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The Persian Night

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
May 2009
Commentary

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For many societies, the journey to modernity has been painful and costly. China's struggle, more than 150 years in duration, has brought economic transformation, but the Chinese people remain ruled by a Communist regime that has killed millions of its own citizens. Reform and democracy in Russia began late in the 19th century and produced a first constitution in 1906; here we are a century later, with the collapse of the czarist system followed by the Bolshevik takeover, and the collapse of the Soviet Union followed (after a brief liberalization) by the current repressive regime. So it has been in Iran. Its 1906 constitution was based on European models, just as Russia's was, but the possibility of a move toward democracy was short-lived. War, the discovery of oil, Russian and British imperialism, and internal divisions soon combined to eliminate the opportunity for a democratic republic or a limited constitutional monarchy. Not until the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979 did the chance for freedom arise again, only to be crushed by the forces that still rule Iran as an "Islamic Republic."

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