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Future of Iran, ramifications for global politics

At its 20th anniversary, this year’s Halki International Seminar, which provides brainstorming exercises for officials, academics and journalists amid a not so stormy, on the contrary pleasant, atmosphere of a small island in the Aegean, took place shortly after the elections in Iran.

As the participants arrived at the Halki Seminary, the storm in Iran had not ceased completely, hence the discussion on the future of this country as well as the ramifications for regional and international politics was one of the hottest topics on the agenda at the three-day seminar. To start with, the statement of a European official who said the West did not know much about Iran was not contested at all. As one observer put it, until now the threat perception of Iran has been driven by the inability to read Iran. The difficulty of reading Iran to this day constitutes a major challenge to understanding the country and devise strategies accordingly. Operating from this fact, experts on the panel about Iran could only speculate about possible scenarios and were unable to offer a clear indication of which one would be the likely outcome.

The worse scenario, according to scholars, is the Tiananmen Square scenario, whereby protests are suppressed by violence and the regime becomes more aggressive with a defensive reflex. This would postpone reconciliation between Iran and the United States, since even if US president Obama would like to continue its engagement policy; he would be stopped by Congress. In fact Obama has currently become under fire by the Republicans for being not outspoken enough on the tension in Iran.

One possible scenario is the gradual frustration of the supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, whereas another one is the exact opposite; what an American scholar called the beginning of a clean revolution. According to that scenario, repression will breed more opposition, leading to regime change.

A healthy guess for what to expect next obviously requires an understanding of what exactly happened during and after the elections. But no clear-cut answers were provided on why the regime panicked against Mousavi and his allies given the fact that they themselves were the product of the same system.

One observer said the advent of Mousavi to power would have inevitably bring more pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program, whereas in the eyes of a journalist from the region who is an expert on Middle Eastern issues, the current situation testifies to a deeper problem. Velayet-e faqih, the theological underpinning of the Iranian revolution introduced by Khomeini is being challenged. In other words, the theocracy wherein senior Islamic jurists exercise authority is contested. In concrete terms it is the power, authority, rule and in fact legitimacy of the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, questioned. And if the "the principle of the supremacy of the jurisprudent is challenged seriously, than this will be felt in almost every corner of the Middle East," according to the journalist with close ties to Iran.

Obviously will all the uncertainties and lack of healthy information about the current developments in Iran it becomes quiet difficult to foresee what will happen to Obama’s engagement policy with Iran. According to an American scholar, Obama genuinely wants dialogue with Iran, but the current developments have put a pause. Obama’s administration will have to endorse a wait and see policy, and its future steps towards this country will basically depend on how the situation will evolve.

Yet whether Khamanei and Ahmadinejad maintain their power or loose it gradually, two challenges will remain the same on the path for reconciling with Iran. The first one is the nuclear program. There is a general consensus among Iranians and even among dissidents that the country’s nuclear program should continue. Although this view was challenged during the discussion with the argument that there is however a debate among Iranians on what cost to pay to go ahead with the program, the fact remains that it will be simply to na?ve to expect any government even if headed by moderates to give up nuclear activities.

The other challenge, voiced by another expert would be Iran’s request to be recognized as a regional power. But this is what exactly worries the states in the Gulf. The nightmare scenario for them is a grand bargain between America and Iran at their expense. Hence as long as US will feel obliged to maintain its security guaranties to the Gulf states and its quarter and a million soldiers in an area from Oman to Afghanistan, Iran’s request to be recognized as a regional power will prove to be a difficult one to accommodate.