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The ‘Iran Spring’ delusion

The democracy junkies are at it again — craving another fantasy revolution in a country they don’t understand

January 14, 2020

12:40 AM

14 January 2020

12:40 AM

What a difference a week makes when it comes to the western media narrative on the Middle East. When countless millions were mourning Gen. Qasem Soleimani in what was possibly the biggest funeral in history, we were told that Iran and its leadership had never been more united. Now, amid smaller protests inside the country against the mistaken downing of a Ukrainian airliner with mostly Iranian students on board, we are told that the Iranian people are rising up en masse to overthrow their hated leaders. Have the famously sophisticated Iranian people really become so absurdly fickle overnight?

There is another explanation for the self-contradictory nonsense we are being told. Whatever happens in the Middle East, there is only one constant. Whenever and wherever popular protests erupt, the democracy junkies that dominate the western media take leave of their collective mind.

This has nothing to do with whether they are on the right or the left, or their allegiance or otherwise to whoever is president at the time. It goes beyond politics. It’s primordial. Their excitement at seeing social media videos of protesters in the region’s streets is akin that of a 13-year-old kid who has just found out how to find porn on his cell phone. Soon enough, of course, that kid will discover that what he saw on the screen little resembles sex in the real world; but he will remain addicted to the unobtainable fantasy despite all the negative personal consequences. The same is true of the media’s democracy junkies. They thought every single uprising in the Middle East during the past decade that sent them into such a crazed stupor — from Libya to Syria, Egypt to Iraq — would end up all smiley faces and picnics in the park. Instead of an Arab Spring, all ended disastrously, and as a result the region is one of the most dangerous in the world for the self-same journalists to work in. Yet still they crave another fix.


Having witnessed first hand on a number of occasions the terrifying consequences of revolutionary turmoil, I do not like sporadic, violent uprisings. It is not just the death and destruction. The reactionary groups who always triumph in the end stand for the exact opposite of the hopes and dreams of the crushed liberals the experts so foolishly place all their bets on at the outset. There is no reason to believe that in Iran this time round there will not be the same outcome as every other time popular protests have engulfed the country since the 1979 revolution. The protesters will be crushed, the hardliners will consolidate their power, the pro-western reformers inside the regime will be further marginalized — and America will be more hated than ever.

If Trump and his hawkish advisers seriously believe with Farsi tweets and madcap diplomacy they can play the Iranian people like a fiddle to further their geopolitical goals, they are even more stupid than is widely recognized. Take the president’s warning to the Iranian leaders not to shoot the street protesters. Where there is no consistency there is only hypocrisy, and that stinks wherever you happen to be living. The Iranian people know as well as we do, for example, that Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power by massacring as many as a thousand unarmed men, women in children who were peacefully camped out in a public square. Egypt is now one of the most brutally repressive Arab states in modern history, right up there with Iraq. Trump did not condemn the massacre, and he subsequently invited Sisi to the White House. He has since referred to Sisi as his ‘favorite dictator’. If an uprising takes place in Saudi Arabia, we can likewise be certain that Trump would give the royals carte blanche to mow down every last protester. The Iranian people know when they are being taken for a ride.

Nor should we be under any illusion that ordinary Iranians, whatever their anger at the regime’s ridiculous failed cover-up regarding the downed airliner, have anything but contempt for Trump. There is no contradiction at all here. His sanctions regime, just tightened, has after all left millions in poverty, without work and with less access to crucial medical supplies. If the history of sanctions tells us anything it is that they impact ordinary people, not the elite, in the targeted countries, who principally blame for their suffering those who impose them. There is no example in history where sanctions have resulted in a people rising up against their leaders. There is therefore no reason at all to believe that anger at the Iranian regime’s incompetence and corruption will translate into support for the Trump administration. Even during the rioting last year against fuel price hikes, opinion polls showed that while there was widespread anger at the weak economy and government corruption, much larger majorities stated that they did not support regime change or calls to replace the theocratic democratic system with another one.

We see how all this plays out in parliamentary elections to take place in Iran later this year, and here is the final irony in all of this. As I have previously pointed out in The Spectator, Iran is — by a clear mile ’ the most democratic country in the Middle East, with the freest press and with a constitution that for decades has protected the Jewish, Christian and other religious minorities. The democratic system has its flaws, but so do ours, and the bottom line is that insisting that a people who speak a different language, have a distinct cultural history and follow a different religion should have no loftier ambition than to be just like us is surely the height of hubris.

Americans who truly care about ordinary Iranians should call for an immediate end to the wicked sanctions regime — and learn to mind their own business on the question of what system of governance the Iranians choose to live under.


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