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JCPA event speakers imagine, for a moment, a democratic Iran

“When Khameni dies, there’s no fixed structure for what the succession is,”John Bolton, the former U.S. national security adviser, said at the conference.

John Bolton, former U.S. national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, speaking at a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs conference on Aug. 10, 2023. Credit: screenshot.
John Bolton, former U.S. national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, speaking at a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs conference on Aug. 10, 2023. Credit: screenshot.

The most important thing that Iranians suffering under the Islamic Republic need to hear is that Iran will not fall apart.

That’s according to Mehrdad Marty Youssefiani, an American of Iranian-Kurdish heritage, who was one of the speakers, including two others from Iran, at an Aug. 10 conference hosted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

“Why? Because we have plenty of highly successful, resourceful, creative Iranians, who are currently in exile leading some of the most consequential plans,” Youssefiani said. “If those Iranians can do that within the complex competitive market economies of the world, they can and will do the same for Iran.”

Iranians expats have the tools, resources and knowledge, as well as the passion and patriotism to help those in the country, according to Youssefiani. “That will inspire the Iranians,” he said.

The conference, titled “The Path to a Democratic Iran,” addressed supporting Iran’s quest for democracy, and the “urgency of Europe’s proscribing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” The IRGC, which the United States and other countries designate a foreign terrorist group, has carried out terrorist attacks, violated Iranians’ human rights and suppressed dissenting voices, among other atrocities, for decades.

Among speakers at the program were Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel; Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, former Italian foreign minister; and John Bolton, former U.S. national security adviser and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Bolton told attendees, including those following via live stream, that there will be the most acute opportunity for regime change and democracy in Iran when Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, dies.

“When Khamenei dies, there’s no fixed structure for what the succession is,” Bolton said. The Iranian government will be most vulnerable and fragile at that point, he added.

Dan Diker, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, called the conference “a breakthrough moment” in the unity of those opposed to the Iranian regime. It also represented “a perfect combination of assessment and political action by leading international experts to help the people of Iran determine their own future as a free and democratic people,” he told JNS.

‘Range of voices’

For decades, those opposed to the regime have been “very split, competitive and divided,” according to Diker. He said the conference was “perhaps the first time that an independent policy institute acted as an intellectual bridge” without an agenda, allowing divergent voices to speak.

“The mistake people have made in the past is that they chose one particular leader or one particular agenda, and it did not reflect the range of voices of the Iranian people themselves to determine how they will proceed down the path of a free and democratic Iran for themselves,” he told JNS.

Diker and colleagues spent weeks prior to the conference listening to “myriad” Iranian voices. “We were very careful to act only as a bridge of intellectual, academic and cultural sensitivity,” he said.

‘A democratic Iran’

“Imagine, just for one minute, a democratic Iran,” Vahid Beheshti, an Iranian-British activist who has held a hunger strike outside the U.K. Foreign Office, told attendees.

“What’s the effect of a democratic Iran on the region and on the world, compared to this terrorist regime at the moment ruling this great country and creating all these problems in the region and in the world?” Beheshti posed.

The most important thing at this crucial moment is a unified Iranian opposition, according to Beheshti.

“We have to put all of our differences aside and at the moment, focus only on overthrowing the regime,” he said. “Without overthrowing the regime, we don’t have anything to fight for.”

Mohsen Sazegara
Mohsen Sazegara, a founder of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who is now a pro-democracy activist, speaking at a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs conference on Aug. 10, 2023. Credit: screenshot.

Mohsen Sazegara, the third speaker of Iranian descent, was one of the founders of the IRGC in the late 1970s. Now, he is a pro-democracy activist and a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute.

Sazegara said at the conference that more than 90% of Iranians in Iran want to see the current regime end and to usher in democracy.

David Wurmser, a former Middle East adviser to former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney; Fiamma Nirenstein, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs senior fellow; Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, senior director for national security and Middle East affairs at JCPA; and Lord Stuart Polak, a British politician also participated in the conference.

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