This is an important article by one of the middle-east's leading journalists. I highly recommend taking the time to read this. -- DoctorZin
IRAN'S SEEDS OF LIBERTY
By AMIR TAHERI for the NY Post
June 27, 2003 -- AS the Iranian opposition to the mullahs gathers momentum, a chorus of self-styled experts in the United States is trying to belittle the pro-democracy movement, presenting the Khomeinist regime as a solid and urging Washington to seek détente with Tehran.
These "experts" present the pro-democracy movement as a student revolt with no popular base, no program and no leaders. In fact, it has a strong popular base. Its support cuts across class, religious, ideological and generational boundaries.
* Over the past six months, Iran has seen dozens of industrial strikes in which urban workers came out with exactly the same demands as the students. Workers at the nation's largest gas refinery, in Agha-Jari, and in the Mahshahr petrochemical complex (the biggest in the Middle East) have also organized symbolic walkouts in support of democratic demands.
* Teachers have engaged in a series of strikes, One last month closed 50 percent of the schools for several days.
* In the past three weeks, sections of the traditional bazaars in Tabriz, Rasht, Isfahan and Shiraz have also organized one-day shutdowns in solidarity with the students.
* Even the clerical establishment is broadly supportive of the pro-democracy movement. There are three Grand Ayatollahs in Iran today: Hassan Tabatabi Qomi, Hussein-Ali Montazeri and Muhammad Sadeq Ruhani. All three have endorsed the movement and publicly called for an end to Khomeinist tyranny.
* Scores of lesser ayatollahs, including many who once worked with the regime, are also calling for its overthrow. Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri-Khorramabadi, the main spiritual leader of Iran's second most populous city Isfahan, has described the regime as "an enemy of Islam and humanity."
* So strong is clerical opposition to the Khomeinist regime that the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei has been unable to visit Qom, the theological center of Iranian Shi'ism, for almost a year. Today, there are more mullahs and students of theology in prison in Iran, on political charges, than any other stratum of society.
* Iran's intellectual elite is even more solidly behind the pro-democracy movement. In the past three weeks, dozens of petitions signed by writers, poets, novelists, filmmakers, artists and academics have been published in support of the students' demands. Today, not a single prominent Iranian intellectual remains in the Khomeinist camp.
* The movement has support within the establishment itself. Almost two-thirds of the members of the Islamic Majlis (Parliament) have published a petition demanding constitutional change to transform Iran from a despotic-theocratic regime into a democratic one. This is especially significant, for all candidates for the Majlis must win the approval of the state-security services and the "Supreme Guide" before they can stand for election.
* The movement also has the support of several members of President Muhammad Khatami's Cabinet plus many of his closest advisors. (Khatami himself has tried to sit on the fence in the hope of acting as an interface between the regime and its opponents. But some analysts believe that he may have become marginalized in the process.)
As for lacking a program and a leadership, the movement has the first and is developing the second.
Its main program is to force the regime to accept constitutional change through a popular referendum. The idea is that parts of the Constitution that contradict the principle of people's sovereignty - notably by giving unlimited powers to the "Supreme Guide" and a number of un-elected bodies - should be struck out. Khomeini's outlandish claim that a single man should exercise power on behalf of God and, when necessary, even against the will of the people, will be consigned to the ashcan of history.
The idea of reforming the Constitution has been at the center of debate in Iran, and in the Iranian community abroad, for years. Scores of seminars have been held and countless papers and articles published on the subject. There is broad consensus among Iranians of all shades of opinions that peaceful change is still possible and that the regime, weakened by its contradictions, cannot maintain its despotic hold on power for much longer.
No one knows how much longer the regime may manage to hang on to power. One thing, however, is certain: It now faces a strong, growing and determined opposition that will not simply fade away.
For any regime to be overthrown, several conditions must exist simultaneously. Some are already present, at least in part, in the Iranian context.
The regime must lose its legitimacy: This is already largely the case in Iran. The regime lost its initial revolutionary legitimacy by crushing most of the other forces that had coalesced to overthrow the Shah, and by establishing a narrowly based theocracy. But it has also lost its religious legitimacy by persecuting many leading religious leaders.
A substantial section of the regime's original constituency must part ways with it: This is also happening. As already noted many members of the Majlis and Cabinet have publicly taken side with the pro-democracy movement, as have thousands of technocrats who have served the regime over the years.
The regime " must lose the support of at least part of the coercive forces at its disposal: This too is happening in Iran. The regular army (which the Khomeinists never trusted) will certainly not turn its guns against the people to preserve the present bankrupt system. Even the Revolutionary Guard, created by Khomeini to counter-balance the army, can no longer be trusted.
Earlier this year a senior Guard commander was dismissed after he made it clear he would not shoot unarmed protestors. Some 30 junior commanders have been moved to "less sensitive" positions in the remoter provinces. It is not at all certain that the regime would be able to count on the loyalty of all the guard units in a major confrontation with the people.
An alternative leadership must emerge: It begins by exercising moral authority and, then, develops into a government-in-waiting.
This last condition is not yet present in Iran. But some of the elements that might form it are identifiable. These include a number of clerics who have broken with the regime and fought it in the name of democracy. To these will be added scores of technocrats, members of parliament, journalists, university teachers and students, business managers and trade union leaders.
Right now the pro-democracy movement has a strong cadre of leaders at local levels. A movement with no leaders would not have been able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people in more than 20 cities to come out in simultaneous demonstrations and with identical slogans and demands. As the struggle intensifies, leadership is bound to emerge at the national level also.
Both President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are right in their public expression of support for the pro-democracy movement in Iran. This is the least that the great democracies can do for those who are risking their lives by fighting one of the world's most vicious regimes in the name of values that the American and European peoples claim as their own.
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"If you want on or off this Iran ping list, Freepmail me
"a chorus of self-styled experts" . I wonder exactly who these people are? Any ideas? Names?
Very good article. Thanks for the posting.