Iran is currently witnessing political unrest for the second time in two years. The first time two years ago when violent political unrest broke out in Teheran it was being attributed as being instigated by American agencies. At that time the Arab World was not in a state of political upheaval as recently witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt and now spreading all over the Arab World. The present political unrest in Iran may have been still egged on by American agencies but the coincident timings of its occurrence with the wider unrest in the Arab World suggests that this time Iran’s political unrest is taking place in the wider context of political upheaval in the entire Middle East.
Iran was the first major Middle East nation in which a cataclysmic political revolution took place, namely, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which swept away the United States perpetuated and propped- up regime of the much hated Shah of Iran. He had to flee Iran and had to take refuge in Egypt. Since 1979, Iran has been ruled by the Muslim Shia sect religious clergy of Ayatollahs. Fearing US military intervention all along in the last 30 years, the Ayatollahs ruled Iran with an iron hand. In the Presidential elections the winning President was the candidate who enjoyed the confidence of the Supreme Ayatollah.
Also fearing a United States intervention, Iran embarked on a nuclear program which the West and the United States fear is headed towards acquisition of nuclear weapons. The United States and the West fear that with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, the entire Middle East would be engulfed in a nuclear weapons race with countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey leading the list.
Iran today for all practical purposes is a regional power to contend with its oil revenues, large population base and sizeable Armed Forces backed by indigenous defense production capabilities. This makes the regional power tussle in the Middle East complicated as Iran is a no-Arab Shia Muslim theocratic State as compared to the predominant Sunni regimes of the Arab World.
Iran like Egypt can be said to have a sizeable educated middle class community which is politically conscious and now politically volatile also. Like in the Arab World the Iranian masses especially in the urban areas seem to be politically tired of the present political system in existence for the last 30 years. There seems to be a yearning for political freedoms and free democracy unfettered by the religious clergy and hence the second round of political upheaval currently ongoing.
However unlike Egypt and Tunisia where the Army was a passive spectator and probably in sympathy too, the same cannot be said of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its associated militias. So any political unrest in Iran can be expected to be put down strongly by these instruments of State.
Such a State response by Iran’s present ruling establishment carries the dangers of an internal implosion in Iran and unlike Egypt could invite external inspiration and covert assistance from Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States. All these three nations are opposed to emergence of Iran as a regional power and that too with nuclear weapons capabilities.
In that scenario the ruling establishment in Iran would not be silent spectators and can resort to strategies of creating counter-pressure points in Arab countries closely allied with the United States and having large Shi Muslim majorities in their population.
Peace and stability in the Middle East does not presently provide any optimistic prospects.