Saturday, June 20, 2009

Has Iran's Theocracy suffered a Fatal Wound?

Fareed Zakaria certainly makes a good case for it. He maintains that while the regime itself may carry on for a while, it's founding ideology has suffered a fatal blow, dividing the ruling mullahs:

Zakaria: 'Fatal wound' inflicted on Iranian regime's ideology
[...] CNN: As you've seen the situation in Iran develop over the last week, what are your thoughts?

Fareed Zakaria: One of the first things that strikes me is we are watching the fall of Islamic theocracy.

CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall?

Zakaria: No, I don't mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may -- I certainly hope it will -- but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime.

The regime's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound.

CNN: How so?

Zakaria: When the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "divine assessment," he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran's supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today --- legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.

CNN: There have been protests in Iran before. What makes this different?

Zakaria: In the past the protests were always the street against the state, and the clerics all sided with the state. When the reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, was in power, he entertained the possibility of siding with the street, but eventually stuck with the establishment. The street and state are at odds again but this time the clerics are divided. Khatami has openly sided with the challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, as has the reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. So has Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and a man with strong family connections to the highest levels of the religious hierarchy. Behind the scenes, the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of the Assembly of Experts, another important constitutional body, is waging a campaign against Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader himself. If senior clerics dispute Khamenei's divine assessment and argue that the Guardian Council is wrong, it is a death blow to the basic premise behind the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is as if a senior Soviet leader had said in 1980 that Karl Marx was not the right guide to economic policy.

CNN: What should the United States do?

Zakaria: I would say continue what we have been doing. By reaching out to Iran, publicly and repeatedly, President Obama has made it extremely difficult for the Iranian regime to claim that they are battling an aggressive America bent on attacking Iran. In his inaugural address, his New Year greetings, and his Cairo speech, there is a consistent effort to convey respect and friendship for Iranians. That is why Khamenei reacted so angrily to the New Year greeting. It undermined the image of the Great Satan that he routinely paints in his sermons. In his Friday sermon, Khamenei said that the United States, Israel, and especially the United Kingdom were behind the street protests, an accusation that will surely sound ridiculous to most Iranians. The fact that Obama has been cautious in his reaction makes it all the harder for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to wrap themselves in a nationalist flag. [...]

Zakaria goes on to make some comparisons with the fall of the Soviet Union, and America's "correct" response to that, which he also compares to Obama's current response.

I've had a lot of mixed feeling about these events. Some people claim that Moussavi was a worse dictator in the 1980's than Amadinejad is now. But Iran was also at war with Iraq back then; different times, different circumstances. I also had -and still have- hopes that Moussavi might be Iran's equivalent of Gorbachev, bringing a kind of Glasnost to Iran.

Even now, there seems to be an element of that happening, as Iranians rebel against many long standing assumptions about the way things are supposed to work in Iran's Islamic Theocracy. The Iranian people are tired of broken promises, fake elections and votes that don't matter. A door has been opened now, and it may not be possible to close it again. My prayers are that Iran finds it's glasnost.

This interview touches on many good points in a complex situation. Meanwhile, events in Iran continue to escalate:

Iranian police throwing teargas at protesters in Tehran; Update: I’m ready for martyrdom, says Mousavi; Update: Israeli minister predicts revolution

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All theocracies end up being the power structure of a select few. God only has relations with individuals not through some select few. If they claim it like the Ayatolla, they are liers, only interested in personal power and deserve to be overthrown and will.