July 25, 2009

Third Revolution

Once there was a revolution in Iran, led by Ayatollahs, overthrowing Shah Regime and destabilizing the Island of Stability for more than a decade. That event not only led to a regime change but also transformed socio-cultural system of Iranian society. Ordinary people who had been directed toward a western life style during Shah Reign were then ready to embrace a fundamentalist, politically aggressive interpretation of Shiite Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini, charismatic founder of Islamic Republic, used to serve as a mentor for whose guides a better part of the society would sacrifice their belongings up to their lives. However, many moderate figures, including administration of Prime Minister Bazargan, were still active in then political atmosphere of Iran. Even though somehow isolated, they could affect some parts of the society and serve as a barrier to many radical decisions.

Almost one year later, there was the Hostage Crisis in Iran. It finally led to Bazargan’s resignation. Ayatollah Khomeini called the event the Second Revolution. He was right in the sense that Hostage Crisis helped radicalize Iran’s politics and put aside moderate figures. For years to come, the voice of hardliners was dominant in Iran.

After demise of Ayatollah Khomeini which coincided with the end of Iran-Iraq war, absence of a charismatic hardliner leader left some room for moderate voices to spread. Compared to Ayatollah Khomeini, the new supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, barely had the support of masses. In addition, technocrat, pragmatic administration of Ayatollah Rafsanjani, whose main rhetoric was Reconstruction, helped found a relatively strong middle-class whose main concerns hardly included those of founders of Islamic Revolution. The young grown up in that period of time, especially girls with their progressively loosening dress code, turned into the symbol of a generational gap.

No surprise that the new age did need Khatami, a reform candidate promising more freedom and less oppression. From the point of regime’s strategists, Khatami could serve as a safety tube, containing unrests, directing the discontent already available in the society toward less dangerous goals acceptable to senior officials of the regime. Presidents of Islamic Republic are usually supposed to serve two terms. Khatami was no exception.

Even though reform movement failed to bring about changes essentially needed to establish a western democracy, senior officials were reluctant to cope with it for another eight years. Had taken the power for another term, reformists and still-born civil society established in the age of reform could have turned into an existential threat. Moreover, reformists themselves paved the way for a new chapter to begin. The change masses demanded was not in parallel with what senior reformists tried to accomplish.

Khatami had to pass power to a new figure. A controversial election brought Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani to the second round of the presidential election. Even though results of the first round were highly skeptical, Ahmadinejad beating his rival in the second round with a landslide was a clear sign of people demanding the change, again.

In his four years of presidency, Ahmadinejad convinced masses in rural and suburban areas that he should be the one. He gathered many supporters to whose tables were brought a portion of oil income. That fact led senior strategists of the regime to believe that the time was ripe for revenge.

Recent presidential election and its aftermath, whether a political coup or a failed velvet revolution, helped IRI officials put aside moderate figures who were mostly born in the age of Reconstruction and flourished in the age of Reform. In other words, this election helped radicalize Iran’s politics. In this sense, had he been able to send a message, Ayatollah Khomeini would have called Ahmadinejad’s reelection the Third Revolution.