The Independent – By Lord Tony Clarke 08 March, 2011
The tide of change engulfing the Muslim world is getting bigger and more pervasive day by day. What has happened in less than six weeks in this region has already made it a historical year as a huge geography used to political and social stagnation has been witness to its biggest changes since the end of imperial area. For many countries involved, this is going back to the date of their inception.
What makes it all the more remarkable is that the Arab revolutions were all works of the Arabs themselves. As refreshing as the feeling of self-empowerment in the streets of the Muslim world is, we should not put our guard down on potential dark forces waiting on the wings to usurp the fruits of these glorious, jubilant days and turn them into days of grief and nostalgia for future generations.
One threat that stands out is the Iranian regime waiting in the wings to use the unprecedented state of flux in the region to export Islamic fundamentalism and extremism.
Actually, Ali Khamenei, the regime’s Supreme Leader for life, is trying to realise his evil designs under the banner of “Islamic awakening.” In his thinly veiled sermon on February 4 (coincidently made in Arabic not Farsi) Khamenei made the regime’s objectives abundantly clear.
What brings consternation to the clerical regime is the simple fact that the wave of democracy in the region has resurrected popular uprisings in Iran too and Tehran and other major cities have been the scene of massive anti-government demonstrations.
According to information obtained by the social network of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), the principal Iranian opposition movement inside the country, there were anti-government demonstrations in 70 locations in Tehran on February 14. The common slogan of “Mubarak, Ben-Ali, now is your turn, Seyed Ali (Khamenei)” pointed out that the people challenge the regime in its totality. The fact that a week later a similar demonstration took place despite the regime’s full state of alert made it clear that the challenge for the mullahs is serious.
This could also be discerned from Tehran’s panicky reaction to the uprisings. Ahmad Khatami, one of Tehran’s Friday prayers leaders, a member of the Assembly of Experts, and a close associate of Khamenei, in the School of Theology in Qom on Feb 16 said: “We the turbaned, the clergymen, tell the world that we are supportive of the Islamic establishment to the end, to the last breath and the last drop of our blood.”
In an international conference in Paris on Feb 26 on the big changes in the Middle East and the correct policy by the West, top US officials from the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations and senior European political figures emphasised that the seismic and unprecedented changes in Islamic countries had heightened the need to adopt a correct policy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and to prevent its interference in those countries.
General James Jones, President Obama’s former National Security Advisor; Bill Richardson Energy Secretary and US ambassador to the UN in the Clinton administration; Tom Ridge, Homeland Security Secretary under George Bush; Howard Dean, former Chairman of the US Democratic Party; and Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed that the West must stand with the Iranian people and their demands for regime change thereby guaranteeing the trend towards democracy and freedom in the region.
Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, summed it up: “The path to a peaceful and democratic Middle East, where women and youth could play their rightful role, inevitably passes through regime change in Iran. Without this change, democracy and stability would be impossible in this region. In the current circumstance, regime change in Iran is a hundred times more necessary. Otherwise, developments in the region will be diverted. The solution for the Iranian crisis is neither appeasement nor war. It is democratic change by the Iranian people and Resistance.”
But how this could be brought about and facilitated?
1) Tighten the noose on the mullahs with much tougher sanctions by the US and EU. Stop purchasing the mullahs’ oil, sending shivers down their spines.
2) Speak out much more forcefully and unequivocally on the right of Iranian people for changing the regime together with punishments for suppression of Iranian people’s demonstrations and uprisings.
3) Remove the shackles on the PMOI. The US State Department should remove the PMOI from its terror list; after all, the blacklisting took place to placate the mullahs 14 years ago. De-listing would mean the resistance could utilise all of its potential to stand up to the clerical regime. As the former senior officials in the Paris conference underscored, the rapid and unprecedented developments in recent weeks have given urgency to the revocation.
4) Guarantee the rights and end the torture of 3,400 Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, which are a serious thorn in the side of Tehran.
By doing so, the US will be on the right side of history, will make sure the world would not face a nuclear armed fundamentalist regime in Tehran and gravely reduces the chance of Islamic extremists hijacking popular uprisings in the region.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead is a former Chairman of the Labour Party