The Islamic Republic's Forty-Year Rule
10 February 2019
The Islamic Republic marks its forty-year anniversary this February, 2019. One prominent cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, recently claimed that Iran has made more progress in the last forty years than it has in the last four hundred. Yazdi’s claim certainly depends on the definition of progress. Throughout the last four decades, the Islamic Republic’s initiatives have resulted in environmental crisis, economic collapse, high youth unemployment, a widespread drug epidemic, misappropriation of Iran’s natural wealth, and the title of the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror. While regime elites might see the fruits of their labor as “progress,” Iranians suffering from their regime’s rule cannot say the same.
Since its inception, the Islamic Republic has aimed to turn Iran from a nation into a cause. It has distorted Iranian history, proscribed traditional elements of Iranian culture, and devoted its energies to spreading its revolutionary brand of hate throughout the region. And all of this at the expense of real and measurable progress for the Iranian people.
Economic performance alone proves that the Islamic Republic has hindered Iran’s growth and brought it many years behind its peers. According to a recent Atlantic Council study, Iran’s GDP in 1977 was 26% larger than Turkey’s and 65% larger than South Korea’s. In 2017, Turkey’s GDP became nearly 2.5 times that of Iran’s and South Korea’s grew to 7.2 times larger than Iran’s. Today, the IMF reports that even the UAE boasts a higher GDP at current prices. In sum, Iran’s economy has drastically underperformed and fallen behind competitors both within and without the region. If this is not convincing, consider Iran’s GDP ranking before and after the revolution. According to the World Bank, in 1977 Iran was the 18th largest economy in the world, Turkey ranked the 20th largest, and South Korea the 28th. By 2017, Iran had slipped to number 28, Turkey had risen to number 18, and South Korea had jumped to number 13. This economic record is appalling given Iran’s massive natural resources and human capital.
Make no mistake – Iran’s regime is to blame for Iran’s dismal economy. Prior to the revolution, the international community competed for investment opportunities inside Iran and international firms the world over established extensive links inside Iran. But today, Iran is seen as a market to be avoided. For this reason, Zarif and other regime cronies plead for attention from the international business community. Disinterest in investing in Iran is not surprising given Iran’s ranking as the most corrupt country in the region according to Transparency International.
Perhaps more unsettling than the suffering of Iranians in the face of a steadily-tanking economy is the elites’ contempt for the working class. Regime elites and their children shamelessly display their total hatred for Iranians by flaunting their ill-gotten wealth on platforms such as Luxagram and accounts such as “Rich Kids of Tehran.” What happened to a revolution devoted to serving the interests of the downtrodden? Iranians feel betrayed. Their rulers have created a system that informally institutionalizes corruption and theft. But according to some aghazadehs, elites simply have good genes and Iranians are not entitled to a better standard of living. This sentiment is why Iranians have lost any trust in their rulers.
Iran’s economic collapse under the Islamic Republic has been devastating. Yet many who participated in the revolution looked beyond its potential impact on the economy – they were more interested in “progress” on social and civil liberties. Their efforts brought “progress” indeed. Today, the regime prohibits the working class from forming unions to represent their labor rights. It institutionalizes gender apartheid, preventing women from participating as they wish in society. And it restricts free access to social media platforms and websites, blocking voices that challenge its totalitarian rule. In many ways, Iran under the current regime has become a country of castes. While ethnic and religious minorities as well as women were treated equally under the law prior to the revolution, they now suffer from institutionalized discrimination. Tragically, many Iranians are prisoners in their own country.
As many other authoritarian regimes, the Islamic Republic rules in fear of its people. Such a regime cannot serve the best interests of the Iranian people. And a regime devoted to its own survival rather than that of its people cannot be reformed. As such, the Iranian people can only bring an end to their repressive regime through the peaceful transition to its successor.
Recent developments prove that Iranians very well realize this and are on a path towards reclaiming Iran. National Union for Democracy in Iran advocates for a mass and sustained civil disobedience campaign to precede a national referendum on establishing a secular democracy. We recognize that all segments of Iranian society should play a role in bringing Iran to a democratic future. And we believe that by working together, rather than against each other, we can achieve our common goal sooner, before it is too late.
Before the revolution, the late shah stated: “If I leave, Iran will go down. If Iran goes down, the Middle East will go down. If the Middle East goes down, the world will suffer.” Unfortunately, Iranians and their friends around the world did not recognize the prescience of this comment. Rather, they blindly believed in the dream of an Islamic Republic – a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare. But Iranians should be hopeful – their nightmare will soon end and they will reclaim Iran.
Dr. Saeed Ganji