Iran: The Revolution Has Been Cancelled

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February 17, 2011: Iranian leaders have proclaimed the Egyptian popular overthrow of their long-time dictator as the beginning of an Islamic revolution that will sweep the  Islamic world. Acting on this delusion, Iran has sent two warships (a frigate and a supply ship) to pass through the Suez canal. By international treaty, any nations can do this, as long as they are not at war. Many Islamic nations are technically at war with Israel, but no matter. Egypt confirmed that the two Iranian ships would be allowed through. The ships are apparently headed for Iranian client-state Syria. This is the first time Iranian ships have passed through the canal since the 1970s, and the 1979 revolution that overthrew the monarchy. The Iranian ships were to have passed through the canal last night, but they didn't. Egyptian canal officials reported that Iran had cancelled the transit.

The revolution in Iran has been cancelled as well. There won't be a government overthrow in Iran, like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt. It's not that the majority of Iranians are not angry at the religious dictatorship that has been running the country since the 1980s. It's just that not enough Iranians are willing to risk their lives to change the government. Instead, getting out of the country is seen as a more likely (and less dangerous) path to freedom and prosperity. Three decades of such emigration has deprived Iran of many entrepreneurs and educated specialists. Meanwhile, the government remains in power because it has hundreds of thousands of armed followers who are willing to kill, and die, to keep the religious dictatorship in power. As long as that force, the Revolutionary Guard, is around, so will the government survive.  

Iran still considers itself the leader of the worldwide Islamic revolution, but most Moslems (who are Sunni) consider the Iranians (who are Shia) deranged, heretics, anti-Arab imperialists, or all of the above. Iran, in turn, believes Shia Islam (currently about ten percent of Moslems are Shia, and most of these live in Iran) should replace Sunni Islam as the primary form of the faith. This dispute has been going on for over a thousand years.

The tiny island nation of Bahrain, just across the Gulf from Iran, has undergone five days of anti-government demonstrations. Bahrain, with a population of only 700,000, was hit hard by the global recession. Worse, the two-thirds of the population that is Shia lost the most. The Shia in Bahrain have always been the poorest people there, while the Sunni Arabs have controlled the economy, and the government.

Last year, after an outbreak of anti-government violence, Bahrain insisted the ringleaders were trained abroad, and supported by a foreign nation. But Bahrain refused to come right out and name Iran as the source of this support. Arabs are very afraid of Iran, which has been walking all over Arabs for thousands of years. Despite the fact that Arab forces on the other side of the Gulf are much better armed than the Iranians, Arabs still back off when it comes to possible showdowns with Iran. Old fears die hard.

To add to that anxiety, over the last few years, Iranian politicians will occasionally say in public that Iran considers Bahrain the 14th province of Iran. That's because, well, it isn't called the "Persian" Gulf for nothing (although since all the oil money showed up, the Arabs have been trying to popularize the term "Arabian Gulf," with mixed success). There have been ethnic Iranian communities on Bahrain for centuries, and Iran had a formal claim on the island until 1969 (when the claim was dropped, in order to improve relations with Arab neighbors). Iran has always been an empire, and still is (only half the population is ethnic Iranian). The way this works, you always have a sense of "Greater Iran" which includes, at the least, claims on any nearby areas containing ethnic Iranians. Hitler used this concept to guide his strategy during World War II.

Bahrain gets very upset when these claims are periodically revived. The Iranian government officially denounces such claims, but apparently many Iranians have not forgotten. Arabs are not very happy about that, and have responded by pointing out that Iran was Sunni until 500 years ago, and was forced to convert, on pain of death, by a Shia emperor (who killed about a million of his subjects in the process.) Saudi Arabia is trying, with some success, to organize Arab resistance to Iranian expansionist moves. Iran has responded by encouraging the Shia minorities on the west side of the Gulf to demonstrate their unhappiness with their minority status.

The Iranian claim is based on Iranian control of Bahrain for a few years during the 18th century. After that incident, Bahrain, and most of the other Arab Gulf States, sought protection from Britain. During World War II, the U.S. joined with Britain in offering the Arab states of the Persian Gulf protection from Iranian aggression. Iran has always resented this, believing themselves to be the regional superpower, and the final arbiter of who is sovereign, and who is not. 

February 15, 2011: Some government officials are openly calling for opposition leaders to be executed. The government has already been doing that, and now there are calls to increase the number of executions.

February 14, 2011: There were numerous anti-government demonstrations today. But not all of the demonstrators were out there demanding a change of government. No, many of the demonstrators were marching in the name of love. It was Valentine's Day, a Western celebration of a Christian saint, the patron saint of lovers. The Catholic Church no longer recognizes this, but billions of Christians and non-Christians do, including many Iranians. The Iranian government forbids any recognition of Valentine's Day, and each year, more people ignore the bans. There was no one large demonstration in the capital, but dozens of smaller ones, in Tehran and other cities. Police arrested hundreds of  demonstrators, many of them actual, or suspected, opposition leaders. The government blamed the unrest on Western agents.

February 13, 2011: Government officials accused Israel of controlling the growing opium and heroin trade in Iran.

February 12, 2011: The government has refused to allow a legal demonstration on the 21st. The demonstrators wish to emulate the protests that have brought down the governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

February 11, 2011: Inspired by the success of the popular revolution in Egypt, Iranian reformers have called for similar large demonstrations. In response, the government has begun arresting known, or suspected, demonstration organizers. Meanwhile, in the central Iranian city of Qom (site of many religious schools) three bombs went off, damaging three natural gas pipelines.

 

 

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