TitleIran's dilemma: for better or for worse?

Unfinished project of ‘regime change’

17 Mar 2010

■ *Nima Kelari

A specter is haunting Iran. Is this specter the promise of a somewhat democratic and free political system and a more tolerant social order, or is it a descent into a lasting and enduring totalitarian one? Each of these two possibilities enjoy a strong social basis as well as solid legal grounds within the Islamic Republic’s constitution, which in turn is reflected within the factions of the existing political order. In this article, I want to suggest that after the presidential election of 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected, Iran has been faced with an unfinished project of ‘regime change’ by a sect within the regime which operates and has been emboldened in the current period.

The current divisions in the political order have its origins in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. After a very short period of openness and a short-lived ‘spring of freedom’ a two-year-long battle followed, leading to a fracture within the newly formed political order.
At first, divisions were described as the ‘followers of the Imam [Khomeini]’s way’ and the ‘Liberals’ (which included the two first administrations appointed by Khomeini himself). Shortly after this period of liberal purge, during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the factions of the newly established and consolidated Islamic regime took on the names of ‘left wingers’ and ‘right wingers’. Eventually, in the midst of the second decade after the Revolution, with the onset of the ‘reform era’, the old left wingers became ‘reformists’ and the right wingers took on the label of ‘conservatives’. Meanwhile, the regime kept its core nature, allowing these groups to function within its established rules.

Both domestic and foreign policies of the ‘fundamentalists’ -populist government of Ahmadinejad increasingly revealed that its main mission was the elimination of the old order and the establishment of a ‘new’ regime

By the second round of the ‘reformist government’, which took office in 2001 with the re-election of Mohammad Khatami, the conservatives had taken a majority in parliament. This process was orchestrated by the ultra-conservative and hard-line ‘Guardian Council’ and was backed by the Supreme Leader in close affiliation with the military forces. This affiliation was particularly important at a time when foreign presence all around Iranian borders made this hard core coalition more ‘legitimate’, allowing them to gradually sweep out all the reformists and civil society forces. Although the newly anointed ‘fundamentalists’ took power by the 2005 presidential election, there still was no clear and straight evidence that there was a change in the factional politics of the Islamic Republic. ‘Fundamentalists’ presented themselves as populists revolutionaries reclaiming the early values of ‘the Revolution’. Their main objective was to spread justice and destroy the ‘aristocratic tendencies’ that had infiltrated the Revolution, by which they referred to the formerly established factions of the regime most closely identified with the reformists.

Both domestic and foreign policies of the ‘fundamentalists’ -populist government of Ahmadinejad increasingly revealed that its main mission was the elimination of the old order and the establishment of a ‘new’ regime, which is characterized by its somehow mystic and apocalyptical visions as the new legitimizing ideology with a kind of pragmatism. But in fact, it has become obvious that they are shaping a new layer of political elite and economical interest group. This has lead to social and political dissonance, especially among the reformists who understood that they are the main target of this vast exclusivist tendency. But the purge and the formation of new political/financial elite also was a wake-up call for some section of the conservatives who had kept their alliance with the new government but have now realized that they too are in line for elimination by this new tide.

These new actors have shown that they do not care about the standard line of the legacy of the Revolution and that they seek to interpret that legacy in their own ways. Ahmadinejad’s government and its supporters are trying to finish their mission, even if it means imposing high costs on the country to the extent of bringing it toward a war.
The recent unrest caused by the presidential election of June 2009 has shown that certain parts of the traditional leadership and rank and file of the ‘old order’ have come together and are standing up against this new purge and are even succeeding in mobilizing a vast portion of the population as their base. The suspicious outcome of the election raised a series of street protests which were suppressed harshly by the security and military forces and ended up in a volatile situation. Will the new order which seems to be under the hegemony of military forces succeed in gaining total power? Or will the powerful opposition which has still kept important bases within the regime be able to decide the outcome of current political contentions?

Of course there are multilateral forces that may be able to change the possible political scenarios and impose a third alternative to the polarized situation, but, nevertheless, it seems that if all these actors are unable to change the current political dynamic, the fundamentalists will succeed in expelling and dismissing all other forces from the political stage.
So the question remains: will the ‘Green Movement’ as a whole be able to go on the offensive and set back the fundamentalists? How will they be able to change the course of events in their favor? Or will there be a fundamental shift in the nature of the Islamic Republic towards a military dictatorship?

*Nima Kelari is the “pen name” of the author

Tehran Review
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    تهران‌ریویو مجله‌ای اینترنتی، چند رسانه‌ای و غیر انتفاعی است. هدف ما به سادگی، افزایش سطح گفتمان عمومی در مورد ایده‌ها، آرمان‌ها و وقایع جهان امروز است. این مشارکت و نوشته‌های شما مخاطبان است که کار چند رسانه‌ای ما را گسترش داده و به آن غنا و طراوت می‌بخشد. رایگان بودن این مجله اینترنتی به ما اجازه می‌دهد تا در گستره بیشتری اهداف خود را پیگیری کرده و تاثیرگذار باشیم. مهم‌تر از همه اینکه سردبیران و دست‌اندرکاران تهران‌ریویو به دور از حب و بغض‌های رایج و با نگاهی بی‌طرفانه سعی دارند به مسایل روز جهان نگاه کرده و بر روی ایده‌های ارزشمند انگشت بگذارند. تهران ریویو برای ادامه فعالیت و نشر مقالات نیازمند یاری و کمک مالی شماست.