As the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution approached, with the promise of mass protests from Iran’s growing opposition movement, it was tempting to compare the upheaval with unrest that ultimately toppled the Shah of Iran…
While there are striking similarities between the movements separated by decades of Islamic rule, experts say there are even stronger differences that make what lies ahead for the current movement extremely challenging.
“This is a movement that isn’t trying to make a revolution in the sense of toppling a regime,” said Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University. “It’s making a revolution in trying to make a democratic change…”
“The present day movement is clearly anti-despotic, and it shares that feature with the movement in 1979,” said Ali Banuazizi, a political science professor at Boston College. But that’s where the similarities between the two movements largely end…
“The shah had very little legitimacy — he was brought to power by a foreign-inspired coup (the CIA, folks),” he added, noting that Pahlavi was restored to power after a coup led by Britain and the United States ousted nationalistic Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. The shah had previously fled Iran after (democratically elected) Mossadegh and his supporters challenged Pahlavi’s control.
“The present regime, even though it lost a lot of legitimacy with the irregularities of the election and the refusal of allowing the public to express itself — that aura of legitimacy is still there…”
The makeup of today’s protesters — youth, women, teachers, reformists — also lacks a key component that helped bring down the shah: labor workers.
“There were very strong labor strikes — that’s what really broke the back of the old regime,” Milani said. “We know from documents that when the oil industry when on strike, the regime had no choice”
Experts agree that there’s been no significant upheaval from Iran’s industry workers or the merchants at bazaars.
Of course, this same knowledge and analysis is common knowledge in the State Department, the White House, even Congress. That means little or nothing to the pundits and politicians running their agitprop through the mouth of TV Talking Heads.
Americans will continue along the highway to the potential of war – led by the nose, ignorant of history, impressed by Iranian students who know how to use Facebook, Twitter and text messaging, oh boy – without examining any of the roots of the contempt Iranians hold for our politics.