In the wake of Qassem Soleimani’s death this month, the world breathed a sigh of relief that there were no casualties inflicted by Iran’s retaliatory missile attacks on the Iraqi military bases at Ain Al-Assad and Irbil, which house hundreds of US Army personnel.
There is no doubt that, if a quagmire is to be avoided, restraint is required on all sides. Sadly, there are still calls for revenge coming from some quarters, but those seeking it might perhaps consider the instructive proverb: “He that would take revenge better dig two graves.” Frankly, there was probably never a truer saying for Iran to consider.
As the 2020s began with such turmoil, perhaps there is some solace to be had for the majority of Iranians who are looking to the future. This coming decade will bring about at least two near-certainties.
The first is that, by the time this decade is complete, neither US President Donald Trump nor Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will be in power. Trump, even if he wins the election in 2020, will be forced to relinquish the presidency in January 2025. Khamenei, at the age of 80, is already beyond the male life expectancy in Iran, which is 76 years, so he is now on an unavoidable, progressively accelerative path to frailty.
The second certainty is that, in the early 2020s, the Iranian people, along with the rest of us, will experience a wireless connectivity game-changer.
“Constellation Wi-Fi” will become the norm and will revolutionize connectivity for Iran’s youthful and connected population.
During the 2020s, the space internet race will truly begin in earnest. SpaceX will launch 12,000 satellites in order to provide global Wi-Fi coverage, while Amazon and the UK’s OneWeb plan a further 5,000 satellites, and then there is TeleSat and LeoSat, which have similar plans. The World Economic Forum conservatively estimates an increase from 2,000 to 20,000 satellites, which will enable global reach for terrestrial mobile broadband and 5G. Propagation speeds will be highly increased, not least because the signal travels faster in the vacuum of space than via fiber-optic lines and, although jamming the signal is possible, applications to bypass such blocks are already advanced.
Iran’s mourning of Soleimani this month was broadcast worldwide. The irony will not be lost on many that, less than two months earlier and on the very same Iranian streets, protests against the government’s shock hike in fuel prices were brutally repressed under a complete Wi-Fi, internet, news and social media blackout that enabled the regime to purportedly kill around 1500 protesters and arrest thousands, all without international witness.
What is for sure is that, now that the crowds no longer gather for Soleimani, the Iranian regime will revert back to the only style of governing it knows, and the problems of the past will again become paramount to the majority of the country’s population.
Within two years, the “cut internet” defense when the people protest for change will become an increasingly impossible challenge for the Iranian regime. The public’s communications amid any pivotal event in the country will be increasingly difficult to suppress.
These advances aside, it is likely that a typical regime response to civil unrest will continue to demonstrate that the Iranian people are justified in being scared of their government and not the other way around. Ironically, this demonstrates in practice the famous quote: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
Even given the death of Soleimani, the sense from the outside looking in is that the average Iranian citizen continues to crave liberty. So, while the government now ponders a revenge from which its people would almost certainly suffer increased domestic hardship, the clock ticks and, minute by minute, technology advances and the supreme leader gets older and less in touch with his youthful and intelligent population.
All but the few who derive power from regional instability hope for an end to the skullduggery, attacks, piracy, antagonism and now revenge that are generated from within the Iranian regime. The certainties of the next decade will, at several junctures, provide opportunities for the emergence of an open and amicable Iran to rejoin the international community. Soleimani’s death, whichever way it is viewed, should not distract from this.
The people of Iran are guaranteed pivotal change by mortality and due process at home and abroad. To that end, the majority of Iranians must be urged to opt for the “high road” and to concentrate on their own house, alongside the technological certainties that will bring them opportunity.
I would rather not think of a potential “Persian Revenge,” from which there will evolve no winners, but rather a “Persian Spring” that, under an envelope of uninterrupted public communication, brings about an opportunity for a U-turn.
This would enable Iran to rejoin the international community, ending a 40-year theocracy experiment that has disrupted and isolated the country, caused distrust and conflict in the region and forced millions of Iranians to live in the diaspora. Progressive Iranians know only too well that the only way to go forward is to make change happen, and revenge won’t do that — it would simply create more misery, more discontent.
These coming months will be crucial, but the decade even more so, not least because there will be a realization on all sides that it offers pivotal change and an opportunity for Iran and its people. So, instead of digging two graves, I for one hope they grasp the certainties the 2020s can offer and dig none.