Iran after the Islamic Republic: No chance of a new Iraq or Syria

As the situation in Iran develops further, and a new revolution is in the making here, a significant concern has been seen in the west that overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran will equal a chaotic and disastrous future for Iran and the middle-east, like what happened in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Depicting such a horrible future, some journalists, mainly from the Islamic Republic Lobby, persuade the western government to try to find a way to cooperate with the Islamic Republic instead of helping protestors if they don’t want new waves of immigrants from a civil war in Iran and a reinvigorated ISIS in Tehran. They have been successful in their campaign, as most European and North American politicians and journalists might not like the Islamic Republic regime. However, their policies during the past four decades and their position on the uprising and demonstrations we have had in Iran during this period have proved that Western politicians might not like this regime. However, they fear the post-Islamic Republic situation will be chaotic and disastrous.

They might fear a new ISIS in the region and a massive wave of immigrants marching toward EU countries. It might be one of the reasons that they have not supported regime change in Iran for almost half a century. At the same time, they are informed about human rights violations, suppression and oppression, minorities and gender discrimination, and the feeling of Iranians about this regime.

One might believe this is a legitimate concern, especially concerning what happened in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. But that is like seeing all western governments, societies, nations, and states as one, with no difference or need to analyze each one separately based on concrete facts and the social, historical, political, ethnical, and actual situation on the ground, all because they are western! That is superficial and wrong.

There have been many actors, players, historical facts, geopolitical situations, and demographics behind the situation we witnessed in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, the most dominant ones are religion, ethics, and national issues, which do not apply to Iran in the same way. We saw armed ethnic groups fighting against the central government, minorities trying to separate, and religious groups starting a new crusade in those countries. But does that apply to Iran because it is geographically adjacent to these countries and mostly known as a Muslim nation?

To the eye of a foreigner who doesn’t know Iranian society very well, Iran might seem like a Shiite Muslim society and a religious one. This fact could make Iran look very like Iraq and Syria. But that image is created based on Iran’s official religion, the regime’s Shiite ideology, and the middle-east’s geography. Iran’s society has undergone a rapid and radical transformation during the past hundred years, and it is not the same society as the one that made the 1979 revolution.

Another big difference is the role that religion and religious groups and players play in Iran’s society today. In countries like Iraq and Syria, prominent clergies, like Ayatollah Sistani, play a dominant role in society. They can call millions of people to mobilize, defend or attack the government, or vote for this or that political party. However, in Iran, after Ayatollah Khomeini, the clergypersons in Iran have lost their status, and they no longer have such privilege because religion no longer has a definitive role.

The religious discourse and influence in Iran’s society have gone so low that even an ideological government like the Islamic Republic primarily relies on national and democratic values in their propaganda to attract people to their ranks and campaign using more historical and national figures and mottos than religious ones comparing to three or four decades ago because they know that this society is no longer the religious society that overthrew Shah in 1979. It needs to be explained that compared to Syria and Iraq, where Alavi`s supported Assad and Sunnis supported Saddam, you cannot find a religious section or religious followers who specifically support this regime against other religions or believers. Although the Islamic Republic’s central ideology is Shiite Islam, it does not mean that IR is a regime of Shiite Muslims against other faiths. Widespread opposition to this government is seen in primarily Shiite cities, and thousands are imprisoned, tortured, or suppressed. As a matter of fact, the Islamic Republic is not like Saddam or Assad’s government, representative of a specific religious section or believers; it is created chiefly around rentiers, money laundering, and IRGC Mafia, although the propaganda seems to be Shiite Islam.

Iranian society today is one of the most secular ones in the region. Living in Iran for many years and even visiting Iran briefly can make this fact visible to foreigners. To be able to offer a clear image of the mentioned changes, projects of “Gamaan,” a non-governmental group, for Analyzing and measuring attitudes in Iran based in the Netherlands, could be helpful, as they have completed a survey about Iranians’ attitudes regarding religion in 2020 with interesting finding which could shed light on Iran’s modern society and its beliefs about religion. The full report can be found here.

According to this report, which was conducted in 2020 with over 50 thousand respondents, of whom around 90% lived in Iran, “78% of Iranians believe in God, 37% believe in life after death, 30% believe in heaven and hell, and 26% believe in the coming of a savior”, approximately half of the people in the survey reported losing their religion, about 60% claimed they do not say prayers at all, 68% believe that religion must be separated from politics, and 70% are on the idea that governments must not fund religious organizations, 56% do not want their children to have religious education at school, and 72% oppose compulsory Hijab“.

Considering the slogans of protesters in the street, asking for mullah to be overthrown and the main slogan of this revolution, “Women, Life, Freedom,” we can see a new wave in the region. Its slogan is the most progressive one over decades of freedom fighting worldwide. People chanting for WOMEN, LIFE, and FREEDOM do not intend to start a new crusade or be misled into such civil wars. They are fighting to remove religion and religious institutes from power and politics, not to bring them into the central role again with a chaotic civil war.

The other factor that created the chaos and civil war in Syria, Iraq, and Libya was the unresolved national and ethnic issues in those countries. The claim that the same applies to Iran would only come from the Iran Lobby propaganda, threatening the world of the disastrous aftermath of IR removal and lack of knowledge about Iran’s history, society, ethnicity, and politics. Iraq and Syria were formed as countries due to the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, which scissored the Ottoman Empire and formed countries to divide them between the winning powers of WW1. Many ethnicities were divided between the borders of these newly formed countries, creating a mess with a rivalry between these factions for decades. That is not surprising to see civil wars in the power vacuum. 

But it is a mistake to apply the same formula and expect the same results for Iran. This country’s borders have been formed for thousands of years, and various ethnic sections of Iran have lived together in peace and harmony for centuries. Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Turkmens, Baluchis, and other Iranians have not been placed in this country by secret agreements and due to political plots; in fact, they have lived together for centuries, defended this nation, united in war against foreign enemies, and created systems for a peaceful coexistent. Kurdish people, Turks, Baluchis, and all others are among the ancient nationalities of Iran, named and saluted in the literature and history for their role and bravery. 

To believe that in the post-Islamic Republic situation, Iran will be the arena for civil war between these sections can only be due to a lack of knowledge about the mosaic society of Iran and the history behind this peaceful coexistence. People from all parts of Iran have come to the streets to protest against the Islamic Republic and call for a regime change. However, no one has ever asked for separation or chanted a slogan against other ethnicities. It needs to be said that while there has been no separatist or hate-mongering slogan, hundreds of videos of Kurdish people chanting “From Zahedan (city home to Sistani’s and Baluchis in Iran) to Tehran, My life for Iran,” Or Arab people in the south of Iran were chanting “from Kurdistan to Zahedan, My Life for Iran” could be seen in the media showing how united and cooperative they are.

This unity between Iranian nationalities and their love for their homeland is seen despite forty years of sectarian policies of the Islamic Republic, trying to distance all sections of this society to prevent unity and cooperation between them against the regime. If there`s a chance for chaos in future Iran, that is only with the ongoing rule of the Islamic Republic. Iranians are fighting for their future with their slogan “WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM,” and that does not have anything in common with the fundamentalist tendencies in the middle-east. Iran`s and the whole region`s future will be a bright and peaceful image without the Islamic Republic ruling Tehran. The myth of a chaotic and disastrous future for the middle east in case of a revolution in Iran is just a propaganda campaign of the regime and needs to be explained and refuted.

To have a civil war or Islamic Fundamentalists waging wars in Iran and separatists trying to create chaos, there are some important preconditions, and none of them are present in Iran. The new generation of Iranians is not religious as forty years ago when the 1979 revolution took place, and the only one forcing Iranian nationalities to go for separation is the Islamic Republic. Only Islamic Republic Lobby in the western media is contributing to this concern of civil war and chaos in post-Islamic-Republic Iran. They have used this pretext to nip all efforts for a revolution in the bud and prevent western governments and media from supporting a regime change in Iran. Now with the new events here, it is proven to the world 


Comments (6)

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  1. ronald young says:

    I very much appreciated this article – and applaud your site for the global coverage you attempt.
    You should consider linking up with Cross-Border Talks – at

    1. Thanks Ronald, will look into Cross Border talks

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Very informative article. Thanks Saeb.

  3. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Iran worries me. The present regime is clearly unsatisfactory for many Iranian people and the pressure for a more liberal society is probably unstoppable. One wonders about those that are not demonstrating, particularly in the areas outside Tehran. Are they bought into the idea of regime change?

    I would not like to see another disastrous collapse like those mentioned above or like Lebanon back in the day. Lebanon was a cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic country; until it collapsed into chaos and religious strife.

    1. Saeb Karimi says:

      Let me explain something about these demonstrations and protests:

      During the first decade of the Islamic Republic ruling Iran, millions of labourers, peasants, and poor people supported it alongside the intellectuals and religious students. In Iran, people call it the Revolution Train! We say at the beginning everyone was on the train, but as stations were passed by, more people got off the train.

      First students stood against the regime, with their uprising in 1998 which was brutally cracked down. Then came the urban middle class. They got off the train later during the 2000s, with its climax in the 2008 green movement which started as a reformist movement condemning the rigged election but lead to regime change slogans and heavy crackdown in the streets.

      In 2018, and 2019, one of the most powerful and decisive sections of society joined students and the urban middle-class: Working class people, people from neighborhoods outside Tehran, towns, and small cities created recently near Tehran and other big cities. When they joined the movement, it was like adding a nuclear energy source to this movement. They came to the streets with one famous slogan: “Reformists, fundamentalists, the story is over!”

      What we have in Iran now is an ultra-religious section in the society, mainly Shiite Muslims, corrupted, with links to the economic mafia, and almost the whole country is against them. you might say it is exaggerating to say the whole country, but it is what we see every day in our life. Sexual, gender, religious, and ethnic discrimination is suffocating people. Women are fiercely fighting, LGBTQ people and activists, youth, Kurds, Arabs, … . I can name and mention various sections of our society that are against this regime and might need an article just for this issue. To make it easier, I can say that only a very small section of the religious people are supporting this government and even that support is mostly based on financial interests rather than values and ideologies.

      in 2008when the green movement activists were holding demonstrations in Tehran streets, Islamic Republic called its supporters to the streets and held a very big demonstration to crack down on the protests. The problem is that they tried to do the same several times during these forty days of uprising but failed to gather a good number of supporters in the streets, because even those who used to be their traditional supporters in the outskirts and small town, bazaar, and religious cities have turned their back on the regime.

      I understand your concern. You might be worried that the situation would lead to a civil war. But if you consider the situation in Iran, and know its society, you will see that there`s no need to worry about that, because I have never seen Iranians as united as today

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I looked online for more information on GAMAAN, found their website and religious views report summary, and this recent article which asks the question:
    “If respondents who were terrified of the regime were lying to big established survey institutes like Gallup, Pew, and WVS, as GAMAAN’s founders suspected, how would two academics in the Netherlands get the truth out of the Iranian people?”
    Why Is Iran’s Secular Shift So Hard to Believe? How two researchers got to the heart of a polling problem: the skewing effect of fear.

    It is a pity in a way that the most Scottish Census has apparently failed to reach 90% returns, since the opportunity to measure the state of secular and religious views beyond reasonable doubt is relevant to politics here. I remember reading somewhere that the some state suppressed their most recent religious affiliation census results, perhaps that was Iran?

    I am generally sceptical of surveys, no matter how openly conducted. But anonymity is obviously important here. We might consider the same applying to societies we consider religious in the past, where there is evidence of irreligiousity but officially the populace followed the state or monarch’s religion. However, from the perspective of a country’s religious authorities, this probably looks like information warfare by a foreign power. Perhaps religion can only truly flourish in a secular state where people can express (within secular limits, no hate speech etc.) religious affiliations freely. Yet the world needs planetary-realistic ideologies, not fantasies or oligarchic instruments of social control.

    Certainly I am not surprised that any ruling party quite quickly becomes increasingly corrupt, secretive and hypocritical, attracting power-seekers, dissemblers and psychopaths. A healthier politics would at least allow open discussion of policies, accountability for wrongdoing and failures, and renewal. This is hardly a new observation (see, I think, Ibn Khaldun, died 1406).

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