Iran’s critics go beyond the Gulf

A gathering in Paris shows that opposition to the regime in Tehran is widespread

President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (CNRI) Maryam Radjavi arrives at a conference in Paris for opponents of the Iranian government (AFP / ALAIN JOCARD)
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A year on from the nuclear deal and the consequences of Iran’s reintroduction into the global community are clear across the Middle East. In Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels still refuse to compromise, make peace or withdraw from the capital Sanaa.

In Iraq, Iran’s hand can still be detected: even as Iraqi forces fought to retake Fallujah from ISIL, Iran’s Quds force commander Qassim Soleimani appeared in photographs on the edge of the battlefield. In Syria, the regime of Bashar Al Assad could not have survived so long without overt Iranian assistance.

Unsurprisingly, the Gulf states are unhappy about this, as the instability that Iran has stoked in the region directly affects them, allowing space for ISIL terrorists to plan attacks, for example the suicide bombings that rocked Saudi Arabia last week, or for the Houthis to acquire weapons that kill Gulf servicemen.

Yet opposition to the current Iranian government goes far beyond the Gulf states, as a gathering in Paris over the weekend showed. Organised by the National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, the event attracted supporters from beyond the region – the former prime minister of Spain, a former French foreign minister and a former New York mayor.

It was a reminder that, beyond the scenes of jubilation inside Iran over the passage of the nuclear deal, there is still significant opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs.

That opposition is both domestic and foreign. Listen to the anti- Iranian slogans chanted by demonstrators outside the Green Zone in Baghdad before it was stormed in May and it is clear that many Iraqis have had enough of Iranian interference.

But it is Iranians themselves who are in the forefront of opposing the regime. Although the Green Movement, the opposition group that flourished after the 2009 Iranian election, has been crushed by Iran’s police and intelligence apparatus, the anger that gave rise to it has not gone away. Yes, Iranians are fiercely proud of their country, and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean they support everything the ayatollahs do.

The links between the Arab world and Iran are deep and long standing and, as Saudi’s former intelligence chief Prince Turki Al Faisal said at the conference, the current tensions are exceptional in a long history of friendship. Those who are angry with the current government in Tehran should find allies among the Arabs.