Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking during National Army Day in Tehran, April 18, 2010. Photo by AP
Text size

It has been a year since the reelection in Iran of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The international controversy surrounding the Iranian leader suddenly comes down to one question: What has Iran done to the United States, and what has the United States done to Iran over the past year? Has Ahmadinejad laughed in the world's face and has U.S. President Barack Obama saved the world from Iran?

Iran, a country of more than 70 million people, has not become a symbol of evil due to its support for terrorism or because it is run by a religious cleric, or for that matter because it has oppressed liberal political movements, closed newspapers and executed homosexuals. Neither Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt nor Israel are perfect democracies.

Human rights are not usually a basis for imposing sanctions, and dangerous terrorist movements exist in every Muslim country. Iran's evil image is related to its uranium enrichment program and its denial of the Holocaust.

While the past year has been a year of conflict over the uranium enrichment program, and much less so over Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist, it has been a revolutionary year for the Iranians themselves. True, there has been no actual revolution, but it apparently took a huge election fraud last year to incite the largest protests in the country since the 1979 revolution and criticism of the president from conservative members of parliament. These events reflect a new chapter in Iran.

This is the story of a regime that, after 30 years in power, is facing uncertainty over its continued hold on power due to the Iranian people themselves. It is not some external enemy that has threatened the authorities. It is not the sanctions that the regime has become used to for about 30 years, and which it has managed to evade relatively successfully, or the Arab front suddenly arrayed against the country.

The regime is beginning to be consumed from within, and as a result, Ahmadinejad has become a danger to Iran itself, to such an extent that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has on several occasions had to contravene the president's decisions and set down a policy that did not square with Ahmadinejad's pretentious aspirations.

This is because the Iranian economy has been wrecked not so much by sanctions as by Ahmadinejad's distorted economic policies. Many things have turned the people against the regime: the huge waste of Iran's monetary reserves, the investment in ostentatious projects that enriched many companies from countries that have signed onto sanctions against Iran, the failure to create jobs for the millions of Iran's unemployed, and the iron fist employed against the president's rivals. This has only strengthened the influence of the Revolutionary Guards in every possible location, especially in response to the events of the past year. This process can be seen from economic projects to military surveillance over the Persian Gulf, from the airport to uranium enrichment.

In the face of the disintegration of control over the streets and the universities, Iran has become a country over the past year where the army is afraid of the people. That is a new phenomenon in Iran in the period since the fall of the Shah, but in no way is it new to Iranian history. During the Shah's rule, a quiet civilian rebellion built up, and the security forces imposed a stranglehold on the civilian population until the people took to the streets and got rid of the regime. It was a matter of 25 years until the Islamic revolution actually occurred, and now the Islamic regime is discovering a similar threat to its existence on those same streets.

Now the question is how long can the regime convince the public of the need for unity in the face of an external enemy. Ahmadinejad will complete his term as president in another three years, and then has to wait four years before he can run again. These four years will be an important period during which the Iranian public must be taught that the disaster called Ahmadinejad cannot be repeated.