Iran, 40 years after the Revolution, amid uncertainties and hope

Forty years after the 1979 Revolution, for authorities in Teheran it's time to sum up.

by Giuseppe Acconcia
13 February 2019
6 min read
by Giuseppe Acconcia
13 February 2019
6 min read

Celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Revolution are on the way in Teheran. The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, said that Iranians will continue to shout “death to America”, specifying that the slogan is directed at President Trump and the leaders of the United States, not at the American people. Khamenei held his speech at a gathering of Iranian Army Air Force officers commemorating the four decades since the protests that in 1978-1979 led to the end of the Shah regime and the start of the Ruhollah Khomeini era.

Divided between Trump and Europe

The supreme leader’s mention of Donald Trump is a reaction to the US president’s decisions, which culminated in the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear agreement approved in Vienna in 2015 by the P5+1, the UN Security Council's five permanent members, plus Germany.

The European countries that signed the agreement in Vienna repeatedly tried to save the accord. But Khamenei did not mince his words on this point either. “Don’t trust Europeans, just as you don’t trust Americans”, he said during his speech. The EU has criticized the increasingly larger role plaid by Iran in the crisis in the region, especially with reference to its armament program: one of the main reasons that led Washington to withdraw from the 2015 agreement. “Open threats to the Islamic Republic are not constructive, don’t help and are not beneficial to regional safety and Europe’s real interests”, commented Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the negotiators in the nuclear deal agreement.

Over the past twenty years, Iran has expanded its missile program, not covered by the 2015 accord signed in Vienna, despite strong opposition from the United States and France’s growing concerns, which have led President Emmanuel Macron closer to Trump’s positions with regard to the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Iran. However, Washington has decided not to extend to eight countries the sanction initially proposed against third-party countries that continue to invest in Iran. Also Iran’s moderate President, Hassan Rouhani, reelected in 2017 for a second mandate, reiterated the results obtained by the Islamic Republic in the past 40 years. “The great Iranian nation has reached its objectives and will not go back 40 years to the times when it was under US influence”, he added. The first to be concerned about Iran’s role in the region is Israel. The past 21 January, the Israeli army attacked Iranian Qods military forces south of Damascus, in Syrian territory, leaving 11 dead.

The effects of US decisions on economic policies

US sanctions on Teheran had their first effects on the local population who took to the streets in protest against price rises and to ask for salary increases between 2017 and 2018. In particular, the stop to US dollar transactions led to dramatically high inflation, causing reactions especially among young citizens and lower classes. So, last week, as part of the intentions expressed by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Britain, France and Germany launched the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX). The system is designed to help continue non-dollar transactions with Iran and circumvent US sanctions.

Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has welcomed the new bilateral transactions channel describing it, however, as “belated and inadequate”. The Iranian government added that Teheran may reconsider its relations with Europe if Iran does not benefit from INSTEX. The EU also asked Iranian authorities to cease any activity that may increase bilateral distrust. The reference is to the mysterious murders of Iranian opposition figures that have taken place in the last few years in France, Holland and Denmark, which have led to the arrest of suspects connected with Iranian embassies in Europe and the Ministry of Intelligence. Iranian authorities reacted strongly to this point. “Making such unfounded accusations is not constructive and in line with the positions of the enemies who want to damage the relations between Iran and Europe”,

Forty years after the 1979 Revolution that marked the country’s history and led to its gradual isolation, culminated in the war between Iran and Iraq and the sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program, for authorities in Teheran it’s time to sum up. If on one hand the conservatives have been able to stably control the country, on the other, the many regional uncertainties in the long run could compromise Iran’s role as guide and economic power in the region, thanks to the large amount of income that comes from the country’s gas and petroleum resources. The European Union appears generally well-disposed towards the moderates in Rouhani’s Iranian government, compared to the intransigent foreign policy of the Republicans in the US; however, the extent to which the EU will maintain this position is unclear, considering the possibility of an extension of US sanctions to countries that trade with Teheran.

The author: Giuseppe Acconcia

Giuseppe Acconcia is an award-winning journalist and researcher focusing on the Middle East (London and Bocconi University). Among other publications, he contributed to The Independent, Al-Ahram, Xinhua News Agency and openDemocracy. He has interviewed former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby, philosophers Samir Amin, Noam Chomsky and Nobel Peace Prize Shirin Ebadi. He has published reportages from the Syrian Kurdistan, Iran, Egypt, Libya and the United Kingdom. He graduated at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London writing a dissertation on the role of the military in politics in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. His articles and scientific publications have been translated into French, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic and Chinese. He taught at the American University in Cairo, he worked as a researcher on North Africa and the Middle East, for the Sakharov Prize and the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. He is the author of EgyptMilitary Democracy (Exorma, 2014), Pictures from Gihan (Muta Imago, 2013), The Egyptian Spring (Infinito, 2012) and A two days winter (Fara, 2007).