As tensions build in Iran over the result of the presidential election Friday between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformist challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, a massive outpouring reminiscent of the Islamic Revolution three decades ago is taking place on the streets of Tehran.
But does this outpouring truly reflect Iranian society as a whole?
“Absolutely,” says Dr. Walid Phares, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy in Washington as well as the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.”
“If you look at the actual demonstrators’ affiliation –– such as youth, women, and other representative social bodies –– you’d see that most of Iran’s civil society is represented,” Phares tells Newsmax.TV.
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Phares says if demonstrations succeed in Tehran, they will work in any other city in that country and could set off a domino effect. That, he explains, was the case in Beirut, Lebanon in 2005.
“Democratic uprisings –– even democratic revolutions –– always begin in the capital,” he says.
“The capital is where all the representative institutions are concentrated. The Cedars Revolution began in Beirut, and then everything shifted after that.” Phares notes that was also the case at the end of the Soviet Union, when democratic movements began to challenge institutions of the regime in capital cities throughout Eastern and Central Europe.
“That is what is happening now in Iran.”
Phares says that at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter who won the Iran election.
“It does matter if there was no democratic uprising,” he says.
“Had it been a swift passage of power between Ahmadinejad and one of the candidates without this explosion of democracy, then it would matter because real foreign policy and national security power is in the hands of the dictatorship of [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and the president of Iran. In this case, it matters because Ahmadinejad is going to be more radical.”
Phares tells Newsmax that if Mousavi wins the re-count currently underway in selective parts of Iran, which is very difficult to imagine, it will mean that the Iranian regime has been weakened. Mousavi maintains he won Friday's balloting and has demanded the government annul Ahmadinejad's victory and conduct a new election. But Phares says the Iranian regime won’t accept that outcome.
He does, however say the demonstrations that are taking place in Tehran show Iran now has a strong, if not official, democratic opposition.
“These protests mean a lot,” he says, “especially because now the international community and international media has shown those pictures; but more important, because young people and human rights groups now, in fact, are organizing in Iran.”
Phares says civilian use of the Internet social networking tools Facebook and Twitter, which eventually were shut down just before the election, demonstrate the lengths civilians will go to show their dissatisfaction with the Iranian government.
“The regime understands the longing of Iran’s civil society to democracy,” Phares says.
“The environment is changing, the neighborhood is changing. In Iraq –– although not perfect –– democracy there has created 120 political parties, multiple elections, and the debate is open. To the east of Iran and Afghanistan, the Taliban are gone and there is also a democracy rising: women are coming to power in Lebanon, the Cedars Revolution, all of that tells the regime in Iran that at least the citizens in Iran can choose, although from a basket that has been determined by the regime.”
But there is another dimension, Phares says.
“Iran’s ayatollahs know by the end of the year, or early next year, the international community is going to ask them again about the nuclear weapons. Khamenei, at least, wants to tell the world that [Iran has] produced a democratically elected president, and the Europeans cannot disarm another democracy. That was the plan of Ahmadinejad, and the plan of the leadership in Iran. “Unfortunately for them, they were surprised the people in Iran –– at least the majority of civil society –– don’t see eye to eye with their plans.”
Phares says the Obama administration’s wait and see approach of not getting involved in the election aftermath contradicts the long-standing U.S. position on issues of democracy and human rights.
“There should be no hesitation. That’s what we do: we raise these issues. When the Soviet Union was suppressing Eastern Europe, we were standing by the dissidents; [we stood] by the side of the labor union in Dansk, Poland; we stood by the dissidents in the Czech Republic and elsewhere; we were very firm in declaring our rejection to the apartheid regime.
“These were not internal issues as the administration is now portraying [them to be]. This is not an issue of internal sovereignty. These are international values issues. We don’t have to intervene, physically, in those matters, but at least we have to send the right message to civil society in Iran that we are with [them] and we will continue to be [them] until democracy flourishes inside that country.”
Phares concludes by saying if the Obama administration wants to pursue a dialogue with Iran, they can do it anyway, anytime.
“The other side will always want to sit down and talk because the other side will always want to gain time. But, what is now new, and you can not bypass this, is the fact that you have a new player in Iran: the people –– the opposition.”
Phares says the best advice he could offer to the administration is to open up to both sides.
“Talk with the opposition and try to dialogue with the regime,” he recommends. “The Obama administration, and the U.S. Congress, as well, should get involved in this. That would be the best pressure the U.S. government could offer so that the Ahmadinejad government would begin feeling pressure [not only] from the outside, but also from the inside of their own society.”
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