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Iran: Quo Vadis?

, by Daniel Sammut

On June 12th 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran held its tenth presidential election. It was a gripping contest between the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his reformist challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

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I believe that this election (and the controversy that it has generated) has long term consequences. The fact that the Supreme Leader’s authority was and is still being challenged in the streets has important implications. These include that Iranians are fed up with the lack of basic freedoms and human rights, the system of almost divine rule of the Supreme Leader has lost credibility in the eyes of many Iranians and that the system of government has to undergo radical changes to make it less complicated and more transparent and more respectful towards human rights. The theocratic system has lost its credibility and it is clear that Iranians want a major change in the system of government. In my view, the Iranian clerics are going for the wrong option of suppressing by force which could lead to another revolution in the long run... just as what happened to the Shah in 1979. The Shah, during his rule, chose repression and ended up overthrown in a revolution within a few months. The clerics must keep in mind that if they retard change (like the Shah did); they will have to face the hostility of the very people who put them in power 30 years ago. The writing is on the wall, but the clerics do not want to see it. So, I believe that they will manage to suppress the people this time by force but the reform movement will grow stronger until one day it will become strong enough to topple them.

This election generated a lot of enthusiasm compared to the election of 2005. The youths and the women featured very strongly in this election and showed a lot of enthusiasm. The majority of the youths and the women showed that they were displeased under Ahmadinejad. Iran’s rulers have to take note of this if they want to stay longer in power. They have to brace themselves for a radical change in the system of almost divine rule by the Supreme Leader and the powerful, unelected Guardian Council. They have to make it more accountable and friendly towards human rights.

The election was accompanied by a high turnout. Some 85% of the eligible voters voted in this election. Hours later, it was suggested that Ahmadinejad got 63% of the vote and Mousavi got just 34% of the vote. This statement was not believed by Mousavi and his supporters. It was time to strike for democracy.

Protests

The protests resulting from accusations of alleged fraud in the election have been the most serious since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. For more than a week, Iranian protesters have been defying the election result attracting considerable international interest. Despite harsh restrictions on the media, Iranians have taken videos on mobile phones and uploaded them on the internet for the whole world to see. Disturbing images and videos of the Basij (a voluntary paramilitary force loyal to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) beating protesters and shooting at them have been released. It is amazing how the Iranians are using the internet to defy the authorities: this was something unimaginable a few years ago.

At the Friday Prayers, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei showed that he was not impartial when the Supreme Leader should supposedly stay above the political fray and take balanced decisions. His stern warning to the protesters shows that he is supportive of Ahmadinejad. But although he has come in the limelight now, the protests have continued and the challenge is against him. Now, Khamenei is under fire.

A young woman called Neda who was killed by a Basij militia member has become a sort of martyr and an icon of the Iranian freedom movement. This will only strengthen the Reform Movement in Iran in the long run. Her widely publicised death will make the challenge to the clerical leadership more serious than ever before. This time the opposition movement is stronger than ever before and it is also organized in the sense that it has clerics and powerful figures in the top leadership supporting the protesters. Important figures such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri give the protests strength. This has surely led to serious divides among the clerics (behind closed doors).

Divisions in the Clerical Establishment

These protests are the birth of the freedom and democracy movement in Iran which is getting stronger.

The aftermath of this election has revealed serious disagreements within the clerical establishment. Some clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who is a strong opponent of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and favours human rights and democracy in Iran, openly support the protesters. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri had issued warnings in the past to the current clerical establishment to change their anti-democratic ways, or else face the anger of the people who put them in power thirty years ago.

The clerics are at a crossroads now. Either they grant human rights and let democracy work properly or suppress the people’s demands through the use of force. The latter prevailed and this will have serious consequences in the long run. These protests are the birth of the freedom and democracy movement in Iran which is getting stronger. The clerics would be extremely foolish to ignore such an important development in Iran’s political history. Such a mistake could lead to their downfall in the long term... just like what happened to the Shah in 1979. So, Iran’s leaders….Quo Vadis?

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Image: Iran election, source: www.flickr.com

Your comments

  • On 30 June 2009 at 15:37, by mypoint Replying to: Iran: Quo Vadis?

    The Iranian struggle for human rights and a secular democratic state, must be of equal importance to the struggle for freedom in Belarus, and wherever in the world people are standing up for human rights and democracy, for us a young Europeans. Thus, I believe that the EU, and every European must be more vocal, not just condemning the violence used against protesters, but also be openly critic of the theocratic system sustaining a culture of austerity and oppression in Iran, if we are to sustain and increase our credibility as a beacon of democracy and rule of law in the world.

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