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The End of Illusions in Iran
Arab News ^ | feb.17, 2004 | Amir Taheri

Posted on 02/17/2004 8:41:52 PM PST by nuconvert

The End of Illusions in Iran

February 18, 2004

Arab News / Amir Taheri

“We must turn a page and move on.” This is the advice that Ali Khamenei, the supreme guide of the Islamic Republic in Iran, gave to his compatriots earlier this week. He was referring to the parliamentary elections to be held on Friday and pre-arranged to ensure almost total victory for his own faction within the regime.

Even a month ago, many would have predicted such an easy victory for the faction of which Khamenei is the figurehead. The rival faction, whose standard-bearer is supposed to be President Mohammad Khatami, was expected to put up a real fight. It did not, because, lacking a popular support base, it did not have the stomach for a real fight.

The Iranian election experience puts an end to several illusions.

The first of these is that the mere holding of elections is a sign of democratization. Now, however, we know that although there can be no democracy without elections, it is possible to have elections without democracy.

The Iranian electoral recipe is simple and efficient. It starts by making sure that all the candidates are handpicked for their total loyalty to the leader. Next it makes sure that there is no real election campaign. The candidates are not allowed to criticize the leadership. Nor can they offer programs that differ with the essential options of the leadership.

The whole campaign lasts only one week and candidates are not allowed access to the heavy mass media such as radio and television. All material put out by the candidate must be approved by the authorities; and no one is allowed to spend more than $10,000 on a campaign. Finally, winning a majority of votes does not mean getting elected. A candidate’s win must still be confirmed by no fewer than 11 different layers of authority, the final one of which is the Council of the Guardians that could nullify any or all of the results.

The purpose of elections in such a system is not to challenge the government of the day and to offer alternative policy choices. It is to pay allegiance to the rulers.

No system can be reformed unless it opens itself to new, especially rival, forces. And that means sharing power with groups and parties that, for one reason or another, have been excluded from decision-making. Reform does not consist solely of new ways of doing things. It also requires that different people do at least some of those new things.

The third illusion to die in Iran is the belief that we now have a united domestic opposition force with a coherent analysis of the nation’s situation and a clear vision of its future.

Now, however, we know that the so-called “reformist” camp did not exist except in the imagination of some Western commentators.

This election has broken that “camp” into no fewer than 18 different mini groups some of which have boycotted the elections while others, although denied the right to field candidates of their own, have opposed the boycott in the name of revolutionary solidarity.

The so-called “reformist” camp, which, in fact, presented absolutely no major reform program in any field, consisted of a crowd as random as that of a group of people waiting for a bus who have nothing in common except a desire to get on the next bus.

A credible opposition cannot be made of occasional student riots, sit-ins in the Parliament and speeches about Schopenhauer and Hegel. Before anything else it needs to show why the present system is bad and how and with what it should be replaced. In the past decade or so Iranian opposition has generated much heat but little light. It has shown a great deal of passion but little thought. Romantic preoccupation with vague generalities has been its wont, while the conservatives have focused on the concrete issues of power and its practice.

In other words, the Iranian system is blocked not only because the establishment does not wish to share power — which establishment would? — but also because there is no credible opposition force on the scene. It is not enough for a majority of the people to be unhappy with a regime for that regime to consent to change and reform.

There can be no democratization without an opposition capable of offering clear alternatives to a government’s analyses and policies.

With the death of these illusions, the Iranians, and others interested in Iran, must review some of their recent assumptions.

The key lesson to Iranians is that the alternative to this regime cannot emerge from within it. It is possible, and to some extent even happening now, that large segments of the establishment drift away from it. But, unless they are absorbed into an opposition, they will amount to nothing but flotsam and jetsam of a turbulent political life.

The conservatives have always claimed legitimacy on the basis of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and not from any elections in the normal sense of the term. The reformists tried to muddy the waters, so to speak, by claiming that the revolutionary regime had been re-legitimized through the ballot box.

The Iranian election shows that the present regime’s legitimacy does not come from the ballot box but from its ability to impose its will by force if necessary. It obliges Iran’s neighbors, and the major powers interested in the region, to abandon their illusions.

The death of illusions in Iran also means the death of the European policy of “constructive dialogue”, first proposed by the Germans in the 1980s and now most actively pursued by the British. That policy was based on the assumption that the regime can reform itself, peacefully and speedily.

It is now clear that it cannot.

Thus the Europeans face a stark choice.

They can decide to, holding their noses, continue dealing with the Iranian regime because they need its cooperation on a number of issues, notably nuclear non-proliferation, Iraq and Afghanistan. Or they can orchestrate a set of new diplomatic, economic and even military pressures on the regime as a means of encouraging the emergence of a genuinely democratic internal opposition.

The Bush administration for its part needs to develop a coherent analysis of the Iranian situation. It must decide whether or not Iran is, in the words of the State Department’s number-two Richard Armitage, a “sort of democracy”, or a despotic regime.

Short-term “realpolitik” may counsel an accommodation with the present regime in Tehran, much as it has determined Washington’s China policy. But that kind of “realpolitik” would mean the premature death of plan for “a new Middle East”.


TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: amirtaheri; elections; iran; mrtaheri; reformers; taheri
"The purpose of elections in such a system is not to challenge the government of the day and to offer alternative policy choices. It is to pay allegiance to the rulers."
1 posted on 02/17/2004 8:41:52 PM PST by nuconvert
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To: nuconvert
If the people of Iran want freedom, they'll have to fight for it.
2 posted on 02/17/2004 8:46:22 PM PST by Prince Charles
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To: Prince Charles
Yes.
3 posted on 02/17/2004 8:53:18 PM PST by nuconvert ("Progress was all right. Only it went on too long.")
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To: Prince Charles
So, how was your visit to Iran, Prince?
You know some of the people said "Welcome home"?
4 posted on 02/17/2004 8:59:09 PM PST by nuconvert ("Progress was all right. Only it went on too long.")
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To: Prince Charles
If the people of Iran want freedom, they'll have to fight for it.

They fought for freedom before, but then they gave it over to the mullahs.

They'll have it do themselves, no outsider would want to walk into that mess. Iraq and Afghanistan are enough for Coalition troops.

Let the Persians rise up on their own - and they will if they want freedom bad enough. They aren't Arabs, they can do it.

5 posted on 02/17/2004 9:00:18 PM PST by xJones
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To: nuconvert
How long will the Iranian people accept this totalitarian electoral charade?
6 posted on 02/17/2004 9:13:08 PM PST by Post Toasties
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To: xJones
It is no time to go wobbly. Pressure must be increased if Iraq is to be free, stable and prosperous.
7 posted on 02/17/2004 9:27:00 PM PST by AmericanVictory (Should we be more like them, or they like us?)
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To: AmericanVictory
It is no time to go wobbly.

I'm not a wobbliest.

I have a nephew in the U.S. Navy, and a son in the Air Force ROTC who will serve in active duty shortly after his college graduation. It is bad that these Muslim-dominated countries require the use of non-Muslims to straighten things out.

8 posted on 02/17/2004 9:44:06 PM PST by xJones
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To: xJones
But the regime in Iran has great reason to encourage failure in Iraq. The two are intertwined.
9 posted on 02/17/2004 9:50:39 PM PST by Pan_Yans Wife (Your friend is your needs answered. --- Kahlil Gibran)
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To: xJones
That's why we keep pointing out that the most effective way to deal with the situation, in both Tehran and Riyadh, and the least costly in American lives, is to make it clear to them that, through better technology in the hands of new emerging American companies built upon those technologies, the oil weapon will be removed in a few years. This should be the linchpin if we had leadership and strategic vision. Neither party has shown any inclination to forego donations in order to pursue this key to victory for America in the region.
10 posted on 02/17/2004 9:51:10 PM PST by AmericanVictory (Should we be more like them, or they like us?)
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To: Prince Charles
I am a newbie poster but a long-time lurker and lover of Free Republic. My husband is a Iranian born American citizen and we completely support the President's "war on terror". But, until the Mullah's are brought down we will be fighting this was for decades.

My husband took me and our four sons to Iran a year and a half ago. The Persian people are so desparately unhappy but, they are terrified. Very few Americans have been to the heart of the founding member of the"axis of evil". The people we met were extremely pro-American One old man in a small village took my husband's hand and implored him "tell Mr. Bush- we don't mean it." The average Iranian leads a double life. They are on the whole Fun-loving, sensuous and rebellious people. Behind closed doors they party as rowdy as any people on earth.

While I was there I noticed a phenonenom that you would never believe. Many young people are converting to Christianity. At an up-scale shopping mall in Tehran, I noticed alot of teenagers wearing a cross. I asked my brother-in-law if it was some sort of fashion statement and he said no, that alot of people were converting as a repudiation of the regime. Later, I met a woman who furtively showed me her cross and asked me to say the Lord's Prayer in English. She told me that all the major cities had large underground Christian movements. Andthis in a country where converting is a capital offense.

We have a satellite service which shows Iranian exile TV stations mostly produced in California. These stations are beamed into Iran as well. One night shortly after the Iraq war had begun, they received a fax from Iran. The writer said that a few days before the war Saddam sent a bunch of coffins to Iran. It was supposed to be the remains of Iranian war dead long held by Iraq. When they opened the "coffins" they found canisters with the skull and crossbones symbol. They were ordered to seal back the boxes and the coffins were sent to another military base. Its totally believable that old Saddam threw that hot potato to his good friends- the Iranians.

Even if you are mad at the President for one thing or another, Please support him. He is a good man and the world's best hope. Unless we understand that the miserable tyrannies of the Middle East, are the real manufacturers of WMD- brainwashed, hate-filled young men with no hope,freedom or future- terrorists will continue to be cranked out to do battle with us. Vote for George W. Bush for the sakes of your kids and grandkids!!!!!!!!!

11 posted on 02/17/2004 10:04:34 PM PST by SusanTK
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To: SusanTK
Welcome to Freerepublic.
12 posted on 02/17/2004 10:14:46 PM PST by Pan_Yans Wife (Your friend is your needs answered. --- Kahlil Gibran)
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To: SusanTK
I reread my post and I want to make clear that I am not advocating a war with Iran(even though many Iranians would welcome it). The successful conversion of Iraq into a democracy would have a huge effect. We must support the real pro-democracy movement in Iran- not President Khatami who is a fool and a coward.We must never cut a deal with the mullahs. The Iranian people would never forgive us. They despise the French who have cozied up to the regime. If we ever do normalize relationship with Iran( after the mullahs fall) the Iranians wouldn't buy another thing from Europe again. They would be some of the greatest consumers of American goods ever.
13 posted on 02/17/2004 10:17:07 PM PST by SusanTK
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To: Pan_Yans Wife
Thank you! You all are like family to me.
14 posted on 02/17/2004 10:18:44 PM PST by SusanTK
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To: SusanTK
Glad you can join us. The more voices that rise in support for the Persians, the better off the entire world will become.

Best wishes.
15 posted on 02/17/2004 10:21:21 PM PST by Pan_Yans Wife (Your friend is your needs answered. --- Kahlil Gibran)
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To: Pan_Yans Wife
Did you know that the foreign minister of Iran- Kharrazi voiced his support for the Democrats in our Presidential election?
16 posted on 02/17/2004 10:25:58 PM PST by SusanTK
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To: SusanTK
The Persian people are so desparately unhappy but, they are terrified.

If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt you, they have to suck it up and start killin' the people who need killin'. Nothing is worth going through life "desparately unhappy" and "terrified."

17 posted on 02/17/2004 10:27:34 PM PST by BikerTrash
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To: SusanTK
I hadn't heard that, trying to get caught up on a week's worth of readings... but, I try to keep abreast of the situation in Iran through DoctorZin's Daily Iran thread. Join us at his thread, and ask to be included on his ping list, if you like.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1079613/posts
18 posted on 02/17/2004 10:30:11 PM PST by Pan_Yans Wife (Your friend is your needs answered. --- Kahlil Gibran)
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To: BikerTrash
Dear Biker Trash,
Amen, but Iran has lost their best and brightest to emigration, war, addiction, and jail. I hope the stupid CIA finds out a way to get the "students" some help. The first thing the mullahs did when they had solidified power was to confiscate guns. Yes, we have the second amendment for a reason!!!!!!!
19 posted on 02/17/2004 10:33:01 PM PST by SusanTK
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To: nuconvert
Iran has been a theocracy since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. But the regime has been able to successfully fool Westerners into believing its a democracy. Now that the regime has disposed even of the pseudo-Khomeinists, it has been able to feel strong enough to dispense even with the facade of elections. Its a despotic dictatorship.
20 posted on 02/18/2004 3:17:53 AM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: SusanTK
Kudos to you for posting your touching account of the situation in Iran. I have no doubt that there is a vast reservoir of goodwill towards the U.S. among the younger generation of Iranians.

The collapse of communism is the most cogent example of how a radical change in Iran can be accomplished: once the despots who hide behind their religious garb are shown to be cowards, the average citizen will feel the urge to stop and shout "No more!" And then the end will swiftly come.

Although regrettable, it's likely that innocents will be killed in such an uprising; but as I say, if the people find that sacrifice to be worth it, then the battle for freedom will be on.

As far as U.S. involvement, don't count on it. There's no stomach among the sheeple here for an expanded war, and frankly we don't have the manpower to mount an invasion of Iran.

Thanks again for your comments.

Cheers.
21 posted on 02/18/2004 3:28:57 AM PST by Prince Charles
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To: nuconvert
"The whole campaign lasts only one week and candidates are not allowed access to the heavy mass media such as radio and television. All material put out by the candidate must be approved by the authorities; and no one is allowed to spend more than $10,000 on a campaign."

Sounds like John McCain's wet dream.
22 posted on 02/18/2004 3:30:58 AM PST by KantianBurke (Principles, not blind loyalty)
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To: Prince Charles
Thank you for your kind words. Iran is nearing a tipping point and the mad actions of the mullahs in this election show me that they are scared- real scared. Iraq becoming a democracy is making them wet their dresses. No, war with Iran isn't feasible- but, there's no reason that we can't help the Iranians with that tipping point at least with moral support.
23 posted on 02/18/2004 3:48:52 AM PST by SusanTK
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To: SusanTK
Thanks for all your input and welcome.

I believe the Iranian people will need some direct help from the U.S. (more than just moral support) at some point.
We have a vested interest in the demolition of the regime and building of a democracy. We can't move forward in the war on terrorism until we get rid of the biggest supporters of terrorism. When Hamas and Hezbollah and others, lose all their funding from Iran, they will crumble.
The world media is currently in Iran, but we hear next to nothing being reported. All the world should be watching Iran now and supporting the Iranian people. Major progress toward peace in the Middle East will begin with the fall of the regime.
24 posted on 02/18/2004 5:22:19 AM PST by nuconvert ("Progress was all right. Only it went on too long.")
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