Iran’s revolutionaries wonder if life was better under the Shah

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Last week, Iran celebrated the 36th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution against the Shah’s regime. But Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, writing in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat, said antagonism towards the 1979 revolution is growing more vocal as more people come to believe that it was the biggest setback in Iran’s history.

“Year after year more politicians and intellectuals who were part of the revolution or at least supported it are reassessing the experience. This is the return of consciousness that usually accompanies failed changes or revolutions,” he said.

Any unbiased historian would undoubtedly find several failures and missed opportunities in the Shah’s rule. Nevertheless, under his command and until his fall, Iran did become one of the Middle East’s most advanced and successful countries.

Iran was an industrial and military power and an outstanding scientific hub. Other countries in the region looked at Tehran as a model for culture and civilisation. Unfortunately, he said, it didn’t take overzealous rebels long to wipe out all that history and rewrite it to justify their own actions.

Faced with ever-growing nostalgia for the Shah’s era, defenders of the revolution are desperately trying to justify 36 years of failings in development, welfare and freedoms. Remaining rebels attribute their shortcomings to the West and the opposition.

“But their worn-out excuses don’t convince the people any more, especially when the current regime keeps reassuring the public that it is negotiating with the West and is about to reconcile with its adversaries,” he added.

Freedom, democracy, good living conditions and independence from western powers were some of the slogans of the 1979 revolution in Iran that culminated in the Shah being toppled.

Three-and-a-half decades later, none of those aspirations were really fulfilled. In fact, Iranians’ living conditions are much worse today than they were under the former regime. The margin of political freedom has significantly diminished, stringent social restrictions have become the norm, parliamentary and presidential elections are restricted to Islamists, and political partisanship is controlled by the regime.

“The Islamic Republic’s political system seems to have turned against its own slogans nowadays,” he noted.

“In practice, there is no revolution to speak of in Iran anymore; only another oppressive political regime harsher than the Shah’s ever was. The only hope that remains today for Iranians and the government is to reconcile with the West and open up to the world.”

Also writing about Iran, George Samaan, a columnist with the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, said the Islamic Republic was eager to attack ISIL’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria to thwart the extremist group’s bids to weaken Tehran’s position at the negotiations table.

Iran did not give in to the new challenge caused by falling oil prices compounding its economic troubles. It retaliated instead on other fronts, including helping the Houthis change the political map in Yemen. For months, it has also been getting ready to change the course of the civil war in Syria.

Iran’s prominent role in various battles in the country shows how desperate it is to tip the scales of power in its favour.

“Iran stands to benefit from the US administration’s haste to reach a political settlement, without necessarily ousting the Assad regime, so long as it could guarantee support against ISIL,” the writer said.

“What’s important for Iran is to gather sufficient strong cards to allow it to counter the pressure as the deadline for signing a nuclear deal looms near.”

Translated by Racha Makarem