The Iranian regime fears that it has long lost the support of the people

The Iranian regime fears that it has long lost the support of the people

Frédéric Encel, writer and scholar of geopolitics specialized on the Middle East, addressed a panel discussion on the subject of “Policy on Iran” in a Paris suburb on June 29, 2018. The event was jointly organized by FEMO and APA.

In his remarks, Mr. Encel expressed his support for France’s current Middle East policy, especially with regard to Iran.
“The proof of the Iranian regime’s imperialism in the Middle East is that we are on the receiving end and that a number of countries, societies and individuals are on the receiving end in a permanent and extremely serious way.
21 years ago to the day, I was defending my doctoral thesis at Paris 8. Its subject was a little village that no one ever talks about, of no interest to anyone, called Jerusalem. When I started my thesis, one of my masters in geopolitics, François Thual – this was in the late 1980s, just as I was starting out on my research – said to me, “You know, this is the first time in 26 centuries that the Persians are setting foot again in the eastern Mediterranean”, in this case via Hezbollah. I found that extremely interesting and said “why not, after all history is full of comings and goings, conquests, influences, the fall of civilisations and nations and so on…”
And François told me that the ideology now in power in Iran was a typically imperialist one. He told me that thirty years ago already. And I’d like to come back to that point today with an expression you are all familiar with: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of the Iranian regime’s imperialism in the Middle East is that we are on the receiving end and that a number of countries, societies and individuals are on the receiving end in a permanent and extremely serious way. My talk today will be in two parts, the first looking at what I call throwing caution to the winds, or the policy of brinkmanship.

The Iranian people no longer back the regime

I see the brutality of Iran’s actions outside the country, especially in the Middle East, as being linked to will-power, ultimately ever-present in political regimes of all stripes, authoritarian or democratic, highly authoritarian as it happens, but also democratic. That is the argument often put forward by the Iranians or their friends in Europe and especially in France. That deployment, the argument goes, is linked to the political need to pull together the country’s energies and, in a way, to please the population. There’s nothing new about it. You deploy your armed forces outside your borders, you point the finger at the enemy beyond, to the eternal refrain of conspiracy, danger, crusaders and Zionists, freemasons – call it what you will, you can throw in the whole lot – it depends on the circumstances – and you decide who the conspirators are and you hit back at them to make the population feel that even if things are not going well in social, economic, ideological and religious terms, the nation needs to pull together behind its leaders.

There are two important points to make here. The first is that is by no means certain that the Iranian people appreciate or support this. I think indeed I may say exactly the opposite. Looking at the cost, the exorbitant cost of the Iranian war effort, Iran’s wars beyond its borders, the war in Syria, the Iranian people – as we have heard so often in recent months and years – have had enough. It’s not even the strategic, political or ideological problem of knowing whether we should support this or that regime, it is “Where’s our money going? Is it to defend Assad, is it to defend this or that Yemeni group we couldn’t care less about?”. Of course you know the answer.
The second counter-argument is the illustration – a sort of trumped-up patriotic argument – of a very great fragility. Is it necessary to go and make war outside Iran for domestic public opinion to back the regime? As though if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have the people’s support? What does that mean? It means that in fact what the regime fears like the plague is that it no longer has the backing, and hasn’t had for a long time, of the population of the country it is supposed to lead. Just a word in conclusion: my friend Bruno Tertrais, who is a great expert, and perhaps others will speak about it better than me, and here again for the sake of argument, successive Iranian presidents have all and always denied the Iranian bomb. The purpose of going nuclear, they say, was purely civilian. For the world’s third-largest producer of natural gas, potentially its third-largest producer of oil, for a country that is like a water-tower in the region, that is just laughable. The argument is grotesque. That is the pudding I mentioned a few minutes ago. It exists. How do we know? Because we are eating it. The current policy of France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, flanked by Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was hardly emollient during his trip to Tehran a few weeks ago, as you may recall, seems very interesting and in some way illustrates my own modest remarks. Why? Because President Macron, by going to the United State to try and convince – you may agree or not, that’s not the point here – but to try and convince President Trump to stay in the nuclear agreement of 14 July 2015, well, President Macron proposed extending the agreement, not breaking it off, not getting rid of it, but extending the agreement – to what? To Iran’s ballistic missile capability and its policy of influence in the region.”