Iran: Hallmarks of an Alternative – Part 1
Alejo Vidal Quadras
The following is the first part of a piece written by Dr. Alejo Vidal Qudras in the book “Iran Democratic Revolution,” published by the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ):
The unity of opposition forces seeking to overthrow the regime and forming an alternative is one of the essential pillars of resistance against a dictatorship, especially the religious fascism ruling Iran. The existence of an alternative is imperative for advancing the struggle to overthrow the regime and securing victory for people who are willing to pay the price for the struggle. Conversely, the absence of an alternative can cause a revolution to fail or be diverted from its optimal path. The alliance of the forces participating in the revolution can already be seen on the streets of Iran. This writing intends to assess the characteristics of an alternative around which an alliance or coalition of movements willing to overthrow the ruling regime can be formed.
An alternative to the ruling regime can be recognized by certain characteristics without which no group or coalition can be described as an alternative. These characteristics correlate to the historical, political, and social realities of Iran. Some of the most significant attributes that a viable alternative for the future of Iran needs to have followed:
Organization and structure
Domestic and international support
Competent leadership and a clear plan of action for the future
Rejection of any kind of dictatorship
1. Organization and structure:
To advance the political struggle, it is necessary for the alternative to have an organization that has optimal internal cohesion, leadership, and a network of members and supporters both inside and outside Iran. Such an organization will enable the alternative to mobilize various cross-sections of the people and rely on its extensive network to advance the struggle against the ruling regime. It can lead, guide, and grow the protests and anti-regime activities of the people. It can act as an engine for change.
In the absence of such an organized entity, the struggle will not reach its objectives, and even if the regime is overthrown, will likely deviate from a path that leads to a democratic government of the people, for the people, and by the people. The 120-year history of the struggle of the Iranian people contains bitter experiences in this regard. On August 19, 1953, a coup against the nationalist and popular government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, led by the United States and Britain, in collusion with Shah’s court and with the cooperation of the reactionary clergy, Mosaddegh’s government lacked a coherent and activist grassroots organization to counteract the coup makers.
Similarly, following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, democratic organizations were not able to challenge Khomeini, who had hijacked the leadership of the revolution largely due to Shah’s bloody repression and execution and imprisonment of democratic leaders. The mullahs had a long history of collaborating with Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, before the 1979 revolution started. Khomeini and his network of mullahs diverted the revolution from its intended democratic goal and imposed a darker dictatorship than the Shah’s.
The presence of democratic organizations can also prevent the emergence of pseudo alternatives aligned with the former dictatorship of the Shah or “reformist” currents within the current ruling system, both tainted by a dictatorial past and beliefs.
The alternative can leverage its organization and its extensive network inside the country to mobilize people to advance the fight against the repressive apparatus of the regime, weaken, and eventually topple it. It can disclose intelligence about unpatriotic policies and activities of the regime that are to the detriment of Iranians and the world such as its policy of exporting terrorism, nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles programs, and the production and export of drones and other destructive weapons used to kill people in other countries, to name a few.
2. Domestic and international support:
Direct polling and gauging of people’s aspirations and votes in a dictatorship is obviously not possible. Therefore, in the era of repression, the only reasonable basis for the legitimacy of any movement or group is the price they pay for freedom and the level and quality of resistance they put up against a dictatorship. One of the best means for discerning a political movement’s popularity and acceptance in society is to refer to the statistics of affiliated martyrs and prisoners.
Such a popular base is imperative for an alternative not only inside Iran but also internationally with political recognition and support. In the final analysis, it is the people of Iran who are the main drivers of change, and without their support, no organization or movement can claim to be an alternative to the reigning dictatorship.
Popular support requires and emerges from deep historical roots, a record of struggling for freedom and democracy inside the country, and vibrant links with different sectors of society, especially the intelligentsia, and the middle and lower classes.
The experience derived from recent history in Iran’s regional neighborhood has shown that imported alternatives that lack popular support and social legitimacy, jetting back to claim power after the downfall of an incumbent regime, cannot be viable alternatives. They will resort to repression of the people and increased reliance on various foreign actors to maintain their power. The bitter experience of transformations from repressive and puppet regimes in the past 50 years, both in the Middle East and in other countries, confirms this conclusion.
An alternative cannot gain the confidence of the people and win over a resilient base of social support without paying the necessary price for defying the brutal dictatorship that it aims to replace with democratic ideals. An alternative must be ready and able to overcome tremendous adversities, agonies, obstacles, misfortunes, and tribulations during its struggle. This is a necessary test of its genuineness and dedication to democratic principles and slogans. It is also an extremely vital element for gaining people’s trust in it.
As the vanguard of the struggle, an alternative should pay a higher price to advance the struggle. It cannot shirk this intrinsic responsibility. From a historical perspective, too, such a commitment and readiness to embrace the pains of the struggle on the part of leaders and political organizations have both revealed and unlocked the path for people to show agency in achieving their rights and liberties. The history of Iran over the previous decades has produced many leaders who are considered as national symbols and heroes, serving as role models for future generations.
Outside Iran, an alternative should carry the support of the exiled community and be able to mobilize them to echo the voice of the people inside the country.
120 years of struggle for freedom by the people of Iran
From an international point of view, any movement or group that claims to be an alternative should have international status, legitimacy, and recognition. It should garner the support of personalities, parties, legislators, and current and former officials belonging to all political persuasions around the world. For change and revolution in any country to be successful requires the political and moral support of democracy and freedom advocates around the world because of the close-knit fabric of human societies in the modern age. Without such a requisite it would be incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to bring about a democratic transformation, and it would require a much higher cost in human suffering and blood.
While a country’s own citizens and leading political organizations play the defining role in the outcome of a struggle for freedom from dictatorship and realizing democratic governance, the role of the international community in accelerating or decelerating the process of change cannot be ignored. For example, the political appeasement of the regime by the West over the past four decades has been one of the most important impediments to decelerating the revolution and the overthrow of the clerical regime. The high price for this has been paid by the Iranian people and their resistance movement. International recognition and support will act as a future barrier to potential unproductive foreign interventions. At the same time, it will facilitate friendly and mutual relations based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of all sides, ensuring peaceful relations within the framework of international law that can empower Iran to play its historical and constructive role in the Middle East and globally.
3. Competent leadership and a clear plan of action
The alternative to the ruling regime in Iran must have a competent and reliable leader who has proven capability during the long and arduous struggle. Failed contemporary revolutions either going astray or being suppressed, including the 1979 revolution or the 2009 uprising in Iran, lacked precisely this attribute and prove its importance. A competent leadership must be willing to take risks to advance the struggle and be ready to pay the price of the difficult decisions that are necessary at different stages. Leadership cannot allow itself to be intimidated by the prevailing balance of power and should not sacrifice principles for the sake of short-term political benefits.
A viable alternative must have a clear plan of action for the future. This plan should provide solutions for major issues and challenges of society, guarantee individual and social rights and freedoms, women’s rights, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, address economic development and progress, ensure an independent judicial system, and have a clear foreign and environmental policy, to name a few.
The alternative should be capable of immediately implementing the plan after the overthrow of the regime and the establishment of a new government. In other words, specific programs and plans to be implemented while the new government organizes the holding of elections for the establishment of the Constituent Assembly and drafting the constitution of the new republic must be preannounced.
Postponing the announcement of such a platform after the transfer of power would set the stage for betraying the pronounced ideals of a revolution, something that happened when Khomeini seized power. Prior to the 1979 revolution, whenever Khomeini was asked about his plans regarding various issues, he would slyly say that he will announce such plans after the revolution’s victory. This untransparent and dishonest approach allowed him to impose a religious dictatorship by turning his back on previously announced vague promises.
An alternative must include representatives from an array of political tendencies and persuasions within society. The governing principle of such an alternative is pluralism and the ability to represent various political ideas and groups across the political spectrum, including left, liberal, conservative, people of faith, and secularists. It should also represent Iran’s ethnic minorities, including Baluchis, Kurds, and Arabs, and have specified and ratified plans for asserting and guaranteeing their rights.
During the 57-year reign of the Pahlavi monarchy (Reza Khan and his son Mohammad Reza) and the subsequent 43 years that the mullahs have been in power, only the dominant political point of view enjoyed any stake in power, and other political viewpoints and ethnic and religious minorities were denied their right in determining their destiny, severely suppressed and at times completely removed from the scene altogether. Only by accepting political diversity and pluralism can a melting pot be created, where different points of view of various classes and social sectors can come together and democratically and peacefully engage in dialogue. Iran is a country that has historically been a collection of different political tendencies, ethnicities, and religions, and in the last century, no government has respected the people’s rights and views, leaving a democratic void that only such an approach can fill.
5. Rejection of any kind of dictatorship
Any political movement or coalition that wants to be considered as an alternative for the future of Iran must have clear boundaries with all types of dictatorship and authoritarianism, and it must necessarily have emerged from the revolution of the Iranian people against Shah’s dictatorship that promoted the ideals of freedom and independence.
As already discussed, in the era of dictatorship, when there is no possibility for the free and democratic expression of people’s wishes, a true alternative derives its legitimacy from the level of its resistance to the ruling dictatorship. Purporting to speak against the regime does not automatically grant a person or movement, especially outside of Iran, alternative status.
If any individual or organization advocates for an authoritarian regime like the previous overthrown monarchy or one of its altered versions, they do not qualify as an alternative to dictatorship. Therefore, individuals or groups who seek to reinstate the overthrown monarchy or “reform” the religious dictatorship ruling Iran cannot be part of the coalition that is supposed to be an alternative to the current regime.
Rejecting the former monarchical dictatorship is a major criterion because since the monarchy in Iran has always been intertwined with dictatorship and authoritarianism. Naïve comparisons of such a monarchy with the royals in England or in some Nordic or European countries is a false analogy. Monarchical systems in the latter countries after many centuries of political struggle, revolution, and reform, have a purely ceremonial role, and it is the people’s elected representatives that wield actual and practical power in running these countries’ affairs. In stark contrast, the course of developments in Iran has shown that over time, the rule of the Shah not only stymied reforms, but it took on increasingly authoritarian characteristics while devolving into one-party rule. Members of the parliament in such a system were not real representatives of the people. Rather, they served to rubber-stamp the policies and whims of the monarch and his court. The history of the monarchy in Iran is not like the United Kingdom for example. It parallels more that of France, where the monarchical system was overthrown and abolished by the French Revolution.
The Pahlavi monarchy seized power through a coup against genuine constitutionalists. Seyyed Zia Tabatabai’s coup d’état with British support in 1925 installed Reza Khan, a Cossack officer, to the throne. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was crowned in 1941 following the forced exile of Reza Shah to South Africa by the Allies during World War II. Then in 1953, an American-British coup against the nationalist government of Dr. Mosaddegh returned Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the throne.
During the reign of Reza Khan, originally as the prime minister and later as the king, all the democratically inclined freedom movements of the Iranian people, including the Jangal (Jungle) movement under the leadership of Mirza Kuchak Khan Jangli in Gilan, northern Iran (1915-1921), and the movement led by Mohammad Taqi Khan Pessian in Khorasan, northeastern Iran (1921), were violently suppressed. His son, Mohammad Reza Shah, created a one-party system in Iran – the Rastakhiz (Resurrection) Party. He suppressed not only liberal and moderate parties, such as the National Front and the Freedom Movement, but also revolutionary organizations like the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) who are of the Muslim faith, and the Marxist Fedayeen. By silencing all dissenting voices, he paved the way for the hijacking of the revolution by Khomeini and his network of mullahs.
The quick pace and interdependence of historical, political, and social developments throughout the world, and at a time of great technological advances, make demands for a return to previous dictatorial and authoritarian systems of rule oxymoronic and obsolete.
* The book “Iran Democratic Revolution,” can be purchased online from here.
Dr.-Alejo-Vidal-QuadrasAlejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently president of the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)