June 25, 2009

Age of Ahmadinejad

Few days before the election, I met an old friend. As an educated man with a sense of humor, and as a father of two young babies, he made a nice point regarding Ahmadinejad: “when your boy is peeing, don’t stop him. Let him complete his task.”

Ahmadinejad, Miracle of the Third Millennium [1], was a new phenomenon in Iran’s modern politics. As a demagogue, he is capable of convincing ordinary people not linked to intellectuals. This point could be easily observed in the results of the presidential election. Ahmadinejad barely had the support of intelligentsia, the educated people and experts. Rather, his main constituency was composed of rural, suburban and less-educated voters to whose tables were brought some of the oil revenues. Frequent visits he paid to provinces and the huge amount of cash his administration distributed among people were more than enough to convince ordinary people that he would be the one.

Considering pre-election events and official results, one can easily find out that there is a wide gap between experts and masses in today Iran. Lots of voters didn’t pay a minimum attention to the expert’s ideas and this led to the overwhelming victory of Ahmadinejad [2]. This might be a classic example of populist figures winning an election.

Let’s consider some of the examples of the gap between experts’ ideas and those of ordinary people.

In the term of economy, a better part of his supporters fail to understand that Ahmadinejad “is robbing our future to pay us.” With regards to oil income, most of the economists believed that we should follow the example set by Norway, i.e. turning oil revenues into a sustainable capital. (Many Arab countries followed that path.) Ahmadinejad, however, decided to share the cash with the people. It should be noted that, for instance, 50$ donated by the government means a lot to a simple farmer in a far-located village of Iran. However, this farmer can’t understand that deferring his gratification can lead to a more stable (and perhaps larger) source of income. (This is, again, a classic example of a traditional society compared to a modern one. [3])

In the term of politics, his fans can hardly realize long-term consequences of his policies. For example, many political analysts believe that “Ahmadinejad is the kind of enemy Israel likes to hate” [4] for he makes it possible for Israeli officials to justify some of their extreme acts. (As an instance, Israel publicly confessed to having nukes just few years ago for she thought she could justify it, at least partly, referring to Ahmadinejad’s policies and positions he publicly made.) However, many of the hardliners only support him as a symbol of resistance against Zionist regime and international imperialism.

In my opinion, Iran is experiencing populism, full scale. An important feature of this atmosphere reveals itself in paying no attention to the experts and intelligentsia. However, after a while, long-term consequences of populism will be made clear to masses and they will turn again to elites.

Societies usually need to experience populism. This is an almost inevitable part of democratization enterprise. And Iran is no exception to the rule.

Before the election, I used to think that the people were not still ready to swear by expert bodies for they were yet to realize long-term consequences of populism. I’m personally happy that Ahmadinejad won the election. It costs us a lot, true. In my opinion, however, better to experience it once and forever. Better to let Ahmadinejad complete his task.

[1] A term used by a hardliner fan of Ahmadinejad, wife of his spokesman.
[2] In my opinion, even though there are some indications of limited fraud, Ahmadinejad won the election.
[3] Communication for Development in the Third World, chapter 3.
[4] A France24 commentator once used this phrase.

June 15, 2009

A Failed Velvet Revolution or a Political Coup?

Official results of the presidential election in Iran were more of a shock to both parties, i.e. reformists and hardliners. Regardless of the massive turnout that set a record in the age of Islamic Republic, Mousavi, the most hopeful reformist candidate, only gathered around 13 million votes which were almost half the votes of Ahmadinejad. Karroubi, other reformist candidate, won the support of less than a percent of voters.

Reformists believe that the results were ‘engineered’, and their supporters have waged limited rebellion against the ruling administration in some metropolitan areas. Referring to several cases of intervention, misconduct and paradoxical results as well as reports of reformist observers, they believe that Mousavi was the real winner and ruling party fabricated the results. The day after the election, several reformist figures, including the brother of former reformist president Khatami, got arrested. Moreover, some other prominent people, including Mousavi himself, are taken into home custody. Since few days ago, there has been a massive blackout on information resources. SMS service of two main operators has been completely cut since the night before election. Several reformist sites, even moderate ones such as aftabnews.ir, are blocked. Ministry of Interior Affairs permits no demonstration. Riot police is present everywhere and senior officials such as Rafsanjani who were expected to intervene are nothing but silent. From this perspective, putting together puzzle pieces, one might come to the conclusion that the whole event resembles a political coup.

On the other hand, hardliners could hardly expect to beat reformists and their ‘Green Wave’ in such a humiliating manner – Mousavi and his supporters chose Green as their symbolic color. Conservative analysts maintain that Mousavi and his companions were arranging for a Colored (Velvet) Revolution. Before the election, reformist resources and media orchestrated a massive propaganda to make people and observers believe that “the Green Wave should win if the original voice of the people is to be heard.” Finding out that Ahmadinejad is bound to win, according to hardliner analysts, reformist camp decided to run away forward. Few days before the election, Mousavi declared that he would be the winner if the people are not cheated on. And on the day of election, while people were still casting their ballots, Mousavi participated in a press conference and declared that he is the winner for sure. When the official results got published, public opinion was ready to accept that “it’s a fraud.” Then, Mousavi stated that he would not subscribe to the results. Later on, some resources informed people that Mousavi is pressed to accept the results. Mousavi and Karroubi asked people to wage a wave of civil unrest. Encountered with somehow heavy-handed response, demonstrations went violent. From this perspective, reformists are trying to direct a Colored Revolution.

In my opinion, Colored Revolution in Iran is set to fail for Revolutionary Guards and some hardliners are ready to take every possible measure to crack down demonstrations. However, they are yet to act. It might be due to two possible, yet completely opposite reasons. From one point, they may believe that the current unrest is not that serious. From another point, they may find it so unstable a situation that even one hasty move could cause serious problems. The truth will probably reveal itself within few days. Just wait.

June 3, 2009

Upcoming Presidential Election in Iran

Next presidential election in Iran not only matters to Iranians, but also, for good reasons, can affect the region and some of the global affairs. Since the political processes in Iran are almost unknown to foreign observers, it is worth publishing some information about would-be presidents of Iran. Four candidates are running for coming presidential elections in Iran:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current fundamentalist president who finds himself bound to win.

Mahdi Karrubi, former reformist parliament speaker.

Mirhosein Mousavi, ex-premier of war time and supposedly most hopeful reformist candidate.

Mohsen Rezayi, former commander-in-chief of Revolutionary Guards.

Many analysts believe that Rezayi is not likely to beat his powerful rivals. Since he left Revolutionary Guards, Rezayi, who got his PhD in economics, has been trying to put on a political, intellectual gesture. In my opinion, he is the best speaker among current candidates, having detailed programs regarding politics, economy, etc. He tries to propose radical changes in some important issues. For example, he chose a woman, Dr. Boroujerdi (grand daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini), to be his foreign affairs minister, "just to beat Hillary Clinton," to use his own words. In addition, regarding Iran-US relations, he is to propose Change Package in which detailed sequence of changes are described that could help remove some of the barriers to better relations. He even said that meeting Obama in next UN summit is possible, given that some good things happen within next few months. Even though he is somehow associated with so-called tradition-minded parties (hardliners), Rezayi has seriously criticized Ahmadinejad. For example, he was quoted as saying "if the trend of current administration is to be continued, it would bring the country to the verge [of destruction]." In addition, he has objected what he calls Political Adventurism of current administration.

Mousavi was Iran’s last premiere in the time of Iran-Iraq war. (After the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, some changes were made to Iran’s constitution, one of which was removing premiership, leaving the responsibility of forming the cabinet to the president.) After the assassination of Rajayi, Iran’s second president, Ayatollah Khamenei won the presidential election and chose Mousavi as premier for his first term of presidency. After four years, Ayatollah Khamenei assumed power again for his second term. However, this time he was reluctant to choose Mousavi for they had many problems with each other. Many people, major commanders and politicians among them, asked Ayatollah Khomeini to intervene in favor of Mousavi. Finally, Ayatollah Khamenei, though still reluctant, chose Mousavi as premiere. When Ayatollah Khomeini passed away, Ayatollah Khamenei was elected Supreme Leader and Ayatollah Rafsanjani won the presidential election. Mousavi, once the most popular figure next to Ayatollah Khomeini, got forced to leave political sphere and has been silent since then. Now, major reformist parties support him as their candidate. Many of these parties have fundamental problems with him, but since they swear by him as the most hopeful option competing Ahmadinejad, a strategic alliance is formed so as to beat Ahmadinejad.

Karroubi, the only clergyman among current candidates, is not a strong character by his own. However, he played a significant role in reformist administration and it gave him the chance of winning an influential position among reformist factions. Moreover, after Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad, he ranked third in the first round of previous presidential election which was barely expected of him. (It should be mentioned that he publicly objected the result, claiming that some inaccuracies and possible interventions were playing role helping Ahmadinejad go to second round.) In order to arrange for the next campaign, he formed a party, Etemade Melli (national trust). Now, a good team of experts, academics and reformist intellectuals support him.

Ahmadinejad; no need to explain. (I’m afraid if he is going to win. Bernard Shaw once said, “If you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always be assured of Paul's vote.”)