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The Other Iran and the Regional-Civil Binary

The Other Iran and the Regional-Civil Binary

Wednesday, 15 January, 2020 - 10:00

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” said Charles Dickens as he proceeded to list the binary opposites at the time of the French Revolution.


This excerpt from his novel A Tale of Two Cities can be used despite what the British author intended; to characterize the majority of revolutions throughout history. At least before 1989, most of those extraordinary epics involved civil and regional wars, some stymied by revolutions while others stymied revolutions, either at the time or after a while. 


In our region, the specter of the American-Iranian conflict hangs over the two ongoing Iraqi and Lebanese revolutions. This specter feeds on civil and sectarian fragmentation in both societies. When the regional and the civil are complementary, the counter-revolution appears to have local sources, precisely like the revolution — a legitimacy confronting another legitimacy. 


This is precisely what happened to the first wave of Arab revolutions, especially in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The regional and the civil consolidated, not as extensions of the revolution or its subsidiary, but as its opposite and assassin. 


This wringing of Iraq today between Tehran and Washington is the best example of this tendency.


Alternatively: In confronting the peacefulness of both of these revolutions, the violence of this regional conflict is trying to invoke the violence that sectarian conflict necessarily entails, it is nurturing and embracing it. The first, the peaceful- following in the footsteps of the 2011 revolutionary wave- wants to free the region from the “Arab exceptionalism”. The second, the violent- following in the footsteps of the repression that confronted those revolutions- wants the contrary.


Let us take note, that neither of the two regional poles is Napoleonic, concerned with spreading emancipatory values in the regions and countries that it extends to, or even desires to do so. On the one hand, Khomeinist Iran is an explicit enemy of revolutions, dubbing them conspiracies, while the same revolutions run up against the political map that was drawn by Iranian expansion. The United States, on the other hand, is not against revolutions in the same sense that Iran is, but under Trump and Obama before him, it is content with not intervening except in defending US interests and American lives. The unstable relationship between Washington and the Kurds is a good example of this.


This standpoint, unfortunately, is popular in the US and the West in general. Take a look at, for example, the media coverage of Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan to Lebanon that has far exceeded that of the Iraqi and Lebanese revolutions.


Therefore, we are not exaggerating when we say that neutralizing both countries in the regional conflict is one of the conditions for limiting the sectarian dimension and its effectivity, and consequently, is one of the most important conditions for this promised change.


In these two countries, particularly, modern history has recorded more than one attempt to overcome the sectarian in the state. These attempts were frustrated by the regional that thwarted changed: With King Faisal I in the thirties in Iraq, then Abd al-Karim Qasim in the fifties and sixties, and Fuad Chehab after the miniature civil war of 1958 in Lebanon.


Awareness of this makes one afraid of the complementarity between the civil and the regional. This explains the mighty millions in Iraq a few days ago who rejected both Iranian and American guardianships. It was accompanied by the words of Ayatollah al-Sistani that the country should be ruled by its people and not the West on its behalf. This Baghdadi standpoint found its translation in Karbala, where two protesters were killed, and ten were injured before they set fire to the Badr Organization office, one of the militias under the Popular Mobilization Forces, and later broke into the governorate building.


What was and still is astonishing, is that this happened after Qassem Soleimani’s death was predicted to be the end of the Iraqi revolution.


Simultaneously, without being blackmailed by Soleimani’s death and in a “No voice is louder than the voice of battle against the US” ambiance, the Lebanese revolution retrieved the heat it had in its first days, and the revolutionary style returned to the streets of Beirut.


This is no doubt a difficult task, and if the regional - civil binary succeeded, the rebels would fail. The new factor is once again Tehran. As a result of this factor, one can legitimately doubt the luck of this binary. Those brave young Iranians decided not to participate in Soleimani’s funeral, and instead participate in the ceremonies honoring the victims in the civilian aircraft who were killed in the name of avenging Soleimani. They ripped apart photos of the military leader and demanded that the spiritual and political leader leaves. They demanded death to the “dictator” and the idea of “al-Wali al-Faqih”. They also called the Revolutionary Guard Corps ISIS. If this wave escalates at the heart of the Empire, the role of the “regional” will weaken along with its capacity to summon the civil in the Empire’s periphery. If that happens, then in Charles Dickens’s words, we can say that “the best of times” could beat its “worst”.


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