The dawn of a new Iran

None of its regional adversaries are a match for the Iranian version of soft and smart power.

US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, after the IAEA verified that Iran has met all conditions under the nuclear deal, in Vienna [AP]
US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna [AP]

In a sudden, though well-choreographed and much-expected dramatic succession of news releases, Iran has emerged from years of economic isolation when the heavy shadow of crippling economic sanctions were lifted in exchange for a drastic curb in its nuclear programme. 

“Iran has carried out all measures required under the [July deal],” according to reports, “to enable Implementation Day [of the deal] to occur,” the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has said in a statement,” paving the way for the lifting of these crippling economic sanctions.

In a no less dramatic announcement, deliberately designed to coincide with the lifting of these sanctions, Iran was also reported to have released five US citizens, including the much-publicised case of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States.

Iran frees Washington Post reporter in US swap deal

The combined announcements in conjunction with the recent swift release of US sailors caught off the Iranian coast declare a seismic change in the emergence of Iran from its global isolation almost intact as a regional power.

Lucrative contracts

The release of billions of dollars of frozen Iranian assets will open a floodgate of European and international conglomerates to rush to Iran for lucrative contracts.

At a time when a dramatic drop in the price of crude oil has plunged all oil producing countries (and with them the world economy) in deep despair, the release of these funds amounts to a bonanza for Iranian economy – as if the world had created a safe deposit account for Iran to give it back in its time of need.

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What would be the implication of the dawn of this new Iran in its internal and external affairs?

Internally, the ruling regime in Iran faces a robust, young, energetic, ambitious and restless civil society that will miss not a single ... opportunity to assert its rightful place among nations.


The working of two parallel paradoxes will boost Iran both as a nation and as a state to achieve towering significance in its region.

Internally, the ruling regime in Iran faces a robust, young, energetic, ambitious and restless civil society that will miss not a single social, cultural, economic, or political opportunity to assert its rightful place among nations.

The porous boundaries of the nation are going to be opened even more fluidly. With the anticipated increase in global commerce comes unanticipated organic growth of the culture: The widening highways of transnational interchange will make the Iranian civil society even more robust and rambunctious.

Almost 80 million strong, with official policy to boost the population, Iran as a nation will continue to test the survival instincts of the state that lays a claim to it.

What its democratic weakling neighbours don’t understand is that the ruling regime in Iran is strong – not despite its restless population, but precisely because of it. Iranians resist tyranny not by blowing up buildings or murdering innocent people, but by going to polls and voting in elections they know are already rigged.

Theirs is a vastly different exercise in the democratic will of a nation.

They have forced even their so-called Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to publicly and repeatedly admit that when they vote, they vote for their country – for the safety, security, and future prosperity of their homeland – and never to legitimise the rule of a band of octogenarian theocrats who are delusional enough to think they are actually ruling this nation’s dreams and aspirations.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [AP] 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [AP] 

Regional adversaries

Externally, the warring position of the ruling state of the Islamic Republic strengthens it not despite its regional adversaries, but in fact, because of them. None of its regional adversaries – from Turkey to Israel to Saudi Arabia – are a match for the Iranian version of soft and smart power. 

The military budget of Iran is nowhere near the military budget of any of its regional adversaries. But they have never and will never choose to fight any conventional warfare they can never win.

Over the last three decades and more, they have out-Joseph Nyed Joseph Nye’s notion of soft and smart power. They are regionally powerful not despite their adversaries military power, but because of their conventionally flawed calculus of power.

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The Achilles heel of the ruling regime in Iran’s external affairs, and where it has failed to follow its own logic of soft power, is its continuous support for the murderous Assad regime in Syria.


This is costing the ruling regime not just the hearts and minds of Syrian people, but that of the entirety of the Arab World. 

Yes, in the quagmire of Syria there are no innocent parties except the peaceful and democratic aspirations of the Syrian people. Every single other country involved in Syria on both sides of the conflict is implicated in and responsible for the bloody mayhem that is the scene in Syria today.

But each one of these countries will bear the consequences of their bloody involvements in Syria slightly differently. The dawn of a new Iran will never be fully materialised unless and until the democratic will and emancipatory politics of Iranians and Arabs, Sunnis and Shias, see and sow their future liberation on a common field and as integral to each other.

Hamid Dabashi is a Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.