chanting "Mubarak, Ben-Ali, novbat-e Seyyed-Ali" which translates to: Mubarak, Ben Ali and now it's the turn of the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, also called Seyyed-Ali, to demonstrate his lineage to the Prophet Muhammad.

What should give Ahmadinejad a reason for serious heartburn is the protestors' battle for change. They chanted "Azadi" -- freedom, and, "Not Gaza, not Lebanon, but Tunisia and Egypt." These slogans send a clear message: many thousands of protestors want to topple the oppressive regime of Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the people of Tunisia and Egypt deposed their own leaders. Another important message the demonstrators were sending was that Iran and Iranians should come first. The active meddling of Iran in Lebanon and Gaza cost the Iranian tax payers billions of dollars and in return Iran gets to be on the world's list of pariah states. There's a clear disparity between the Iranian government and the demonstrators. The official Tehran, led by an Ayatollah as a supreme leader, wants to spread the Islamic revolution, and crown the religious leader as the sole leader of the Islamic world, while the people want freedom and affordable food on their tables, and could care less who's regarded as supreme Islamic leader by the Gazans.

Are the demonstrations any different than those we saw in 2009 that were suppressed with an iron fist? At least in one aspect they are. The protestors became fearless. They saw what nonviolent popular uprisings did in Tunisia and in Egypt and vow to copycat the same process in Iran.

However, the Iranian demonstrators don't have to look to Tunisia and Egypt for a good cause for demonstration. All they had to do was look at the rising cost of living and the shrinking buying power of the Iranian currency. Since government subsidies were cut in December 2010, the price of gasoline rose by 75% and the price of diesel fuel rose by a whopping 2,000%. Water and electricity rates have substantially increased and the price of certain loaves of bread quadrupled. Ironically, the drastic economic measures taken by Ahmadinejad -- cutting the annual $100 billion subsidies -- was an economically sound move. But in a country that was already under economic siege created by the debilitating sanctions and embargo imposed by the U.N over Iran's nuclear plans; the move was too big to swallow. Add to this fray the morality police who crack down on those whose dress or behavior flout their interpretation of Islam. Add the suppression of any opposition and the government's tight control of the media -- then little wonder that all that was needed was a spark in that tinder box.

At this time, it appears that the regime could survive the current political turmoil. The Iranian government made sure that no opposition leader could emerge and lead. The Egyptian demonstrators had a focused message of freedom, and succeeded. Save for sporadic violent interventions of the Egyptian police, the secret service, and the massive power of the military, they stayed out of the conflict. Their lack of support doomed Mubarak. In Iran the situation is different. The regime has its own might -- the Revolutionary Guard -- IRGC. Officially the Guards' role is to prevent internal rebellious powers including the Iranian military, from overthrowing the regime. The IRGC has more than 150,000 soldiers including air and naval forces. The IRGC controls the paramilitary Basij militia with 100,000 active personnel. The IRGC operates mostly off the Iranian budget particularly since it has developed into a multibillion-dollar business empire. Therefore, they are not subject to budget cuts and their loyalty to the current regime in unfettered.

Fars News Agency, the semiofficial Iranian news agency announced yesterday that "the elements of unlawful assembly hypocrites, monarchists, thugs and intrigue in some streets of Tehran with a pretext to support the people of Egypt and Tunisia, held slogans in support of the people of Egypt and Tunisia." That's all. The Romans coined a phrase "Iuppiter iratus ergo nefas" (Jupiter, you're angry therefore you're wrong.) Some attribute it to Prometheus and the full version is: "Jupiter, you seize on a lightning instead of answer, therefore you are wrong". Isn't that what the Iranian government is doing? Calling the protestors by names, as if they were in the fifth grade exchanging words in the schoolyard, revealing the regime's anger, but providing no answers? Following the old Persian custom of avoiding direct answers when the situation is uncomfortable, the Iranian government is busy calling names and accusing foreign powers in mongering the civil unrest, as if the trouble will go away by using words. The brutal force used by the government may succeed this time, but the brewing discontent of the Iranian lower and middle classes will erupt again.