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Iran’s Islamic regime is no model to follow

ICC Note:

Is Iran better off today, thirty years after the establishment of an Islamic Republic, than it was before the overthrow of the Shah in 1979? The Islamic Revolution inspired many Arabs to follow in Iran’s footsteps. However, with extremism increasing and totalitarian oppression spreading, many are realizing that Islam is not the answer.

By Raja Kamal

11/17/2009 Iran (The Daily Star) – In 1979, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown and replaced by an Islamic Republic basing much of its governance practices on its interpretation of Islam. Today, 30 years later, the answer to a basic question is overdue: Did the theocracy deliver a better life for the Iranian people? The answer is a resounding no. Iran is far worse off today – an argument supported by the continuing political unrest and economic contraction associated in many ways with the country’s ongoing brain drain.

The regime in Tehran is showing signs of both political and economic fatigue.

According to Iranian government sources, the unemployment rate in the Islamic Republic is 12.5 percent. However, international economists believe the real rate of unemployment to be twice as large. Politically, the recent June presidential election brought to light the deep dissatisfaction of the Iranian population, which was expressed in the streets of Tehran. Even if the current regime survives, it is wounded and appears to be significantly weaker. If the Islamic Republic is a product introduced in 1979, its shelf-life is expiring. Iran’s revolution has depleted the human and natural resources of the nation.

Many in the Arab world, moved by the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power in 1979, came to regard Islam as the answer, and solution, to their state of decline. Since Arab secular nationalist regimes were unable to bring political stability and economic prosperity to a region falling behind – proponents of this view believed – some sort of Islamic governance might achieve both. Politically and militarily, secular Arab leaders failed to defeat Israel. Economically they failed to invigorate and launch an economic renaissance that would employ their increasingly younger populations.

Political Islam, which Iran’s revolution helped push forward and empower regionally, has gained both in the Middle East and beyond. On most Arab streets, the veil has become the custom rather than the exception. Bearded men – a signal of Islamic observance – are increasingly frequent. Islamic political parties have gained influence throughout the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has become more vocal in Egypt; Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria, among others, have also seen an increase in Islamic organizations and political movements. In Lebanon, Hizbullah has become a powerful political movement. In Gaza, Hamas has forcibly taken over control of the territory – in a Palestinian society hitherto known for the strength of its secular impulses.

The failure of the Iranian regime to provide improvements to its own people should be an eye-opener to those Arabs hoping to emulate the Iranian model. The establishment of Islamic regimes in other nations may well prove as devastating as Iran’s experience. Substantial brain drains will provoke further economic contractions. There is a danger that Christians – who make up an important sector of the population in many Arab countries – would be among the first to leave. Vital and educated human resources would have little problem emigrating and integrating into the global economy.

The Arab world is a very complex neighborhood, with different sets of challenges that each country must face individually. Yet, all countries share the need to reform their markets and educational systems. Three valuable decades have been wasted since the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran; the region cannot afford another such period. Political Islam is not the answer. Skeptics should look at Iran and take note. It is not a pretty picture.

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