Denying Democracy

There is methodical logic in Iran’s supreme Mullah singling out Britain and the British government’s funded BBC Persia as the main foreign culprits in encouraging and fomenting sections of Iranian society to further actively question the outcome of the recent election.Britain’s alleged attitude toIran in the recent crises is no surprise to anyone who has merely glided into the history of theUK’s relationship with the Iranian people and indeed the people of theMiddle East.

A people’s right to question the outcome of strongly perceived electoral irregularities is beyond dispute. Yet what moral right does the British government possess in carrying the beacon of pro-democracy agitation? The answer is a resolute and definite none.

Britain, with all its historical involvement in that part of the world, simply has no record in implementing democracy in theMiddle East.  Indeed, out of the major powers, only Britain had had the political power to impose democracy in the early histories of the modern Middle Eastern states. However, in accordance with its perceived interests, it opted for the promotion of colonialism and monarchical despotism. Both these options were founded on the forceful denial of democracy to the indigenous populations.

For example, one of the foundational building blocks of Zionist colonialism under the British mandate in Palestinein the early part of the last century was the adamant British denial of democracy to Palestinians. Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the U.K.at the time of Britain’s acquirement of Palestineordered the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill that he, “mustn’t give representative government to Palestine.”[1] The reason for this was that before the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, the indigenous Palestinian Arabs were by far the majority and major Zionist settlements had not yet been established. If democracy had been allowed in 1920’s Palestine then Britain’s colonial Zionist project would have been dealt a “terrible blow.”[2]

Another example whereby Britaindenied democracy was in 1920’s Iraq. Britainimposed its colonial directorship of the country by imposing a puppet king. The Iraqi people wanted nothing to do with Britain’s chosen candidate, King Faisal. The British imperial officers had other ideas. They rigged a referendum to produce the now familiar over 90 per cent of votes for Britain’s candidate – the first of its kind in the region or as one British historian writes, “As yet popularity ratings of over 90 per cent were not recognised as the exclusive prerogative of unloved dictatorships.”[3]

We find the same ghastly anti-democratic tendencies inIranin 1953. The Iranian people voted for a candidate, Muhammad Musadiqq that was not to the liking of the British. For a start he nationalised the oil industry which hitherto had been under British control and ipso facto run in accordance to the benefit of British capital. An affronted post-imperial Britain conjured a master plan and devised a coup d’état with a view to bringing Iranian oil profits back into Her Majesty’s government royal orbit.

However, with Britainno longer the imperial power it once was and with resources drawn to a minimum due to rebuilding the nation after the second world war, it needed to rope in the Americans in order for the anti-democratic coup to be a success. The reputable British journalist Patrick Cockburn recently wrote that one of the ways it convinced the Americans was to argue that the Iranian Communist party was on the verge of taking over Iran and therefore falling under the Soviet Union’s orbit. But this is only half the story, if that.

Before Musaddiq’s nationalisation Britainhad pocketed 85-90% of Iranian oil profits while the rest was graciously left for the Iranian nation. Musaddiq’s nationalisation of the oil industry left Britainwith nothing. Therefore, to further convince the Americans of the necessity of a coup, Britainneeded to financially cut them into what it had hitherto thought was its sphere of influence. The Americans were obliged to “dip their beak” (as the fictional, small time crook Funnuci would have insisted on the young Don Corleone in the Godfather) into this British master plan. [4]

A deal was done which guaranteed American oil corporations 40% of Iranian oil if it joined the UKin overthrowing Musaddiq. The rest is history which includes the raiding of the American embassy in Iranduring the 1979 revolution and President Obama’s admittance in Cairothat Americaplayed “a role” in the overthrow of Iranian democracy. Hence, the use of the indefinite article, ‘a role’ because the foundational role in concocting the coup d’etat wasBritain’s alone.  Unlike theUnited States, noUK head of state has yet to acknowledgeBritain’s leading role in concocting the coup.

“The Big Lie” writes a leader writer for the London Times, “about the election haunts every corner of Iranian life…” this may or may not be the actual case.  And there is certainly a vast proportion of Iranians who would agree with this observation. Yet surely the ‘Bigger Lie’ that has ‘phantomised’ the British media since the Iranians came out on the streets to protest the election results is that the British government has any interest in promoting Iranian democracy or the welfare of the Iranian people.

Barack Obama’s Cairospeech was perceived by many as turning the page in relations between Americaand the Arab and Muslim world. Indeed one American writer goes so far to argue that the address was a departure from the usual “language of Anglo colonials.” Whether Obama’sAmerica will actually turn the page and subsequently withstand further British arguments in condemning and isolating regimes or will theUS be once again roped into “dipping its beak” waits to be seen.

Originally published at ‘Arab Media Watch’ in August 2009.


[1] Quoted in Richard Toye, Lloyd George & Churchill, (London: Macmillan, 2007) pg.200.

[2] ibid.

[3] John Keay, Sowing the Wind, (London: John Murray, 2003) pg. 160-161.

[4] For a good introductory account of the British shenanigans in convincing theUnited States and overthrowing Mossedeq see ibid., pg 411-416. See also Stephen Dorril, MI6, (London: Forth Estate, 2000), pg. 558-599.

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