A different path to regime change in Iran 

“The republic has no need of science or of chemistry.”

With these words, a French tribunal confirmed its 1794 sentence of death on Antoine Lavoisier, the great scientist. Lavoisier had dared to plea for his trip to the guillotine to be delayed, so that he might complete some final experiments and publish the results.

Lavoisier was just one of many leading French figures to die that year, slaughtered by the chaotic “justice” meted out by mad revolutionaries.

In contrast, the Islamic revolutionaries who today run Iran are too smart to execute scientists in large numbers. They need trained men and women with PhDs to propel their nuclear program forward.

But, like the French revolutionaries who condemned Lavoisier and scoffed at chemistry, the Iranian mullahs have been open about what they think their Islamic Republic does not need.

In 1979, when someone in his entourage had the bad taste to bring up how inflation was making life difficult for many Iranians, Ayatollah Khomeini ridiculed this observation by saying that the struggle to create an Islamic Republic “was not about the price of watermelons.”  

Translation: “in case you didn’t notice, we’re trying to build a religious state here, and consumer access to cheap fruit is not part of the plan.”

While Western analysts have long made fun of Khomeini’s quip, Iran’s dissidents and opposition movements are reluctant to throw the “watermelons” remark in the regime’s face. Direct attacks on Khomeini being tantamount to blasphemy, this hesitation is easy to understand.

On the question of using the Islamic Republic’s universally-panned economic record against the mullahs, the Iranian opposition seems to prefer making its anti-regime stand on non-economic issues, like free speech, democracy and so on.

There’s good reason for this, from a practical political point of view. Calling for protests against the despotic Iranian’s regime’s anti-democratic nature has a certain romantic appeal that registers with politically-minded young people, for starters.

Plus, “give me cheap watermelons, or give me death” isn’t a slogan that many people will want to shout defiantly when  the mullahs’ thugs draw their guns.

But by avoiding the “watermelons” question, the opposition is limiting its appeal.

Iran is filled with industrious but impoverished people (who have no trouble succeeding economically, if they can make it to the US), exhausted by high unemployment and rampant inflation – the bitter fruit of three decades of mullah-ocracy.

These people need to know that the opposition, as a kind of government-in-waiting, has a well-thought-out plan to create jobs, stimulate economic growth and bring down the price of watermelons, meat, cars and other consumer goods.

The Iranian youths who show up at the anti-regime street protests may not see the point of such a plan, but their parents will, tired as they are of enduring an inflation rate that may run around 30% a month.  

Economic pain on this scale suggests that Iran’s dissidents should embrace any and all opportunities to talk about “the price of watermelons” – and use those chances to put more heat on the mullahs. Watermelons may be more useful to their cause than they think.

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Neil Hrab

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