Libya and Iran: Oil, Blood and the absence of Human Rights

by Arash Falasiri

When peoples’ uprising for democracy in Tunisia and Egypt succeeded, the hope for new order in the Middle East was born. The peoples’ resistance around the region shows that this hope is gaining strength. In Libya and Iran, however, the states’ reactions suggest that the path towards democracy will not be easy for the protestors. While what happened in Tunisia and Egypt was not, by any means, a low cast achievement, brutal response by some parts of the Libyan Army and the Revolutionary Guard in Iran demonstrate the brutal characteristics of these fundamentalists states.

Although the gestures of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar al-Gaddafi and Ali Khamenei have many similarities, a close scrutiny sheds light on crucial differences between them. While both Tunisia and Egypt are closer to the west and they are not known as the ideological-Islamic states, Libya and Iran claim that they are completely independent and display their anti-western features. Access to huge fossil fuel resources, however, is what crucially differentiates Libya and Iran from Egypt and Tunisia. Their economic independence allows Libya and Iran to demonstrate their vast cruelty against people’s demand for freedom and their apathy towards international laws. Both countries share many similar ambitions. The nuclear program in Iran started after Libya attempted to start their own. Like Libya in the past, Iran is now facing the United Nation’s sanctions. Perhaps a brief analysis between Egypt and Iran’s cases in regard to their peoples’ protests might shed lights to the differences between them.

While Iran’s government has faced crisis of legitimacy since last presidential election in June 2009 and the tension between the civil society and the state is serious, most Iranians, including opposition leaders, foresee a long struggle before democracy is achieved. On one hand, there are similarities between Mubarak’s tactic to suppress protestors and that of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. On the other hand, the Egyptian success in less than a month as opposed to Iranian resistance since 2009 without a significant outcome is evident of the differences between these two cases.

Although the Iranian government claims that the number of people who were killed during the past twenty months, including the three recently killed protestors in February, has reached forty four, the opposition websites and Human Rights Watch have challenged this number. According to Amnesty International Iran has the highest rate of execution as well as the highest number of detained journalists; surpassing even China. Meanwhile the Iranian government declared last week that forty eight prisons are under construction throughout the country.

The oil revenue plays a crucial role in allowing the Iranian Islamic regime to completely ignore the people’s demands. This is the same narrative for most of the dictators in the region, like Gaddafi, who do not need tax revenue and therefore have no desire to develop a mutual relationship with the society. Although Mubarak acted in the same way, the Egyptian Army needs to be supported financially by the West. This is clearly not the case for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Libyan Army. Therefore, they react brutally, suppress public demands and easily expel foreign journalists from the countries. In other words, at least in Iran, the nature of the Revolutionary Guard is different from the Egyptian Army. Its essential mission, as the Supreme Leader clearly declared, is to save the Islamic Revolution regardless of any costs. This is one of the main reasons for Iran opposition leaders to claim that the path to democracy will take longer than that of Egypt.

Although the Revolutionary Guard has always played a significant role throughout the last three decades, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration is known for the total occupation of all socio-political sectors by this militia phenomenon. Ahmadinejad and almost all ministers of his cabinet are members of the Revolutionary Guard, and this gives evidence, as the opposition argues, that Iran is shifting from a theocratic dictatorship to a military one. This change has occurred through strong support from the Supreme Leader whose position and legitimacy have faced enormous criticism during the last few months. Since the emergence of social disobedience and the Green Movement, in June 2009, the Islamic regime increased the budget of the Revolutionary Guards and the paramilitia force by two hundred percent.

If the above elements are to be conceived as the interior conditions that differentiate the events in Egypt and Iran, the United Nations’ sanctions on Iran should be seen as the exterior factors. These sanctions on the Islamic regime’s nuclear ambitions have situated the Iranian civil society in a very fragile position and even have come to the help of the regime’s decision makers. Maintenance of its nuclear ambitions is possible for the Islamic regime since Iran has access to the second large resources of gas and third large oil resources in the world.

On the contrary to what the western leaders claim, since these sanctions do not target the real power in Iran – the Supreme Leader and decision makers – their outcomes cause more pressure on people’s ordinary lives and produce economic difficulties within the civil society. Furthermore, Islamic regime’s infringe of human rights has never been seriously discussed by western leaders. These deficiencies have been suggested and articulated by both activists and experts but are ignored thus far by western leaders. Interestingly, the ideological state apparatus of the regime has achieved a unique situation to show its anti-western propaganda even more convincingly to it supporters. At the same time, opposition movement suffers both from inside suppression and serious ignorance from outside. These are the major differences in the case of Iran and Egypt. However, these differences do not imply that what happened in Tunisia and Egypt will not occur in Iran again.

During the last two decades, the Reformist Movement was followed by the Student Movement, but both failed to achieve democratic values as a result of the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard’s extremely repressive reactions. The Green Movement seems to have more potential to bridge between those failed experiences and its democratic goals. While this movement is more widespread and it includes different social stratums, its insistence on democratic values is the evidence of its democracy-seeking nature. However, such the achievement of democratic values requires that both Iran’s civil society and the rest of the world co-operate in a coherent manner. This is clearly the case for Libyan oppositions as well.

Mubarak, like the Shah in 1979, was willing to stay power as long as possible in power but both interior and exterior situations forced him to accept the reality and thus to step down. So far, this has been neither the case in Islamic Iran nor in Libya. Although the differences between Iran and Libya are significant, in regards to their suppression of oppositions and ignorance of international concerns, they are very similar. Perhaps it is necessary for these two sides, domestic and international oppositions, to converge and force the fundamentalists of the region into a more fragile condition.

This will not happen if the remaining missing link fails to be realized; that is the situation of human rights. With regards to the UN’s concerns about Iran and Libya, the situation of human rights in both countries is a high priority. As long as the rest of the world’s economy continue to rely on the Middle East’s oil and the human right violations are not addressed, the situation will remain the same. The Middle East is not just a source of oil, it is the stage for the realization of many people’s dreams and hopes.

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