There is no lack of poverty-stricken countries in this world – India, Bangladesh, Egypt and Nigeria, for example, come to mind - but despite the fact that millions of destitute people live in dire poverty in so many parts of the earth, there are no street riots like the ones flooding Iranian cities this past week.
What, then, brought the Iranian people out to the streets, setting police stations ablaze and shouting "Death to the dictator," while in other just as impoverished countries, tranquility reigns?
The difference lies in the real factor bringing the people out to the streets. It is not poverty, but keen disappointment at the gulf between the level of their expectations and the reality of their lives. A poor society that has no hope of improving its economic situation puts its energies into trying to survive and its members's time is taken up with work that allows for that bare subsistence. It Iran, expectations of improvement mushroomed after the nuclear deal signed two years ago. There were declarations to the effect that economic sanctions would be lifted and that 150 billion dollars in cash were to be handed over to the Ayatollahs by the Obama administration.
Two years have passed since that signing, years of unrealistic fantasies about an economic change for the better that Iranians still hope to see. Meanwhile, however, the economic reality is surprisingly similar to the one that existed before the agreement. Contracts signed with European countries were featured prominently in the newspapers, but are being carried out, if at all, extremely slowly. European companies are afraid to do business with Iran as long as America has not removed its sanctions against the Ayatollahs.
Government corruption, a well-established fact of Iranian life, has taken part of the money received from the nuclear deal, but most of the cash Obama sent to the country was wasted on the wars Iran is waging in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Consequently, the inflated promises made by the government have not been realized and the public's disappointment burst out into the streets in the form of cries for "Death to the dictator" – that is, Khamenei.
How ironic that Barack Obama, who tried with all his might to promote the nuclear deal and support the Ayatollahs' regime in every way possible, is the reason for the inflated expectations of the Iranian public. Those expectations are so high that the only possible outcome is their shattering on the rocks of the dire economic reality. That is why the riots flooding Iran's cities should be named for him, as this article has taken the initiative in doing.
The important questions
People all over the world watching what is happening in iran are asking themselves where the situation is heading. Are the riots going to grow to the point where they topple the government? The answer to that question is straightforward – only a certified prophet can tell the future, while commentators can only point out the factors that have a part in creating that future. Not being a prophet, I cannot predict the outcome of the current riots, but – in my humble opinion – the factors that will be of significance in deciding Iran's future can be spelled out in the following questions;
a. Internal factors
1. How much brutality is the regime willing to engage in on the streets so as to end the riots?
2 .Are the protestors willing to sacrifice lives, be injured and arrested in order to achieve their goals?
3. What is the extent of the rioters' ability to bring other sectors out to demonstrate – students, professionals, merchants?
4. How loyal are the security forces to the current regime – police, Basij, Army, Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence Services – those who are expected to quell the riots? This is an e specially crucial question in light of reports about policemen who 'crossed the line' and expressed support for the rioters.
5. What is the level of unity and ideological cohesion among those running the country? There are reports of a strong difference of opinion between Khamenei, who wants to deal with the rioters with a heavy hand and President Rouhani, who wants to do the opposite.
6. What has to happen in the streets for the first Ayatollahs to board the first flight out of the country in order to escape the wrath of the masses?
b. The International arena
7. What is going to be the international response to what is happening in Iran?
8. Will President Trump settle for verbal support and tweets or is he, at some point, going to threaten the rulers of Iran with economic measures and military actions?
9. What has to happen in Iran for Trump to weigh using US armed forces against the Iranian regime and its defense forces?
10. When and under what conditions will Europe's leaders begin threatening the Iranian regime?
11. Will the Security Council deal with the Iran issue? If so, using which paragraph in the UN Charter – paragraph 6, which is relatively mild or paragraph 7 which allows activating an international force?
12. What will Russia and China's positions be at the UN Security Council debates? Will they veto any decisions against the Iranian regime or will they vote for decisions against the Iranian rulers?
These questions are tied up with one another and each answer influences the rest., but since he answer to each question is as yet unclear, it is difficult to anticipate developments in Iran. The uncertainty about what really is going on in that vast land enables the rampant dissemination of "fake news" and there is no way of knowing what really is happening, in the streets of Iran as well as in international corridors. Social networks are full of information, but some of it is psychological warfare planted by one side against the other.
The future can have any of the following in store
1. Things can go back to the way they were: The regime survives because it uses its superior strength against the masses on the streets, the demonstrators tire of the struggle and go back to their unhappy lives. Khamenei,Rouhani and their cohorts launch balloons of empty promises into the air, the depressed and exhausted public continues its miserable life and waits for the next opportunity.
2. The regime collapses and a group of exiled anti-Islamist politicians returns to Iran and assumes responsibility for the country: Iran stays united, but the Arabs in Achwaz, the Baouch and the Kurds, each in their own region, demand independence. The new regime agrees to wide-ranging autonomy for these groups and puts an end to their ongoing struggles against the central government. The new leaders work to have Iran rejoin the family of nations, Iran renews diplomatic relations with Israel, the US and Europe.
3. The regime collapses, the current leader flee in order to keep their heads on their shoulders: Iran breaks up into smaller states that reflect its ethnic makeup. Persians, Azers, Arabs, Kurds, Baluch, Lur, Qashkai and others, achieve statehood on the lines of what has happened to Iran's northern neighbor. The USSR was divided into individual states along ethnic lines and in each new state, the local elite rose to run each country in a fairly organized fashion.
4. The regime declares war against the Saudis and other outsiders: The last few days have had the Iranian leaders blaming "outside interests," a thinly veiled accusation aimed at the Saudis, the US and Israel, for heating up the area.. The Iranian masses are not buying this excuse and realize quite well that the regime is attempting to draw a picture of external plots against the country in order to convince the public to cease protesting and unite to protect their country from outside threats. If the Iranian regime ever realizes that its way of running the country is going to have to end, it may drag all those who rejoice in its downfall into an inferno. The regime might strike the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, it might tell the Hezbollah to launch a rocket attack against Israel as Saddam Hussein did in 2003. The last vestiges of the regime might even damage Iran's oil fields to keep them out the hands of the opposition.
The world must be prepared for the fourth scenario, although the probability of its occurrence is low, because it is a very dangerous possibility which can plunge the entire world into a severe energy crisis. Iran could decide to exact revenge for Saudi involvement in the Yemeni, Syrian and Iraqi wars and the "Iranian Spring" (according to the Ayatollahs' version of events) by bombing the Saudi oil fields. If the Saudis are attacked, Mahmoud ben Salman will want to do the same to the Iranian gas and oil fields. If this scenario comes to pass, the price of gas and oil will go off the charts for a while.
The situation is Iran is unclear and extremely volatile. Even if the regime survives the riots, the next round of street violence is only a matter of time. There will be an outburst every few years until the Ayatollah's regime collapses entirely. This is the lot of every dictatorial regime – history is replete with examples such as Nazi Germany and the USSR. Sooner or later, a regime lacking legitimacy from its citizens and whose existence is based on the employment of power against its own countrymen, is destined to fall.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky.