Anniversary of the Islamic Republic and Mullahs

Thirty-six years of darkness.

A woman passes a poster of the Khomeini and revolutionary guards, Iran.The Iranian government has started its ten-day ceremonies celebrating its triumph and rise to power after the overthrow of the Mohammad Reza Shah government.  At the same time, the Iranian leaders are boasting about launching another satellite into orbit (their fourth).

Although diverse social movements and political parties (including secular, women's movements, nationalists, etc.) participated in the revolution, the revolution was soon kidnapped by the Islamist party due to the fact that Ayatollah Khomeini was presumed to be the leader.

Soon after, religious laws were imposed, women and men were forced to abide by dress codes, women's basic rights were taken away, women judges were fired from court, the moral police filled the streets, music and dancing were banned, and dissenters were killed inside and outside the country.

Although the Islamic Republic attempts to project a seamless picture of its rise to power through these ten day ceremonies, the ruling clerics established their power and consolidated their throne through hard power.

The return of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to Tehran from exile in Paris in February 1, 1979 marks the beginning of Ten-Day Fajr (Dawn) ceremonies, as well as the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

On January 16, 1979, Mohammad Reza Shah, an ally of the United States, left Iran forever and on February 11, his government, led by Shapur Bakhtiar, was toppled.  Soon after, the clerical system of governance and the Shiite Islamic revolution triumphed.

Although not many experts, politicians and scholars held the belief that the Islamic revolution, its political system and cleric rule would last long, the new system of governance, which created upheaval in the socio-political system of Iran, has survived for 36 years.

The fundamental transformation in the political system -- from the secular, Western-friendly state to a mainly anti-Western, anti-American, theocratic and Shari’a-based system of governance -- not only significantly altered the social, political, and domestic affairs of the nation, but has also exerted significant impact on the geopolitical and strategic chessboard of the Middle East.

The late shrewd founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, introduced a new notion in Shiite theories and thought. The idea of Velayat-e Faqih (the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist), directly entered the mullahs and Shiite clerics into political affairs, and gave the faqih (representative of the Hidden Imam, al-Mahdi) custodianship over people. Khomeini held that a nation and people need a Supreme Leader to be able to manage their affairs and destiny. Khomeini’s revolutionary concept was criticized by some other powerful Shiite clerics who believed religion should remain out of political affairs until the return of Imam Mahdi. But those figures were soon eliminated from the political scene.

Dominant religious and military institutions such as the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the office of the Supreme Leader, began exerting most of the influence in decision making, vetting or approving candidates for election, and imposing and abolishing laws.

With regards to foreign policy, fundamentalist ideology rather than rationality became the cornerstone of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy. The ruling clerics created new alliances and proxies in order to advance their objectives a well as scuttle US and Israeli foreign policy objectives in the region. The ruling clerics took oaths to advance the Shiite ideology across the world and fight with two new major enemies: The United States and Israel.

The creation of new and staunch alliances (such as with the Alawite government of Assad), and proxies across the regions (such as Hezbollah, Al Mahdi, Badr, etc) became crucial pawns for the Islamic Republic.

In addition, in the last 36 years, the Iranian government has invested primarily in two areas: military and nuclear proliferation. The Islamic Republic is now a short step away from turning into a nuclear state and the leaders aim to develop missiles that can reach Israel and the United States.

After international sanctions were imposed on the Iranian leaders for their nuclear defiance and clandestine nuclear sites, the regime has recently made a tactical shift: speaking softly while pursuing the former ideological foreign policies and domestic objectives.

On the other hand, the new political system of the Islamic Republic and its domestic policies have had unintended consequences, such as creating a significant amount of disaffected and discontent young people. Iranian youth appear to be disaffected with the inflexible and rigid political system, and some have begun viewing the Shah's era as the golden age and talk about it nostalgically.

Although the government has established powerful military institutions to deal with dissents, it remains concerned with a potential domestic uprising which might lead to humanitarian and foreign intervention and an overthrow of the system. Pursuing the nuclear program can be viewed as a strategy to prevent any future humanitarian intervention.

The fundamental ideological principles which were set by Ayatollah Khomeini and other ruling clerics will remain the bedrock of the Islamic Republic. Any even seeming shift in policies are tactical and Machiavellian rather than being fundamental ideological and strategic changes.

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