Menashri began the discussion by acknowledging recent developments in Iran and putting the events within the historical framework of the 1979 Revolution. He identified three essential questions about the nature of the Revolution that have shaped modern Iran. Regarding whether the Revolution was Islamic, he argued the Revolution's character went much deeper than a religious movement because it incorporated individuals from across the political and religious spectrums. In response to whether the Revolution's philosophy was representative of Islam, Menashri highlighted the degree of pluralism among clerics and asserted the Revolution provided a revolution in the understanding of Islam and not of the faith itself. On the topic of policy conforming to ideology, he indicated the regime tended to be more pragmatic, with interests prevailing over ideology. This pragmatism has continued throughout Iran's administrations, Menashri stated, and persists today.
After providing this historical foundation, Menashri spoke about current political and societal trends in Iran. Despite positive developments in the country, including an active student movement and the influence of women's organizations, he indicated there is no organized opposition. The exile opposition movement is notably divided, with factions more opposed to each other than to the regime. The domestic charge led by Mir Hossein Mousavi has been ineffective, Menashri argued, because Mousavi lacks sufficient charisma and necessary leadership qualities. Menashri asserted a need for a cohesive, alternative ideology in order to unify people. Pointing to the dichotomy of free expression and suppression in the regime and to the high levels of disenchantment and disillusionment in Iran today, he underscored Iranians' recognition that the Revolution did not deliver the social and political changes promised.
With a background of historical, political, and social forces in Iran, Menashri discussed Iran's relationships with the Untied States, Israel, and other regional states. He highlighted the link between incoming Democratic administrations in the US and revolutions in Iran since human rights are high on Democratic administrations' agendas. Regarding Israeli relations with Iran, Menashri argued that policy has changed for the better despite Israel's inability to tolerate Iran's radical ideology in combination with its nuclear ambitions. Menashri then provided three possible solutions to the current situation in Iran. An American-led solution would incorporate dialogue and pressure, with dialogue alone unlikely to solve the problem; Iran can be pressured, Menashri argued, because of its pragmatic nature. A regional solution would require Arab countries and Israel to solve their own problems, such as the Palestinian problem, in order to weaken Iran. Menashri's main hope for an effective solution would require a change from within Iran.
Drafted by Kendra Heideman on behalf of the Middle East Program