Understanding Iran

Developing Just Leadership

Editor

Rajab 08, 1430 2009-07-01

Opinion

by Editor (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 5, Rajab, 1430)

After a week of sporadic protests in Tehran, the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei issued a stern warning on June 19th during the Friday Khutbah attended by two million people to desist from trying to overturn the results of presidential elections through street protests. He said violators of the law would be dealt with firmly. Thereafter, the protests subsided considerably.

Elections always generate excitement. This is especially true in “Third World” countries where people are quite passionate. Iran’s June 12 elections and Lebanon’s on June 7 are good examples of this. In both cases, there was also intense external interference, especially by the US, to manipulate the outcome. In Iran, the hoped-for Green revolution came up against the steely determination of the masses and the leadership.

Despite much media hype, it is the West that suffers from a severe democratic deficit. During last November’s US presidential elections for instance, Barack Obama was presented as a candidate of “change” but his promised change has evaporated in six months. The stench of financial scandal arising from that other “bastion of democracy,” Britain, has exposed its true nature but this is unlikely to end the elite’s corrupt practices led by a parasitical monarchy that sucks millions from the treasury while the British people are gradually impoverished. The rest of the Western world is little different.

Given this reality, why is there so much noise about Iran’s elections and wild charges of vote “rigging”? Surely it cannot be the West’s sudden liking for the Iranian people. The real reason is that Iran is being destabilized for breaking out of Western stranglehold by establishing an independent Islamic system and government. The Islamic revolution ousted the West’s favourite puppet, the Shah, from power. It is the first country to have defied the international order imposed by the victors of the Second World War. Over the last 30 years, the West has made strenuous efforts to bring Iran to heel but failed.

What makes Iran so resilient? The West has repeatedly misunderstood the nature of Iranian society and leadership. Western “experts” on Iran — and there is no shortage of such people — assume that like the West, Iran, too, is ruled by a tiny elite that can be overthrown easily. Further, that since the West has abandoned religion, Iranians, too, must follow this path to “modernity”. While this is true of the tiny Westernized urban class in Iran, the vast majority do no fall into this category. Since the revolution, Western journalists and “experts” have relied on the opinions of this alienated class reinforcing their own prejudices against Iran and Islam.

Iranians, and indeed, the overwhelming majority of Muslims everywhere, have a deep attachment to Islam. There is a vast network of mosques throughout Iran that act as centres of mobilisation. This is how the revolution succeeded. Second, the vast majority lives in rural areas. While successive governments since the revolution have looked after the needs of people to varying degrees, it was only President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who went out of his way to offer tangible help. He regularly visited remote villages reflecting his concern for people’s well-being. His humility, simplicity and genuine deference to the elderly earned him much affection; they saw him as one of their own. His support base consists of the rural and urban poor as well as the pious. These numbers are augmented by the millions of Basijis and Revolutionary Guards from whose ranks he emerged after a distinguished service during the Iraqi-imposed war. It was this majority, far different from the Gucci crowd of north Tehran that gave Ahmedinejad such a resounding victory.

His main challenger, Mir Hussain Mousavi, seems to have abandoned his revolutionary ideals since the post of prime minister that he occupied between 1981 and 1989 was abolished. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, a “week is a long time in politics.” Surely 20 years is a lifetime. With Mousavi’s absence from the political scene, most people had little knowledge of his role as prime minister. Further, he seems to have suffered the negative fallout from his close association with two former presidents — Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. He was particularly vulnerable to the charge that as president, Khatami had compromised on the nuclear issue without getting anything in return from the West. This resonated with Iranians and as a skilful debater Ahmedinejad made the most of it during his televised debates. Even Mousavi’s aides conceded that Ahmedinejad had outperformed their candidate.

Mousavi perhaps made another error of judgment. He assumed that no candidate would secure the 50 percent plus one vote required to win and that he would face Ahmedi-nejad in the second round. He thought together with the votes of the other two candidates — Mehdi Karoubi and Mohsen Rezai — he would become president. Ahmedinejad’s clear victory in the first round, predicted by independent pre-election polls, dashed such hopes.

Mousavi should accept the results gracefully and move on otherwise there is a danger that US-paid agents provocateurs that appear to have penetrated his rank of supporters would find additional excuses to indulge in sabotage as they attemp-ted during the post-election mayhem.

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