Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Ferment in Iran

By Saeed Qureshi

Following the June 12 presidential elections, the world is watching with intense attention and rapt curiosity the situation developing in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The country is in the throes of unprecedented commotion resulting from the recent elections that are being questioned as controversial. For the first time in three decades, the omnipotent religious regime of Iran is slipping into a defensive position. The pro Mousvi supporters defiantly believe that he was a winner and that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president was a loser.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition presidential candidate, and his supporters are claiming that a massive state engineered rigging of ballot robbed their candidate of presidency. Amazingly, the country where dissent was forbidden like a sin is bursting with incredible violent uproar not only against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but tacitly also against the religious combine of the revered supreme spiritual leader, the powerful Guardian Council and other institutions that had been running the country since 1979 with an iron clad discipline.

The supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s announcement to look into the irregularities and Guardian Council’s declaration to recount the votes have failed to appease Mousavi and his outraged camp. Short of re-election or accepting him as the winner, Mousavi is not prepared to reconcile with his defeat. Meanwhile several casualties have taken place, making the worsening scenario murkier. Mousavi statement saying, "I'm warning that I won't surrender to this charade," and urging his backers to fight the decision, is not only against his rival but heralds a rebellious call against the closed theoretic establishment. It’s a prelude to a civil war between the orthodox and the reformists.

Thanks to internet and other modern communication channels, the new generation of Iran born after the 1979 clerical revolution is more affiliated with the world at large than the narrow ideological lifestyle in Iran. They want to break the overly stringent and outdated shackles imposed on the society by an orthodox theocratic system. The majority of Mousavi followers are youth from the educational institutions or those who can compare Iran’s religious authoritarianism with democratic, open and humanitarian societies elsewhere in the world. The religious fervor is melting away to give way to internationalism and cosmopolitanism. Thirty years of theocratic unitary system is more than enough to sustain and survive.

The myth of religious unity and cohesion anchored on sacrosanct Shia faith appears to be fracturing for the first time. The state’s dreaded and ruthless security and law and order apparatus is visibly crippled or incapacitated to crack down on the mammoth countrywide demonstrations. Even if the crackdown is mounted, the situation would take much longer time to return to normalcy or may further deteriorate.

In the meantime Ahamdinejad and the upper echelons of power would remain as culprits in the eyes of the pro Mousavi segment of population. Ahamdinejad as a president for the second term would be less confident and aggressive. He might be internally shorn of the peace of mind and the resilience and bluntness that distinguished him as an intrepid stalwart of the revolutionary religious regime of Iran.

President Obama’s non committal and cautious response to Iran imbroglio is the right and pragmatic approach as United State is not dealing with the individuals but with the state of Iran. Mousavi as a reformist and a liberal should be the favorite of the western world including the United States. But on the whole there would be little that Mousavi can flex his liberalism and to defy and override the strait jackets of the theocratic hierarchy.

For the United States it would have been rather easier to deal with a progressive person like Mousavi. But beyond rhetoric it would be utterly difficult for even Mousavi to deviate from the laid down parameters either in domestic or in external domains. The President of Iran is the highest official elected by direct popular vote, but does not control foreign policy or the armed forces.

Mousavi may not be able to soften or budge on Iran’s nuclear program as the United States might be erroneously hoping. A former President Khatami (Aug 1997-Aug 2005) despite being liberal and more opened minded reformist remained a lame duck head of state. So President Obama’s approach and outlook to express neutrality in case of the presidential contenders is sagacious and may keep the doors open for interaction with Iran in either case.

For Israel, the return of Ahmadinejad as president is nothing short of a nightmare. Already several statements have emanated from Israeli government showing extreme concern and apprehensions over Ahmadinejad victory. There is a probability that Israel might be somehow supporting or abetting the anti Ahmadinejad crescendo of widespread protest and rallies.

The system of bridled democracy with reins of the president in the hands of the supreme leader and the Guardian council will have to be abolished in due course of time. Unless there is an absolute monarchy as during the Raza Shah Pahlavi era or an authoritarians rule as in Cuba and North Korea, there is no way that the half baked and alloyed system of theocratic democracy can survive indefinitely. The change is perhaps around the corner. The untenable and superfluous institutions of supreme leader and guardian council will have to go. Sooner or later, a genuine presidential or parliamentary from of governance will have to usher in Iran.

If the elections are held again or in fresh votes’ count Mousavi is declared victorious or Ahmadinejad is retained, the Islamic regime’s credibility would suffer a severe jolt as a clean, impartial and pious establishment. The Islamic regime of Iran has been caught unawares and it would be nothing be short of a miracle if it comes out of this upheaval unblemished and unscathed. In all probability Iran’s monolithic theocratic establishment has become vulnerable.

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