Dr Muhammad Iqbal Lahori was one of the architects of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Iqbal’s poetry in ‘Farsi’ inspired the generation that stood up against the Shah. Dr Ali Shariati picked up from where Iqbal departed in 1938. Allama saw the first revolution of the 20th century (Bolshevik 1917) that toppled the kingdom of Czars in Russia. He predicted the Chinese Revolution of 1949 while he inspired the third. On January 29, 1979 the powerful Shah of Iran, the policeman of the West boarded a plane to end centuries of Iranian monarchy. Both the progressive left and religious right had joined hands against the monarch. It was the leftist Poet Ahmed Shamlu and interim prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar who convinced the Shah to leave. His 400,000 strong army could not save his rule. A few days after on Feb 1, 1979 Imam Ruhollah Khomeini arrived in Tehran to a hero’s welcome.

It has been forty years since the revolution. After nineteen years of barren period, the 21stcentury is ripe for revolution. The worldwide skewed distribution of wealth calls for major review of human priorities. The free market, deregulated approach has badly failed. Rich have become richer while poverty is on the rise. The yellow vest movement in France is ongoing. After the prolonged French Revolution (May 1789 to Nov 1799), the ‘Parisians’ have learnt to exercise restraint. In May /June 1968, 400,000 to 500,000 protesters marched in the streets of Paris. Chanting “Adieu, de Gaulle”. The president left the city but the protestors did not occupy the government buildings instead they decided to go home. De Gaulle returned. A constitutional referendum was held in April 1969. It was rejected by 52.4% voters, de Gaulle resigned and settled in his village where he died on November 22, 1970. The republic that he had carved out after the second world war survived, which is now under serious threat.

Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power in United Kingdom in 1979 and Ronald Reagan’s in USA in 1981 titled the balance of wealth to favour of the rich. ‘Thatcherism’ and ‘Reaganomics’ introduced the concept of deregulation and free market economic order. Labour unions that opposed were crushed. The prolonged coal miners’ strike could not budge the iron lady. Reagan fired the striking air controllers after declaring their protest illegal under essential services. As president, he used the term ‘No government is the best government’. With growth of economy during their time in power, the expected trickle down did not take place as a result the rich got richer and the poor became poorer.

In the current century, democracy is under serious threat

The democratic economic gains of the 20th century have been almost neutralised in the 21st. Even representative democracy is under serious threat today. There are calls to replace the Athenian model with the people’s republic system where every citizen is catered for. Elitism has badly hurt democracy. In the United states itself two boys from Brooklyn, New York are getting ready to face each other in the presidential elections scheduled for the year 2020. Senator Bernie Sanders the poor underprivileged son of a shopkeeper is facing a privileged offspring of a developer and business tycoon called Trump.

The three revolutions of the 20th century (Bolshevik 1917, Chinese 1949, Iranian 1979) did change the world but each followed its own future course. In quest for warm waters, the Soviet Union decided the invade Afghanistan in late 1979. With Pakistan as a frontline state a force of ‘Mujahideen’ was created to stop the Soviet advance. It was a deadly struggle that destroyed Afghanistan, seriously impacted Pakistan and caused the dismemberment of the mighty Soviet Union in 1991. Though the Ccmrades do come to the Red Square every year in October to celebrate their revolution, but the Russian Federation now considers itself to be a country in transition to capitalism.

China has kept its course by creating a ‘People’s Republic’ which is poised to rule the world. As founder of modern China, the embalmed body of Chairman Mao Tse Tung lies in state at the People’s Square in Beijing. In Iran, the religious right took control of the kingdom pushing the progressives out. It has done well in building a strong nation. After Israel, it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Iran is now ready for a major transition as it has created a strong pool of educated youth together with the infrastructure to support growth. Liberalisation of economy is their next major challenge for which they are seeking an effective framework.

In 2011, the ‘Arab Spring’ shook the entire Middle East. Several autocratic regimes were toppled. Only Tunisia was able to achieve transition to a constitutional democracy. The counter revolutionaries struck back. The elected government of President Mohmed Morsi was toppled in Egypt by the military. General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi got himself elected as the president against the will of the people. As the slogan, “The people want power’ remains unfulfilled now the ‘Arab spring’ is termed as ‘Arab-winter’. Both the internal and external establishments have succeeded in stalling the much-needed change pushing the entire region towards revolution.

In the 21stcentury, the contest is between ballot and bullet. Yes, the people want power through credible ballot but if that is denied then the bullet will take over. In 2019, there will be elections in India followed by the USA in 2020. Both contests are crucial for the future of mankind. Establishment manipulated ballots can no longer sustain status quo.

In the current century, democracy is under serious threat. Change is inevitable, either it will be with help of the ballot or the force of the bullet only time will tell. We live in interesting times. Iqbal did not live to see the two revolutions he had predicted (Chinese, Iranian) but we must be ready for much more to come unless sanity prevails. There has to be equitable distribution of wealth and resources both within and amongst nations for humanity to prosper.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation