Don't get left behind
The reform process is already happening
By John Mohammadi
December 26, 2001
Mr. Zanganeh's line of argument in his opinion piece entitled "Cannot
win", though informative, is inaccurate.
The standard argument basically goes like this: since the IRI constitution
ensures a monopoly of power to a particular group, then ideas of reforms
are mere "pipe dreams" or are simply promoted by nefarious self-interested
parties as "window dressing" intended to induce investment in
Iran. The fuller version of the argument also concludes that only another
revolution which totally erases the constitution and overthows the government
can "fix" Iran.
There are several things wrong with this view: First, any constitutional
scholar will tell you that what's written in a constitution is never an
accurate description of how things really work at any point in time in any
country. Constitutions are not written in stone. They can be changed in
two manners: either by an actual formal amendment, or by a less formal (but
just as binding) process of re-interpretation and re-application.
Some provisions can be emphasized, others de-emphasized, and yet others
totally ignored or even re-interpretted to mean exactly the opposite of
previous interpretations. This is an on-going process. Even the American
constitution, which is the oldest written constitution in the world, has
gone through several such changes/re-interpretations on a variety of topics,
such as the constitutionality of slavery, suffrage, abortion, and the death
Thus, the idea that the written text of the IRI's constitution stands
as some sort of insurmountable barrier to change and reform is false. It
is nothing more than writing on paper written by humans, and open to change
and re-interpretation. The changes sweeping through Iran cannot be restricted
by ink on paper.
Second, Mr. Zanganeh's argument places the cart before the horse by suggesting
that constitutional change is a prerequisite to political change in Iran.
In fact, the reverse is true: constitutional changes almost always occur
in response to political, social and economic developments.
Since any country's political affairs and society constantly change,
then constitutional changes are also inevitable. Even in Iran. Again, several
examples of the reactive nature of constitutional changes can even been
seen in US constitutional history. So, the idea that any change or reform
in Iran first requires a wholesale expungement of the current constitution
is false: First, the social and polticial changes have to happen, and THEN
the constitution can be changed (either formally, informally, or a combination
of both) in response to the political, social and economic realities.
Third, Mr. Zanganeh is mistaken when he assumes that the reform process
in Iran is dependent on particular personalities, whether the "Maximum
Leader" or President Khatami. He is therefore also mistaken when he
suggests that a defeat for Khatami means the end of the reform process,
or that Khatami's personal position on matters will somehow control this
In fact, the reform process is already happening, and is inevitable,
and independent of Khatami or any other personality. It is driven by factors
which have nothing to do with any particular individual or personality,
such as greater access to education, globalization, and demographic changes.
Already, Iranians are debating significant social and political issues
everyday and learning about ideas and concepts such as "mardom-salari"
(a new word to most people in Iran) "loyal oppositin" and the
legitimacy of power. Iran's society is changing everyday. One need only
read the newspapers published there to see this process happening, and also
just look at the fact that former villagers who were illiterate now have
sons and daughters getting advanced degrees. Even shutting down newspapers
does not prevent or even slow down this debate. At best, such tactics are
only rear-guard action and further indications of the inevitabaility of
Fifth, proponents of "another revolution" seem to think that
respect for human rights and democracy are things which can be imposed from
above and imported from abraod. They assume that some new government formed
after their much-anticipated "another revolution" can impose democracy
and human rights by edict.
It can't. Respect for human rights and a fundamental belief in democracy
needs to grow in the native soil. This takes time, requires stability and
security, not more violence. Iran doesn't need more violence which will
probably result in a new Afghanistan.
Those who believe that referrendums will be held, the loser will gracefully
bow out and go away, and then Iran will magically turn into Switzerland
are either irresponsibly naive or too blinded by their wish for revenge
upon the IRI to see straight.
So the idea that a violent "another revolution" is the only
way forward is false. Sure, this will be a slow process, but the changes
which occur by this slower process are far more fundamental and lasting
than those brought about any "another revolution" which at best
can only result in the mere substitution of one oppressor for another.
Sixth, the suggestion that those who wish to see a lifting of US sanction
are either idiots or motivated by personal financial gain is false. Lifting
sanctions means greater access to the world, and an improvement in social
and economic affairs, which in turn can only speed up the reform process
in Iran and help change things there.
If 30+ years of sanctions on Cuba have proven anything, it is that engagement
works, and sanctions don't. There are lots of Iranians who believe this,
and they're not all secret agents of the IRI or greedy oil companies.
In short, there is no Catch-22. This obsession with Khatami and this
urge to declare the reform process to be dead is not only destructive and
pointless, it plays straight into the hands of the hardliner opponents of
the reform process. In fact, there may be another revolution, but it will
be despite such thinking and not because of it.
Instead of so casually dismissing the on-going changes and developments
in Iran and waiting for another 23 years for the promised "revolution"
which will magically fix everything in Iran, some people would do better
to be a bit more positive, realistic and constructive. Iran is changing
and the future beckons - don't get left behind.