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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


March 23, 2001

Khatami should not run

Initially after reading Hamid Zangeneh's piece, "Don't run", I questioned whether or not his opinion was based upon factors that are truly important. I have been a staunch supporter of the reformists, of Khatami's presidential term, and of Khatami's reelection, and the factors that I deemed of the utmost importance were based on these questions:

(1) How will Khatami's election nor non-election affect the domestic economic situation?

(2) How will Khatami's election or nonelection affect Iran's standing internationally?

(3) How will Khatami's election or non-election allow for progress toward civil liberty in Iran?

But after working through Zangeneh's argument, I have fallen into agreement with him: Khatami should announce "to the public that he will not stand for reelection and, more importantly, tell them why-- pure and simple."

In working through the basis of Zangeneh's opinion, I deduced the following: Khatami's goal of establishing a civil society under the rule of law would require first having the citizens of Iran become familiar with the notion of the rule of law. Zangeneh makes the case that this step has been largely achieved, and I concur.

The unmitigated power granted to the rahbar, Khamenei, allows for a gap between the people's interests and official power. As a result, today's elections in Iran are merely a veil over the true structure of power, which sees the rahbar, Khamenei, positioned at the center. Furthermore, this veiled power structure is allowed under the terms of the constitution.

Zangeneh then poses the questions: "What is the value to the regime that encourages them to give Khatami more freedom? Freedom to do what? If they want Khatami because he could guarantee the survival of the status quo, then we need to ask why should people vote for the guarantor of a system they do not want in its current form?"

The status quo mentioned here specifically refers to the veiled power structure, and the hypothetical "freedom" could only be granted within the bounds of the "veil". It would be irrational for the camp of conservative elites around Khamenei (and Rafsanjani) to simply offer to the reformists, "befarmaayid".

My agreement with Zangeneh is conditioned by the fact that the Majlis will remain reformist-dominated after the election. The sum of the reformist-dominated Majlis and a boycott of an election in which Khatami does not stand would be a clear public renunciation of the legitimacy the presidential office and of the current structure of the Islamic regime. There is a danger here, however, in the way the conservative elites will respond to this message. Nonetheless, a clear message will also be sent to the outside world about the interests of the Iranian people.

This last point returns me to those "important factors" as posed in those 3 initial questions. In regards to question 1: economic goals can be considered as short term and long term. Cleaning up Iranian politics will certainly be a boon to long term interests in terms of both efficiency and distribution, despite sacrifices of immediate gain in the short term. This isn't so bad: most of the immediate gains would go into the pockets of the conservative elite anyway, and an economic recession in the West and in Japan make short term potentials less of an incentive to Iran's export sector.

In regards to Iran's international standing: as described in a recent Economist article, Iran's entanglement with the Russian defense industry is a default-- if not agonistic-- outcome of the idiosyncratic political ideologies of Iran's conservative elite. It is difficult to say how the election outcome will impact this relationship. But, as mentioned above, the message sent by a Khatami-less election boycott would help clarify the interests of the people. This message could then be considered in contrast to the perceived interests behind Iranian weapons acquisition and proliferation. This message could have a great impact on how countries in the West, especially the US, would think about long term goals for their Iran policies.

In regards to question 3: by not standing for election and explaining why, Khatami would be demonstrating to Iranian citizens his belief that liberties can be extended further than what the status quo provides.

Thus I concur with Zangeneh: Khatami should not stand for reelection and explain why.

Cyrus Samii


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