The Hill – As 2018 begins, several large metropolitan centers in Iran are ablaze with major anti-government demonstrations roaring in the streets.
Protestors are chanting slogans indicative of a revolution: “Death to the dictator,” “Death to (Hassan) Rouhani,” “Don’t be afraid, we are all together,” “Forget about Syria, think about us,” “Not Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran.”
After multiple days of demonstrations spread to Tehran, President Rouhani said Iranians are “free to protest but must not jeopardize security.”
Around the world many are asking whether the Arab uprisings have given way to a Persian Revolution, while analysts in Washington are wondering whether 2018 will bring regime change to Tehran.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its leading constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have played a key role in organizing the major protests in Iran for decades. Their intricate network inside Iran has been critical to informing the world of Tehran’s malign behavior from nuclear pursuits to terrorism and human rights abuses to proxy violence.
Scholars understand regime change by the people of Iran is within reach but is best achieved by those in the resistance with the organizing capacity, determination, and political wherewithal to achieve it. The White House has all the necessary elements to assist the Iranian people in bringing about the democratic change they seek: capability, credibility, and an organized opposition to facilitate regime change from within.
Neither President Bush nor President Obama backed the Iranian people when they rose up to change the government in Tehran following protests during their respective tenures. President Trump, therefore, has an opportunity to make history.
Trump can and should take decisive action in 2018 to support the ouster of the virulently anti-American theocracy that has ruled Iran with an iron fist and threatened its neighbors for the past four decades.
When asked by host Major Garrett if he had shared these views with the president personally, Graham responded, “I just did.”
The president should follow Graham’s lead and throw American support behind the brave anti-government protesters who have taken to the streets in mass demonstrations across the Islamic Republic since last week. The U.S. State Department announced December 29 that we:
“Strongly condemn the arrest of peaceful protesters. We urge all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”
Trump suggests a credible threat to support the Iranian people and their organized resistance is at hand. In his recent tweet on the issue, Trump said Iranians were, “finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth (are) being stolen and squandered on terrorism,” and “the USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
The Way Forward
Our scholarship indicates that, as a political gesture, Trump’s formal recognition of the Iranian people’s right to regime change and the legitimacy of the organized resistance could help to further tip the balance in favor of those seeking democratic change in Iran.
Our research also suggests contrary to the rhetoric of Iran’s rulers, the Iranian public is predisposed to democracy, seeks civil and political freedoms, and wants positive relations with Western powers. The Iranian people, therefore, represent an important potential ally for the United States in efforts to improve the stability of the Middle East.
Trump can cite the ongoing demonstrations as evidence that Iranian lives have not improved since the 2015 nuclear agreement that lifted worldwide economic sanctions against Iran in return for actions designed to halt the nation’s development of nuclear weapons. Only Iranian companies linked to the government and the Revolutionary Guard have reaped the rewards of reopened international trade, while the Iranian people face increasingly dire economic circumstances.
Regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria learned the hard way that mass demonstrations in the context of discontent are infectious. The demonstrations facing the Iranian regime — already fearful of protest — are an opportunity to use the people’s resentment as leverage to achieve significant political change. As Trump noted in his remarks to the United Nations, the Iranian people are the biggest threat to the regime.
Finally, the expansion of protests constitute a crisis for the regime and an opportunity to use the people’s resentment as leverage against it. The Obama administration squandered valuable opportunities in the past — most notably during the 2009 antigovernment protests in Iran, which were backed up by the NCRI, when Western powers turned a blind eye to the regime’s brutal crackdown.
It is time for this situation to change. If not now, when? The accelerating crisis is an opportunity to change the regime from within. The Iranian people are in the streets to make a revolution happen.
Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduate programs in Global Affairs and Human Security and Negotiations and Conflict Management in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan.
Prof. Raymond Tanter served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, personal representative of the secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @AmericanCHR.