The IRI in Iran: Its End is Sure, But What Will Follow?
By Mark Dankof
Advocates of theocracy from the Reconstructionist movement within the American Christian Right to the most extreme Zionists in the Eretz Israel movement are notoriously bad instruments of secular governance and international diplomacy, both historically and presently.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in Iran, where the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) regime teeters on the brink of disarray and collapse. The reasons are legion, including an ongoing case of the economic doldrums and a brand of domestic repression arguably more intense than its Pahlavi predecessor. The glaring internal contradictions in the present political and cultural infrastructure of Iran seem to guarantee ongoing conflict, with endgame as yet unknown. It is a struggle with enormous stakes for the indigenous peoples of that nation, the Iranian diaspora living abroad, and the world’s most important geopolitical players in the competition for oil and natural gas reserves and pipelines.
There is one thing we do know. The present attempt in Iran to concurrently preserve theocracy and democracy in Tehran cannot survive. Only one side can prevail; any domestic political tranquility is but a prelude to the final struggle.
On the theocratic side of the equation stands Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Council of Guardians, a supervisory body of twelve (12) members dedicated to the preservation of ultimate political governance and power by Shiite Islamic clerics allegedly in receipt of the direct revelatory guidance of God. On the democratic side of the divide is the elected President of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, and the 292-member Majlis, or national Iranian parliament.
The tensions were exacerbated to the near-boiling point on January 10th, with the unilateral decision of the Council of Guardians to disqualify more than 3,000 of 8,000 nominated candidates of the Majlis, including 80 incumbent members largely associated with the secular Reformers and President Khatami. Since that time, signs of negotiation and compromise between Khamenei, the Guardians, the Reformers, and Khatami have been ongoing. A final decision on the appeals of the disqualified candidates will be made on February 12th; the general election will transpire on February 20th.
There are dangers for all sides concerned. For Khameini and the Guardians, the demographics of Iran are a ticking time bomb. The Economist notes that two-thirds of Iran’s 70 million people are under the age of 30; fully half are under the age of 20. For this burgeoning constituency, there is no personal memory of the American-inspired coup that removed Mossadegh in 1953, or the repressive character of the Pahlavi regime that followed. Their focus is exclusively on economic growth and development that must of necessity be linked to secular political reforms, the cessation of social repression, and the attraction of foreign investment-- entities simply incompatible with ancient notions of theocratic rule. There is yet another notable quandary for Khameini and the Guardians–how to cope with an age of Internet communication which has made the IRI regime’s domestic control of the dissemination of information and news-spin all but impossible. This is self evident, as Tehran dailies parroting the line of the Guardians like Jomhouri-e-Islami and Siassat-Rouz are contradicted by Internet and Farsi language short-wave radio communications which link Iranian human-rights dissidents and larger masses of indigenous listeners to lines of news and analysis which threaten the aura of deification that once surrounded the Islamic regime. As is the case with all forms of totalitarianism, the IRI and its chief theocrats are losing the war for the minds of its people. With the beginning of this process is the predictable end of Islamic theocracy in Iran.
This inevitability does not exempt President Khatemi and the Reformers from their own difficulties. The failure in the last several years to curb the reactionary excesses of the Islamic conservatives using the judicial branch of the Iranian government to nullify reform, and the failure to curb the oversight authority of the Council of Guardians has now served to challenge the political viability and credibility of the President and the Majlis Reformers. Human rights activists and hoards of young, impatient masses fed up with the IRI want change–and they want it now. Khatemi and the Reformers must deliver tangible political goods and services, or face their own consignment to the ashheap of Iranian political history. The winds of revolutionary political and cultural change are blowing. They will not be quenched. The great irony is that these forces may envelop the Reformers no less than the mullahs as time and patience run out.
What can or should replace the IRI era in Iran on a long term basis? The answer to this pivotal question may well lie in the development of a political system which centers in the formation of a secular, constitutional government founded in a truly representative Majlis, a Presidency with clearly defined prerogatives and proscriptions, and a judiciary rooted in Western concepts of jurisprudence. None of this implies either a latent or overt hostility to the legitimacy of the Shiite Islamic cultural tradition of Iran, even as doctrinaire notions of theocracy must be discarded as dysfunctional. And what about the tradition of monarchy in Persian history, dating back to the days of Cyrus and the Achaemenid kings who chronologically followed him? The best educated guess is that a monarchy with limited, titular powers is indicated, preserving the existence of a king perceived by the people as blessed with the divine Zoroastrian conception of the farr, or favor of God, even as monarchial absolutism is rejected as incompatible with constitutional, republican government and the future needs of the Iranian people.
One fundamental mistake must be avoided by the legitimate Iranian human rights activists and reformers inside and outside the country. Their functional alliances with foreign governments and global economic consortiums cannot be allowed to undermine the legitimate national interests and aspirations of the people in a truly independent Iran. In the 20th century alone, the tragedy of British, Russian, and American machinations there should remain fresh in the minds of those Iranians who truly desire the re-establishment of their nation’s fortunes. Internationally based Marxist movements are to be avoided, as is the theocratically oriented wing of global Islam. At the same time, the dangers of a perpetual alliance between Iranian independence movements and the agents of American neo-conservative influence cannot be underestimated. If the public perception is generated that anti-IRI forces have become an especially useful–and covert--tool in the furtherance of the primary interests of the American Empire and the Zionist State of Israel, the drive for a truly independent and free Iran will have been arrested, perhaps permanently.
Finally, the constructive role to be played by the United States in these developments is unfortunately limited. American claims to desire the national autonomy and independence of a free Iran are belied by the Central Intelligence Agency’s skillful execution of the 1953 coup that overthrew the popularly elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh. The reverberations from that tragedy now work in tandem with Straussian neo-conservative advisors within the Bush Administration to produce Middle Eastern policies rooted in the utilization of both covert operations and the overt, preemptive employment of American military force to enact regime changes in the region. The methodology is obviously failing at present to produce a legitimate government for the people of Iraq, even as American lives and dollars continue to go down the proverbial drain. If the same methodology is pursued with both Syria and Iran, the tragic consequences will multiply exponentially, both for the countries of central Asia as well as for the United States itself.
Bush must reverse the implementation of these policies elsewhere before the tragic effects prove irreversibly cataclysmic. In the case of Iran, domestic political events there must be allowed to take their course without overt foreign intervention, American or otherwise. The alleged threat of Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz and Bushehr must be handled in the context of IAEA inspections and auspices, not in veiled threats of preemptive American or Israeli air strikes on the facilities, even as the American Administration must demand nothing less of Israel than any other nation in the region when it comes to IAEA nuclear facility inspections and regard for international law and human rights. This must include a no-nonsense policy of the support of the United States for a truly independent Palestinian state. American claims of support for a free and independent Iran will possess zero credibility when expressed in the Middle East in tandem with continued support for the repression of the Palestinian people by alignment with the regime and policies of Ariel Sharon. An ongoing alliance with Sharon will damage the credibility of the United States globally, as it already has--even as enemies of America increase and are recruited daily as a result of the very policies Mr. Bush and his minions claim will produce a furtherance of the national security of the North American continent.
Again, the eventual failure and demise of the IRI is not in doubt. What remains to be shown is whether or not the fortunes of the Iranian nation and its people can be re-established in a constitutional republic with a limited monarchy, the jettisoning of theocracy, and the creation of a broad-based movement of independence that resists the repristination of Iran as a vassal state of outside foreign powers. Only time will tell.
(Mark Dankof is a Lutheran pastor and free-lance journalist, occasionally contributing to Iran Dokht, Al Bawaba, Nile Media, CASCFEN, and other Internet news sites. Once a 3rd party candidate for the United States Senate in Delaware , he maintains the web-site Mark Dankof’s America while pursuing post-graduate theological education at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.)
© 2002 Mark Dankof