BAKU, Azerbaijan, February 20. Historically, the Munich Security Conference is one of the events, which gave analysts an opportunity to consider the possible transitions that may shape the future of different countries. The Conference is a particularly important convention for decision-makers because the implications are far-reaching due to the intertwined nature of the international relations system.
We can remember the now well-known dismantling of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, or the famous speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which were some of the most prominent examples of the relevance of the Conference. With this in mind, it is particularly important to understand that the Munich Security Conference is far more than just a talk shop.
The ongoing Munich Security Conference is different, however. It is interesting because this time the focal point of decision-makers' focus will be the domestic policies of the Iranian regime.
The fact that the Iranian regime was snubbed, and the consequent participation of exiled prince Reza Pahlavi, women rights activist Masih Alinejad, and activist Nazanin Boniadi, points to several important developments that can reshape the future of Iran, which, unfortunately, possesses a rather controversial reputation globally, due to its domestic and foreign policy blunders.
Why was Iranian regime snubbed?
This is the first question that we have to address, to give context and background information. The Iranian regime made several highly controversial calls in its foreign policy, during the previous years. Some of the things done, including the way Iranian officials dealt with the terrorist attack on the Embassy of Azerbaijan. Despite its obligation under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Iranian political establishment exhibited little effort to prevent the attack and failed to act adequately in the aftermath.
Another example is the accidental downing of a Ukrainian commercial flight, several years ago, the subsequent denial of wrongdoing and a final acceptance was one of the elements that defined the dishonest nature of the current foreign policy approach of Iran.
These are only two examples from a long list of reasons explaining the perception of the futility of having discussions with the Iranian regime.
From the perspective of the domestic political situation, the Iranian regime also made a series of wrong moves. In this context, the major talking point is the wave of protests, which flared up over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (also known as Jina Amini by friends and family) under extremely suspicious circumstances, who was initially arrested for improper wear of hijab. While officials indicate that her death was caused by existing health conditions, while her relatives indicate that she was a perfectly healthy young woman. Doctors’ initial examination points to the fact that Mahsa had a fractured skull due to heavy blows to her head. The death of a young female served as the trigger for wide-scale protests. While the protests subsided, dissent among the local population remains.
Taking these matters into consideration, it is possible to offer two significant reasons for snubbing Iran’s regime.
First, there is a perception that the current Iranian regime is not a credible partner, and striving for meaningful discussions with the current political elites is a moot point, to put it very diplomatically.
Second, and perhaps, a more important point is that Iran’s inability to address human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular, goes against the values of the civilized world. Participation of the Iranian regime in the Munich Conference would have legitimized the policies of the regime and created unnecessary reputational damage to the credibility of the Conference.
The choice of Iranian representatives is not coincidental
However, disregarding Iran completely would have also been a wrong move. Inviting the exiled prince Reza Pahlavi, as well as women rights activist Masih Alinejad, and activist Nazanin Boniadi gives us valid grounds to make several observations.
First, a lack of any meaningful political opposition in Iran due to the regime’s policies aimed at eradicating political freedoms.
The second observation is the high fragmentation of the society despite common anti-regime views, as well as the population’s inability to form a cohesive political movement. The former is best illustrated by the reaction of some parts of the population to the loss that the national team suffered during the World Cup in Qatar against the US national team. Meanwhile, the latter, once again, can be attributed to the restrictive domestic policies of the regime.
As such, the exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi, whose mother, Farah, and paternal grandmother, are ethnic Azerbaijanis, remains the only viable partner, who Western states can have fruitful discussions with.
In terms of the invitation of the two prominent activists, Masih Alinejad and Nazanin Boniadi, illustrates the importance of human rights issues.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this matter. The lack of human rights and constant oppression of various groups of the population, including ethnic Azerbaijanis, women, and political opposition, erodes the future of the country and leads to outbreaks of violence against these groups. The root cause of violence is the reaction of the regime and the law-enforcement agencies, which service the regime while acting illegally against the people they should protect.
Why is this important?
The combination of several factors, including the pro-human rights stance of the exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi, the invitation of two prominent human rights activists, and the prioritization of human rights matters by Western societies and decision makers point to the fact that there is a consensus among Western powers on the viability of Prince Pahlavi’s potential ascension to power.
There is a certain degree of cautious optimism that the views on the human rights issues of the exiled Prince will make him more attentive to the grievances of Azerbaijanis living in Iran, in case of his potential rise to power.