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.
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.
Within the economic domain, foreign governments could:
8. Forbid giving loans to oppressive regimes and prevent banks and other financial institutions from doing so of their own accord.
9. Forbid banks and financial firms from managing the money of leaders of oppressive regimes.
10. Locate and trace the wealth of corrupt leaders and their associates (in international finance) and hold it only in order so that it may be returned to the people of these countries.
11. Compel banks and other financial organizations to make all of their financial arrangements with such countries transparent, thus preventing problems such as rentierism, as well as secret arms deals.
12. Make transparent the price of goods that are sold to such countries in order to both prevent rentierism and decrease the level of poverty, which further enhances the possibility of resistance (avoiding, for example, situations such as that in Iran, where imported goods are often sold to people at a minimum of three times the actual price).
13. Fight international drug trafficking, which is a primary source of income for repressive governments (the Iranian government is a prime example of this practice), which will also benefit the whole of humanity.
14. Make all oil dealings transparent, using existing technology to show how much oil is sold, how much is sold underhandedly, and how much of this money finds its way into the bank accounts of a regime’s leaders, which matters as the budgets of dictatorial regimes are independent from their societies.
As we can see, implementing such policies does not require military intervention or economic threat. It also does not demand much financial expenditure. But their effects on the process of democratization in countries where people are struggling against dictatorial regimes have the potential to be immense. If the West is sincere in its claim of supporting democratic movements in other countries, these are policies it could implement.
Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He now lives in exile in Paris.