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Islamic regime can not be toppled, top Iranian cleric tells US

World News
Jul 18, 2003

TEHRAN - A top Iranian cleric said it would be impossible for the United States to topple the nearly 25-year-old Islamic republic, accusing Washington of fomenting unrest but saying it had only served to strengthen the regime.

"The July demonstration was a scandal for the Americans," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a Friday prayers sermon.

He was referring to July 9, the fourth anniversary of bloody pro-democracy student riots when tens of thousands of people in Tehran protested against the regime but remained largely confined to their cars.

"Thinking this regime will be toppled with one move is stupid and short-sighted," said Jannati, an Islamic conservative and secretary general of the powerful Guardians Council, a legislative vetting body.

"This regime is stable. If the regime could be overthrown, it would have been toppled during the first days of the revolution," he added. "Whatever plots and conspiracies you have come up with, the power of the regime has increased."

His comments were greeted by the habitual chants of "Death to America!", "Death to Israel!" and also "Death to England!.

The cleric alleged the demonstrators who took to the streets in July and for 10 days in June for protests marked by virulent anti-regime slogans and violent clashes had been paid to do so by the United States.

"Do you believe that you can topple the regime with a bunch of dollars? If you do believe that, then you are stupid," he argued, describing opponents of the Islamic regime set up in 1979 as "politically bankrupt".

Following the June and July protests, thousands of people were arrested, while the judiciary has also launched a fresh crackdown on the reformist press.

Embattled reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who defended the right to peaceful protest but wields little or no authority over conservative-run institutions, has ordered the justice and intelligence ministers to probe the crackdown.
40 posted on 07/18/2003 11:53:11 AM PDT by DoctorZIn (IranAzad... Until they are free, we shall all be Iranians!)
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By Afshin Molavi 7.17.2003

WASHINGTON (EurasiaNet-PS) Reformist forces in Iran are making what some observers have described as a last-ditch effort to thwart the country’s increasingly defiant conservative minority, which controls the key levers of power in the Islamic republic. The reformists have appealed to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameneh’i, to embrace democratic reforms over dictatorship "to save the country and repel foreign threats."

In recent years, reformers have suffered a seemingly unending string of political setbacks at the hands of their conservative rivals, who have forcefully resisted all attempts at modernisation by Parliament and President Mohammad Khatami’s government. The defeats have caused much of the reformists’ popular support to evaporate.

The strongly worded appeal to (Ayatollah Ali) Khameneh’i, sent on July 15 and signed by 350 reform-minded intellectuals, is clearly an attempt to blunt the conservatives’ political momentum. The appeal calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners, the revival of banned newspapers, a wide-ranging overhaul of the hard-line judiciary and the reduction of power of un-elected bodies that "contradict the people’s will".

The letter examined "a vital dilemma" facing the Islamic Republic: the choice between democracy and dictatorship. Rather than "succumbing to a despotic interpretation of Islam and the constitution by supporting people who do not have any standing before public opinion", the signatories urge Khameneh’i to support a "democratic interpretation of the constitution".

"It is important that we make our views heard", signatory Ali Reza Alavitabar, a leading reformist intellectual and publisher of several banned newspapers, told "EurasiaNet".

"The Iranian population has become frustrated with the reformist movement because of our inability to ensure the success of our platform of political and social liberalisation. The conservatives have effectively used the system to block us", Alavitabar continued. "They must either stop doing this, or we must make changes to the system to ensure the democratic nature of the Islamic Republic, so they won’t have the power to block popular will so easily".

The Islamic Republic’s political system grants disproportionate power to un-elected bodies and institutions, hampering the country’s fledgling democracy movement. Several of the signatories, including Alavitabar, signed the document at substantial personal risk since they are already under investigation by the judiciary.

"Freedom has costs," Alavitabar said. "Some of us must be willing to pay them."

The reformist appeal targeted three un-elected institutions in particular: The Council of the Guardians (CG), the Expediency Council, and the judiciary. The CG, an un-elected body of six clerics and six lay jurists, has the power to veto all parliamentary legislations. Several times in recent years, the CG has vetoed legislations introduced by the reformist-dominated parliament that would have strengthened Iranian democracy. The Guardians Council also has the power to vet all candidates for public office, and has repeatedly rejected radical reformist candidates, along with secular nationalists, and secular democrats.

Meanwhile, conservative have utilized Iran’s judiciary to jail, harass and intimidate their political opponents. Journalists who have been brought before the press court of Saeed Mortazavi have likened him to "a grand inquisitor" rather than an impartial judge.

The Expediency Council, headed by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was created in the late 1980s to mediate disputes between the Guardians Council and parliament. Instead, it has effectively proven itself an ally of the conservative camp, rarely siding with reformists.

The un-elected bodies have effectively created a dual power arrangement in Iran that one pro-democracy student group characterized as "a system of political apartheid." Reformists, including President Khatami, have repeatedly called for a reduction in the power of un-elected bodies, saying they interfere in the political system. Khatami has introduced legislation that would reduce the power of the Guardians Council and strengthen the presidency.

The July 15 letter warned Khameneh'i and the conservatives not to resort to violence and crackdowns against students and reformists who seek change. "Such methods are not only illegal and lack popular, religious, and moral legitimacy, but are also useless and inefficient," the letter said.

In the past month, Iran’s conservatives have stepped up their onslaught against opponents, jailing several leading journalists and detaining up to 4,000 Iranians who took part in nationwide anti-regime protests in June. Iranian officials acknowledged June 16 that interrogators had beaten a journalist to death in late June, following her arrest for photographing a Tehran prison. Conservatives also have taken steps to tighten control over mass media, issuing frequent orders to editors to not cover certain events.

One frustrated newspaper editor told EurasiaNet: "How can I do my job in this kind of environment? I’m always wondering: will this next article land me in jail?" Recently, four editors have been ordered to serve jail time, bringing to 20 the total number of journalists behind bars.

The recent reformist letter comes on the heels of another letter sent to Khamenei a few weeks earlier by reformist parliament members, outlining some of the same themes. In that letter, they noted: "the vast majority of people are disgruntled and hopeless. The majority of elites are either silent or have chosen to emigrate. There is a massive capital flight and foreign forces have totally encircled the country." Couching their argument in national security terms, the letter writers wrote that only a real democracy would ensure the security of the state from foreign threats and internal crises. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Iran’s reformists are also facing a crisis of their own, observers say. Double-digit inflation and chronic unemployment has caused grumbling about economic mismanagement. The reformists’ inability to follow through on campaign promises has left many of their supporters frustrated. During recent student protests, several chanted slogans urging Khatami to act forcefully or resign.

In addition, Iran’s reformist camp is splitting into two factions – one favoring substantial structural change, the other supporting a more cautious course, according to Alavitabar. He said the "structural change" reformists want a more aggressive strategy to promote reforms. Several of the "structural change" reformists in parliament "might resign within the next few months," a reformist MP, who asked not to be named, told EurasiaNet.

"I’m not sure if it will make a difference in the short-term, but it would show that we cannot accept this anti-democratic assault," the MP said. "Perhaps the benefit would come in the long-term."

Iran’s conservatives, thus far, have shown little willingness to compromise. Their recent victory in Tehran’s municipal elections has bolstered their confidence, analysts say. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives]. In those elections, Tehran residents stayed away from the polls en masse, while the conservatives – who rarely get more than 20 percent of votes – managed to mobilise their base supporters and win the low turn-out election.

Conservatives hope to repeat that same winning formula in parliamentary elections in 2004, analysts add. ENDS REFORMERS VERSUS CONSERVATIVES 18703

Editor’s Note: Mr. Afshin Molavi is a Washington-based journalist who specializes in Iranian and Caucasus affairs.

EurasiaNet carried the above article on 17 July on its website

Some editorial works are by IPS
41 posted on 07/18/2003 11:58:33 AM PDT by DoctorZIn (IranAzad... Until they are free, we shall all be Iranians!)
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