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Global Viewpoint

How to overthrow Iran's regime without war or sanctions

Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, warns that military intervention and economic sanctions only strengthen Iran’s regime, whose grip on power depends on maintaining a crisis. He offers 14 ways to hasten democratization in Islamic countries.

By Abolhassan Bani-Sadr / November 9, 2011


It seems the “success” of the Libyan campaign has again whetted the appetite of Western powers to intervene more aggressively in Iranian affairs. However, the threat of military intervention and the use of economic sanctions that bring suffering to ordinary Iranians only strengthens the grip of Iran’s mafia regime on its power.

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Any leader who implicitly or explicitly advocates such policies therefore, in effect, plays into the hands of a fragile regime that can only sustain itself through keeping the country in a state of permanent crisis. So the question is, how might outside governments play an effective role in helping Iranians, and in general the people in Islamic countries, to overthrow the regime and secure a democratic outcome without resorting to such policies?

As we all know, democracy is a culture that develops in part through the struggle to accomplish it. This means not only that it cannot be imposed or imported, but also that external intervention can undermine its development. However, as the Iranian regime cannot sustain itself without its relations with outside powers, there are certain things that can be done to undermine these relations and enable the development of democratic processes within Iran. Here are some pointed suggestions for what can be done to hasten the process of democratization of Iran and other Islamic countries.

In the political and military domain, foreign governments could:

1. Withdraw their recognition of the oppressive regime, or at least decrease it to the level of a consular relation.

2. Withdraw their recognition of the opposition groups and (unlike the situation in Libya) resist providing them with political, financial, propaganda, and military support – for by creating alternatives in their pocket, they deprive the development of the independent alternatives that are necessary for democratic process.

3. Abandon policies of supporting one faction of the regime against another – which, in the case of Iran, the West has systematically done by lending support to pragmatists or moderates.

4. Avoid the use of military threat in their policies, and desist from military invasion, as a society that feels itself to be under such a threat will not mobilize against its regime, regardless of the extent of opposition.

5. Avoid supporting and recruiting armed groups in military, political, financial, or propaganda terms.

6. Treat all dictatorships equally irrespective of “national interest”; for if dictatorship is bad, then it is bad in all countries, and to maintain a double standard in this regard breeds pessimism in societies where people are struggling for democracy.

7. Avoid selling arms to oppressive regimes, especially the sort that can be used in repressing protest.

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