Dr. Assad Homayoun is president of the Azadegan Foundation, which advocates a secular democratic government in Iran and contributes to the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. Dr. Homayoun is a senior fellow at the International Strategic Studies Association and was the minister in charge of the Iranian embassy in Washington, D.C. when the Ayatollah Khomeini seized control of Iran's government in 1980.
There is now no hope for a softening of posture nor moderation from within the oppressive clique ruling Iran today. It does not make much difference whether 'moderates' or 'conservatives' lead. The ultimate control always rests with the fundamentalists' version of interlocking directorates. The Supreme Leader and his cohorts sit on various Councils which wield absolute veto power over all functions of the Government and almost every aspect of the lives of the people. What passes for a semblance of democracy is a well-staged and fully-orchestrated exercise in power-sharing among the members of the ruling theocratic element. It is the ultimate attempt at legitimizing an otherwise illegitimate regime which has lost whatever credibility it may have briefly had with the people. The time to help rid Iran of the mullahs has arrived.
In considering practical means for change in Iran, three fundamental questions must be evaluated and answered. The first question is 'why?': the reason why we believe it is high time for a regime change in Iran. The second is 'how?': the means of bringing about positive change. The third is 'when?': evaluating the timing for change.
For Iran to once again join the family of nations as a positive and constructive force, one point is abundantly clear and irrefutable. A democratic and secular government, representative of, and responsive to the majority of the people must come to power. But such a government has little chance of victory over the present terrorist supporting usurpers of power without the full and demonstrable support of the Free World in general and the United States in particular. The importance of this factor cannot be over-emphasized. The question of political risks as well as the cost factors for such support by the U.S. and other governments will be evaluated.
Why Is It Time For Change?
According to all reports and indications from within Iran, an overwhelming majority of the Iranian people have come to believe that the clerical regime ruling the country is not representative of them and must go. They have come to believe that this theocracy is neither a republic, nor Islamic nor Iranian. The nature of the theocracy ruling Iran today — its political excesses and economic mismanagement — has been covered extensively before and will only be referred to here in summary.
In the past year, the frequency of demonstrations and riots has increased and spread more widely throughout the country. The society has become restless. Few try to hide their feelings of disgust with the regime. More than 40-million mostly unemployed youth (under 30 years of age) in particular are in a state of perpetual unrest.
As a result of these prevailing conditions, the regime has become more oppressive and more corrupt. Executions have increased. Newspapers and magazines are shut down with greater frequency. Any overt opposition is decisively quashed. Writers and reporters are routinely jailed without trial. Educators are censored. One was even sentenced to death for trying to teach students to 'think independently'. Endemic corruption has become even more blatant and pervasive. The economy, increasingly mismanaged for more than 20 years, is nearing collapse.
The clerical regime has always claimed to be short of funds for development and has had to borrow from abroad to finance import of basic commodities. Yet, the mullahs have had no trouble finding funds to pursue their quixotic nuclear program or spend billions extending the range of their North Korean made ballistic missiles, or finance and support terrorism worldwide. Over the past 24 years, the clerical regime has squandered more than $500-billion dollars of the nations oil income.
The regime's fundamentalist foreign policy and its erratic behavior in the world arena have isolated Iran, and have virtually cut-off international investment sources. Iran, long an island of stability in an otherwise volatile region, has become instead a main source of instability.
The regime in Iran is in the process of expanding its chemical and nuclear capabilities. The clerical government claims the program to be for peaceful purposes. But the technology and capability for converting nuclear waste to weapons-grade material is undoubtedly in the hands of Iran's nuclear scientists. The clerical regime cannot be trusted to use its weapons solely for defensive purposes. Indeed, as champions of Islamic fundamentalism worldwide, they are duty bound to use every means at their disposal to further their ambition and cause.
The foreign policy of the mullahs is primarily based on ideology rather than geo-strategy and national interest. Promoting fundamentalism, international terrorism, opposing peace activities in the Middle East, giving moral, ideological, political and financial support to radical Islamic movements as well as terrorist groups worldwide has been and continues to be the main agenda of the Islamic Republic.
To summarize, the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a source and promoter of instability not only in the Middle East but also in many other parts of the world. It has practiced and promoted domestic and international terrorism since its inception 24 years ago. It has lost the backing of the majority of the Iranian people and rules through repression and the use of brute force. It is immensely corrupt and has managed to bring a once prospering nation to the brink of bankruptcy. The people are ready and willing to help bring about change.
How Can Change Be Brought About At This Time?
Dialogue, diplomatic negotiation for rapprochement, military action, or surgical operations will not bring about the desired change in the political behavior of the ruling clerics. An Iranian problem needs an Iranian solution—a democratic, populist solution. Proud Iranians hate being called “outlaw”, “pariah” or “terrorist' by the outside world. This hatred has been channeled towards the regime. Anger and disgust can be seen and felt not only among the masses, but also among the non-ruling religious clerics as well as the armed forces, including the Revolutionary Guards, once the backbone of support for the Islamic regime.
In order to empower the emerging movement for change in Iran, and to ensure the emergence of a democratic, secular and popular outcome, there are five essential factors which must be nurtured and coordinated.
1. Domestic Public Opinion
Public opinion in Iran has never been more in favor of change than today. The root causes, of course, are the realities and the rigors of everyday life, economic and political. But it was the information revolution of the past decade, which blunted the regime's monopoly and control over print and broadcast media. The Internet as well as satellite broadcasts of news programs by Iranian expatriates in the United States connected the people directly with the outside world. These means must be further supported and enhanced to ensure a steady flow of pertinent information and direction to the people. These portals should be beacons of hope and should energize domestic popular movements.
2. World Public Opinion
World public opinion is already in favor of positive change in Iran. However, there are many governments in the Free World which follow a myopic course in foreign policy, pursuing short-term economic interests. There are also many multi-national companies which are vigorously courting the Islamic regime, in the hopes of cornering the Iranian market for their products. It is incumbent upon us to bring the new reality to the attention of these governments and corporations.
Iran is a vast country with vast resources and even greater potential for growth and development. A free, democratic Iran, firmly committed to a market economy, and pursuing a progressive economic policy for development will have no alternative but to look toward international markets for sources of finance and technology. Combining moral fortitude and economic foresight, the free world will not only help the Iranian people in their quest for freedom, but will reap immense financial rewards as a result of the outcome.
Iranians do not have a shortage of politically active groups or organizations. With very few notable exceptions, most of these groups accept democratic and secular precepts as their guiding force. Up to now however, the issues separating most these groups have been of form rather than substance. These mostly petty differences have prevented the emergence of a strong leadership. Two points are certain in this regard. Absence of a strong dominant leadership has indirectly helped prolong the tenure of the present regime in Iran. The emergence of an untainted leadership that has the support of the U.S. will bring most of these groups together and will unite them for their common cause.
What is required today is leadership which has the ability to unite as well as act as a catalyst for change. The emerging leadership must not only be untainted, but must be respected and acceptable to most of the existing groups and organizations. It must also have a clear vision of the future and a realistic understanding of the present.
This leadership would ideally have strong ties to the leaders of the disaffected in Iran, to the émigré-Iranian organizations and leaders in the U.S. and Europe, and legitimate contacts with foreign governments and officials abroad. And above all, what is required is a selfless leadership with an unwavering dedication to democratic ideals. The Azadegan Organization can provide this leadership today.
Azadegan was established in 1980 with 2 main objectives in its charter: Propagation of democratic principles in governance and respect for human rights among the Iranian people, and, to help lay the foundation and groundwork for the eventual liberation of Iran. Neither Azadegan nor its leadership have any pretenses or illusions except to help bring about the necessary conditions for the empowerment of the Iranian people to take control of their own fate. And it is fully realized that this is no task for any one organization or person, but will need the concerted, unified effort of many.
At this point, it is extremely important and urgent to draw the world's attention to the fact that there exist today in the U.S and Europe, certain well-organized and well-financed groups who in the past were rabid neo-Islamic terrorists and have the blood of innocent Americans and Iranians on their hands. These groups have remained true to their core beliefs and ideology, but have changed their spots superficially to become acceptable to the west.
In reality, they are not much different from the mullahs ruling Iran today. They would pose a serious threat to the democratic future for Iran, should such possibility of change arise in the near future. One such group is the People's Mojahedin of Iran, which is essentially an authoritarian personality cult with an ideology and behavior similar to Saddam Hussain in many ways. Should the political situation in Iran deteriorate as suddenly as it did in 1978/9, without a strong avowedly pro-western leadership that is dedicated to establishing democracy in Iran, the danger posed by such groups is serious.
In order to be able to take any action such as mobilizing the masses or utilizing the support of the international community, a structured organization — or better yet a liberation organization — must be established. Such an organization must be capable of providing leadership in matters of command and control, logistics and operational support, and must be capable of projecting power into Iran to energize youth institutions and organizations, Women's organizations, the media, the tribes, the non-political clergy who believe strongly in the separation of religion and state, the traditional business sector (the Bazaar) who have traditionally been the main source of funding for many political movements, etc.
5. Financial Resources
Without financial support nothing can be accomplished. But financial support must come primarily from the Iranian people, must be untainted, and restricted only to the cause of liberation. Once established, there is no doubt that this organization will attract many donors; that is, providing the Iranian people come to accept it as dedicated, independent and Iranian.
In order to launch such an organization, assistance — financial and otherwise — from the Iranian communities in the U.S. and Europe is very essential. Donations from freedom loving people worldwide as well as assistance from foreign NGOs will be welcomed.
Strategy for Removal of the Clerics and Transfer of Power to the People
Increasing pressure on the regime by focusing domestic and world public opinion on their illegitimacy through the press and media;
Forming a provisional, transition government in exile when feasible;
Actively courting the Armed Forces for their support. (De-politicization of the Armed Forces.) If the Armed Forces cease to support the regime, the clerics will not survive long.
o Ultimate support must come from the patriotic Armed Forces. No successful liberation or transfer of power to democracy will be possible without their acceptance and cooperation. All reports indicate that there is great disaffection and to a lesser degree unrest within the Armed Forces including the Revolutionary Guard, once the bulwark of support for the regime. These reports also indicate that these forces have come to believe that the regime is not acting in the best interest of the Iranian nation.
General uprising of Iranian people to demand removal of the regime
o According to local sources once supportive of the regime, over 95 percent of the people are against the rule of the clerics. About 43 million Iranians are under 30 years of age, are disaffected and mostly unemployed, and see no hope for the future under this regime.
o There are 4-million émigrés mostly in U.S. and Europe. This is a highly educated group with tremendous potential political and financial power.
When is the Time for Change?
There have been other opportune times in the past, but there has never been a better, more appropriate time than now. There is an unprecedented awakening of the masses. Internal pressure on the people has reached a climax.
Worsening economic conditions, lowered standards of living, uncertainty and unstable social conditions, repression and violation of the most basic human rights are a few factors that have increased the pressure to an exploding point. There are daily instances of people from all walks of life risking incarceration and worse by openly voicing their disgust for the regime.
Internationally, the world is ready for one less 'pariah' state. Terrorism must be dealt with and all of its sources and resources must be eradicated. By helping Iranians rid themselves of the clerics now, one main source of funding for international terrorism will be stopped.
A Brief Analysis of Risk and Cost
The risks involved will be borne by the Iranian patriots themselves. We see no risk to those nations giving moral and even material support to this cause.
It has been noted that the Iranian people do not need nor will they accept covert action or direct military intervention. It has also been noted that financial assistance will not be asked for nor accepted from any foreign government.
The only real assistance that the international community can provide this movement is enthusiastic, open and direct support for the people of Iran to establish a democratic, secular government responsive to the needs of the people. Moreover, we would welcome the help of the international community in trying to mediate a peaceful transition of power by appealing directly to the ruling oligarchy to peacefully resign their position and avoid further hardship for the Iranian people.
Summary of the Vision for a New Iran
In order for a democratic and secular system of government to take root in Iran, the mullahs must be banished to their mosques once and for all. Separation of religion and state must be enshrined in the laws of the land so that the possibility of a recurrence of another episode of theocracy will be prevented forever.
The national interest of Iran calls for a peaceful transition of power. It is incumbent on all Iranians to strive to achieve a peaceful process. In the interest of national unity, bloodshed and vengeance should be prevented. With the agreement of the people, a general amnesty should be granted to all except those who have committed serious crimes against the people and whose hands are tainted with the blood of the Iranian people. The courts must define criminal offenses not pardoned under the general amnesty. Those suspected or charged must be afforded fair, open and just trials under the law.
The Human Rights Charter of the United Nations should be incorporated into the laws of the land. Full equality for all regardless of sex, religion or political persuasion must be guaranteed. Holding public office at all levels should be open to all Iranian citizens.
Immediate and fundamental political and economic reforms conforming to and conscious of the socio-cultural make-up of the people must be promulgated.
While the Farsi language and Persian culture are central to the national character and must be promoted and propagated, local languages, dialects and cultures should be preserved and encouraged. Diversity has always enriched the Persian Heritage.
A strong government is necessary, but its role must be defined. Over-centralization and command-type economies are not conducive to growth and development. Moreover, the age of centralized dictatorship is over. Provincial governments and local administrations must be empowered to deal directly with local issues with the full support of the central government. This should also be true for the tribal entities.
Iran must pursue an independent policy based solely on its national interests. Foreign policy must be based on reciprocity and respect. In order to create the right conditions to promote development, Iran needs good relations with the free world, and particularly close relations with the U.S. and the E.U.
Iran has immense natural resources, ample manpower, and a very strategic geo-political location. Given the right leadership, Iran can once again become an anchor for stability in the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and can be a positive force in helping bring about peace in the world.
Iran must forsake any type of terrorism, domestic and international. Domestically, the peoples' civil rights must be paramount, and internationally, Iran must actively participate in the eradication of terrorism.
The Iranian Armed Forces, always patriotic and courageous, must be reformed and de-politicized. Traditionally the armed forces have been the guarantors of Iran's national integrity. To cope with the realities in a new post-9/11 World, they must be retrained and re-equipped into a strong defensive force capable of responding to the country's security needs.
Dr Assad Homayoun
Azadegan Foundation for Democracy in Iran