Regime change in Iran has to come from within

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 12:00am

Is there a link between the arrest of Mujahedeen Khalq organisers in France, student-led protests in Tehran and the pressure on Iran to allow tougher UN nuclear weapons inspections? The answer is 'very little', but the events do give a picture of the state of Iranian politics.

Student protests are a perennial phenomenon in Iran. But the marches of the past two weeks were joined by people from other walks of life, making them the largest since the 1979 demonstrations that installed the Islamic regime which still runs Iran today.

The newest crop of protesters was motivated by disillusionment with both the clerics and their reformist opponents in the country's elected government. These reformers' plans have been dashed by the clerics. The government has quashed the dissent, arresting more than 500 and drawing condemnation from a majority of legislators.

There is nothing to indicate ties between these protesters and the dozen or so people being held in France on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks. The mujahedeen leaders run a cult of personality that until recently operated from Iraq, benefiting from Saddam Hussein's hospitality. The self-immolations being staged by their supporters around the world do nothing to lend credibility to the group, about which little is known other than its implacable opposition to the government in Iran. Though its political wing has the ear of some in Washington, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to distance itself from it. As long as it advocates violent methods and cannot articulate a political agenda, the group cannot expect support from anywhere else either. If the French government has evidence of a plot to blow up Iranian embassies, as it alleges, charges should be brought and the defendants tried according to law.

The United Nations wants Iran to agree to more scrutiny of plants where it is said to be enriching uranium, and developing the means to produce plutonium, for use in nuclear weapons. The country denies any such activity; the easiest way to prove this would be to submit to tougher inspections under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory.

If Iran is developing nuclear weapons, observers say it may be driven by a feeling of insecurity. Iran is now bordered by two countries occupied by US forces, Afghanistan and Iraq. America's support for the student protesters and the beaming of anti-government propaganda, and its grouping of Iran in an 'axis of evil', do nothing to enhance the country's sense of security. Yet, rhetoric aside, the US has indicated it has no plans to attack Iran. This is a sign it realises there is no obvious leadership-in-exile, that the country's best hopes reside inside Iran - with the reformist legislators, the students and their fellow protesters.