Protests in Iran: the first step towards the return to secular traditions.

Protests in Tehran, 30.12.2017. Source: Wikipedia

We often perceive the Islamic world as unipolar. The reign of the Sharia and clerical moods in the countries of Northern Africa seem familiar to us. Recently, the ongoing war in Syria, which spawned many conservative extremist organizations ready to establish a ‘new religious order’ using terrorism and anti-human methods of governing, played a significant role in this. It is also worth mentioning the role of political experts who covered the tragic events in European countries in terms of strengthening the negative impact of the Islamic world, capable of destroying the civilizational foundations that emerged after the Second World War.

However, few people study history. In fact, in the beginning of the 20th century everything was different. During the revolution of 1918-1923 in Turkey, when the Kemalist government was established successfully, a period of secularization and westernization began. After protest moods spread to the nearest eastern countries. Islam, as an ideology, began to be replaced by nationalism and socialism.

The causes of unrest in the country were the anti-imperialist sentiments of the end of the First World War, as well as the low standard of living in wartime.

Despite the fact that the Soviet Union supported Kemal Ataturk and signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with it, Turkey followed the capitalist development path. A number of social, economic and religious reforms were carried out. It is thanks to the Kemalists that Turkey has become one of the developed countries near to North Africa.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, 1971. Source: Wikipedia

But in Iran, secular power was established from 1941 to 1979, when Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was in power. In 1963, he carried out radical economic reforms known as the White Revolution. During his reign, the shah broke with a lot of Islamic traditions, because of which he aroused the wrath of the Shiite clergy.

However, the reforms could not be fully implemented and a difficult social and economic situation arose in the country. An interesting fact is that the protests were supported by the workers and even the feminist movement of Iran, who spoke together with the fundamentalists.

The situation was aggravated by the fact that Iran turned from a subject country into an object country. British and American companies owned most of Iran’s oil industry. In 1957, with the support of the CIA, the SAVAK organization was created to kill political oppositionists.

Armed insurgents in Iran, 1979. Source: Wikipedia

The result of the long-running crisis was the fundamentalist revolution, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. And the first sprouts of Islamic radicalism appeared thanks to it. Then, after Iran, radical sentiments spread to the Sunni countries (although the Sunnis deny such continuity). Recently, there are at least 45 Islamic terrorist organizations in the world, the most famous of which is now ISIS.

Political and religious leader Ruhollah Khomeini after exile, 1.02.1979. Source: AFP / GABRIEL DUVAL

Current events in Iran may indicate that history has reversed, and now the country is trying to return to secularized times. And the reason for this is again socio-economic problems. Unemployment in the country remains at the level of 12.4 per cent. Among youth, it remains at the level of per cent. The growth of GDP is ensured only through the growth of oil exports, which recovered after the cancelling of the embargo following the signing of agreements on the nuclear program.

Protesters are also not satisfied with rising prices for food products. For example, the price of eggs increased by 53 per cent compared to December 2017.

Interest is also attracted by the slogans of some protesters: ‘Iran is in disorder without a shah’, ‘Come back, Crown Prince’. People were able to assess the effectiveness of the fundamentalist government and therefore require a rollback.

There can be several variants of the development of events. The worst of them is that the system will briefly be shaken up, and the protests will be suppressed by government forces with subsequent repressions. The most active rebels are already awaiting the death penalty.

Protesters in Karaj, 31.12.2017. Source: Wikipedia

In the best cases, the protesters will be able to overthrow the existing regime. But is there a leader capable of leading the country? It should also be understood that a civil conflict will bring a considerable number of victims. On January 2, 2017, the number of victims in the clashes reached 21 people. If the world gets secular Iran, then a process of democratization will follow, which will open markets for the US and European countries. But access to the markets in the post-industrial world plays out a greater role than simple control over the extraction of natural resources. It’s no wonder that Donald Trump supports the protests.

It is worth noting that the problem of human rights will be partly resolved, because the Sharia law sometimes rudely violates the generally accepted natural rights.

Iran is a drug hub between Europe and Afghanistan. And the fundamentalist government is trying (on paper) to hold the situation. To combat illegal drug trafficking, Iran annually spends more than $ 800 million.

Although the UN World Drug Report for 2017 notes that according to data for 2015, 24.4 tons of heroin and morphine are exported from Iran. According to 2011 data, 2.26% of Iran’s population aged 15-64 years use opiates. This indicator remains stable until now. And most importantly, the largest level of drug trafficking is present in the regions controlled by the ISIS and the Taliban.

It turns out that Sharia law quickly recede into the background when it comes to money. It is very likely that democratization and economic development will be able to correct the situation. If not with drug trafficking, then at least reduce the level of use, because heavy drugs are not taken because of good life.

And here it is important to understand that the victory of the Iranian oppositionists will push Turkey to action, which, as we could see, has already experienced westernization and democracy. In addition, in July 2017, we could observe the protests of the military, who wanted to overthrow the government of Erdogan.

Later, Egypt will join as well. After all, the younger generation of these countries is included in the global information exchange and sees the problems of traditional foundations.

But with a high probability it can be argued that even if the uprising is unsuccessful, Islamic authoritarianism is doomed to fail. The process of secularization is deepening in European countries and in the Far East. Political and economic levers of influence have proved to be effective in international relations. The civilized world desires to see partners capable of negotiations and not open for war on religious grounds.

The most important thing in the post-protested period is to carry out a series of reforms that can raise the standard of living. After all, it is social and economic stagnation that causes disaffection among citizens. It is important not to repeat the mistakes of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who turned the country into authoritarian catastrophe.


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