What encourages Iranians to rise against the mullahs

A month ago, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the new U.S. policy on Iran embraces an element of regime change in that country.

"Our policy towards Iran is ... to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know," he said at a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, when pressed by lawmakers to elaborate on whether Washington supports regime change in Iran.

Considering Tillerson's statement, one must ask the following questions:

• Who are those elements (that, according to Secretary Tillerson, exist)?

• How does the U.S. want to support these elements?

• How can the U.S. government assure the Iranian people that they will be supported if they rise up against the ruling theocratic regime?

Historically, and to be more specific, during the past 20 years that ended with Obama's presidency, successive U.S governments turned their backs on the Iranian people, designating the main Iranian dissident group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which opposed the ruling theocracy, as a terrorist organization.  Worse still, in 2009, exactly when the Iranian people needed international support to overthrow the regime, then-president Obama sent stern letters to the regime and its supreme leader instead of actual support for the people.

The atmosphere of suppression in Iran today suggests that the first step toward any change should begin by breaking through this pattern.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the most vital and effective repressive entity in the country today.  The IRGC, and its various sub-units, is responsible for crushing any popular dissent and arresting dissidents, activists, and dual citizens.  It is an entity so powerful in itself that, on occasion, it disobeys regime insiders and senior officials.

Therefore, undermining the IRGC is one of the most effective steps to break the ubiquitous repression and atmosphere of fear in Iran.  In this regard, designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) will be the correct message to the people inside Iran that the days of this repressive force are coming to an end.

The likely consequence could be that the people will dare to rise up against their oppressors.  The added bonus is that the IRGC FTO designation will actually protect and advance U.S. national interest in the Middle East.

One other factor, which will encourage the Iranian people to stand up against and continue to challenge the mullahs daily, is to focus on the ongoing and past human rights abuses in the country.  Referring Iran's human rights dossier to the U.N. Security Council is not only justified, but a constructive step forward.

To be effective, such referral should hold the perpetrators of human rights crimes to account and bring justice for the victims, in particular in the case of the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in Iran's prisons.

These actions above will send a strong message to the regime and its leaders that repression of the Iranian people will cost them heavily.

Preventing export of technologies that assist the Iranian regime in its internet censorship and persecution of social media users and active assistance to help the average Iranian to break the walls of censorship are other effective ways to support growing popular dissent in Iran.

Indeed, there are Farsi media financed by U.S. taxpayers such as Voice of America Persian and Radio Free Europe (Radio Farda), which are launched by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Sadly, these broadcasters are rather promoting a regime-friendly line and back the illusion of reforms within the theocratic ranks.  Their stories aim more to accommodate officials in Tehran than to report the actual truths from Iran, a country that is bankrupt due to corruption and a population held at gunpoint by repression.    

In this regard, Tillerson must answer how he seeks to support a policy of regime change in Iran while the BBG is controlled by individuals whose carriers are dependent on part of the Iranian regime.

Last Nail in the Regime's Coffin

Iran is a country with cultural and ethnic diversity, formed by at least five different nationalities, including the Fars, Turks, Kurds, Arabs, and Balouchis.

Existence of a free and independent Iran is the best way to end the Middle East's current crisis.

Some Iran pundits, experts, and diplomats claim that a majority of the Iranian people are concerned about the period following regime change.  These voices, some of them genuinely concerned but many proponents of appeasing Tehran, claim that people's concerns include the lack of an alternative or disintegration of the country.

In the case of Iran, the existence of a viable, competent democratic alternative in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) will prevent a power vacuum and remedy any imaginable conflict that could emerge after regime change.

When people of a nation present a popular alternative to a ruling tyranny, it means that they hope for and are ready to bring about change.

The NCRI is the largest and the most organized Iranian opposition, formed by a broad coalition of Iranian organizations, groups, and personalities with diversity of thought and pan-Iranian ethnicities.

For the U.S., recognizing the NCRI and the ten-point democratic platform presented by NCRI president-elect Maryam Rajavi as an alternative to the current theocracy and a roadmap to a free and democratic Iran should eliminate any such concerns.

Despite the fact that Tehran has consistently attempted to demonize the NCRI through propaganda and malicious publications, Iranian youths find their rights realized in the NCRI's agenda.

Consequently, politically acknowledging the NCRI will support the Iranian people to put the last nail in the regime's coffin.

Hamid Bahrami is a former political prisoner from Iran.  Living in Glasgow, Scotland, he is a human rights and political activist and works as a freelance journalist.  Bahrami has contributed to Al Arabiya English and American Thinker as his work covers Iran's Middle East actions and domestic social crackdown.  He tweets at @HaBahrami and blogs at analyze.com.

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