New-conservatives, regime crisis and political perspectives
Mehrdad and Mehdi
August 16, 2005
In the recent presidential elections
in Iran, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, an unknown conservative military
commander, won. His victory
was surprising, as many had predicted Hashemi Rafsanjani
would become Iran's next president. Rafsanjani, perhaps
the second most powerful man in the Islamic Republic, was
supported by a broad coalition of reformists and pragmatist
elites. The shock of this surprise victory may partly explain
the crude nature of some of the analyses that followed.
Even more striking is the failure to address the deeper
and background to this event, and to analyse its consequences.
This article is an effort to address these issues. At the
onset a few observations may be helpful:
In the Islamic Republic, elections, including
presidential ones, are fundamentally undemocratic, tightly controlled
processes. The law deprives many citizens such as women,
religious minorities (including non-Shi'ite Muslims)
and political opponents of the religious state, etc from
standing for president. This is enforced in practice by the
unlimited power of the Council of Guardians .
has consistently rejected anyone it considers unsuitable
for the ruling circles. Therefore, in practice, elections
in the Islamic Republic are nothing more than a "beiat" [expression
of allegiance] with one of the few, and often the only, person
the Council of Guardians has let through its net . In
such conditions non-participation in elections, rather than
reflecting voter apathy, is one form of expressing "dissent",
a means of protesting against the regime and questioning
its legitimacy .
Those sections of the state that are up for periodic elections,
including the presidency, are in general of secondary importance
in the power structure. The system revolves round an unelected
central core, headed by a Supreme Leader, vali-e- faqih,
with truly unlimited powers. It is here that all major decisions
are made, especially so after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini
and his replacement with Ayatollah Khamenei. The presidency
and the administration have ultimately an executive responsibility
-- or as the outgoing President Mohammad Khatami puts it they "play
the role of a footman".
Yet because of the faction-ridden
nature of the ruling elites, the individual in charge of
the executive becomes important since this appointment
could effect the distribution of public resources and to some
the ability of the entire state structure to function.
Hence control of elected organs, and the presidency in particular,
are also hotly contested, and subject to intense bargaining,
among the various factions.
The most important function of elections in the Islamic
Republic rests precisely here: namely the redistribution
of power among the various ruling factions. This contest
is particularly acute at times when the internal crisis of
the regime is intensified and when the normal bargaining
processes are unable to reach a "consensus". "Elections" in
such conditions become a mechanism for the re-allocation
of power, where factions test their respective power against
Until the latest election, the normal
practice in the Islamic Republic was for all the factions
to observe the rules of an in-house democratic game. After
the initial weeding process by the Council of Guardians,
the power centres did not intervene in favour of one or other
candidate outside "the legal framework", or more
accurately, did not undermine too explicitly legal appearances
What at first glance distinguishes the latest election
in the Islamic Republic from all its predecessors is that
for the first time the rules of the democratic game among
the regime's various factions have been openly flouted.
Cheating, in the shape of manufacturing votes has always
been a common practice, whether through stuffing ballot
boxes, or miscounting this or that voting booth in favour of a
The Council of Guardians has frequently declared null
and void votes cast for some candidates. Finally the
number of votes cast in elections is always massaged.
This is, after all, a way to claim greater legitimacy
the voting public for the entire system. This fraud, however,
always took place by common consent among the factions,
supposedly without damaging the electoral prospects of one or
What is totally unprecedented is what took place in June.
The world witnessed structural, nation-wide and highly organised
deception, led from the apex of the pyramid of power in favour
of one candidate that took not just the world, but a large
section of the ruling elite of Iran by surprise. The shape
and scope of this scheme was such that it would not be an
exaggeration to state that Ahmadinejad, a commander in the
Revolutionary Guards Corps, took over the presidential palace
through a blood-less coup or as revolutionary guard commander
Zolqadr said afterwards "in a complex way ... and
[through] multi-layered planning" .
These elections were also held at a time of unprecedented
developments in the region. As far as the Middle East is
concerned, Iran is in a very strong position, mainly thanks
to the military interventions of its long term "foes",
the United States and Britain. To the East, the Taliban regime
(with whom it nearly went to war in the late 1990s) is defeated,
and many of Iran's allies are back in power as regional
warlords, such as the governor of Herat province in western
Afghanistan under the pro-Iran warlord Haji Ismail Khan.
However Iran's main international success has been
achieved in Iraq. Without firing a single shot, they have
seen not only the removal of Saddam's secular Ba'thist
regime -- a neighbour they hated more than Israel and
the US -- but the coming to power of their protégés,
the Shi'a parties and militias of "Islamic Daawa" (the
Iraqi occupation Prime Minister's party) and other
major parties in the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance such as
the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),
sharing power with the Kurdish PUK and KDP. All are organisations
well known for getting military, financial and political
support from Iran since the 1980s. This, together with
chaos created by military occupation in Iraq is part of the reason
why the Islamic regime in Iran felt confident enough to
unprecedented risks in these elections.
As a result of this
election, for the first time in the life of the Islamic Republic,
virtually every organ and institution
of power, electable or otherwise, has been handed over to
the complete control of the conservatives. It would appear
on the surface that political power is now homogeneous and
concentrated at the apex of the regime, in the hands of its
Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. However, there
is evidence that the coup d'état that was carried
out behind the curtains of elections was not just directed
against reformists, or the leading candidate Hashemi Rafsanjani,
but against the majority of the existing groupings in the
ruling oligarchy .
There is no doubt that, Ahmadinejad and his supporters
belong to the conservative wing of the ruling bloc. However,
among the various conservative circles, Ahmadinejad, in
particular belongs to groups that have been named radical new-conservatives.
He was one of the founders of the groups called Alliance
of Builders of Islamic Iran (Abadgaran) and Devotees (Isargaran).
Over the last few years, encouraged and supported by
the Supreme Leader, these groups have been taking root,
in the security-police and military organs. They espouse
populist-Islamist and value-based slogans that distinguishes
them from the other conservatives. It is also clear that
in the pre-election bargaining of the various ultra-conservative
factions, Ahmadinejad was not acceptable to all and the
went into the elections with four candidates.
As a result of the June election for the first time in
a quarter of a century a military man, rather than a mullah,
takes over as head of the executive. This almost completes
the trend of military-security control of the main organs
of state, which began at the end of the Iran-Iraq War,
and gained momentum over the past 8 years. This trend began in
the municipal council elections when the abadgaran took
control of many towns and cities two years ago and was consolidated
when they went on to control the Majles (parliament). The
point cannot be overemphasised that this is an entirely
and qualitative change, one that could have a decisive
influence on the relation between barracks and mosque in a theocracy.
The open interference by the supreme leadership apparatus
[Khameneis entourage] in the "elections",
the key role of the military and para-military apparatus
in shaping and organising the vote, and ultimately the coming
to power of the populist new-conservatives was an act which
was contrary to the norms in the present political culture.
Not surprisingly it gave rise to an unprecedented wave of
protest from among the ruling elites.
Such behaviour can
undoubtedly upset the line-ups within the regime and place
the leadership apparatus, and specifically further isolate
Ali Khamenei. It can weaken his position among the
clerical oligarchy, which for nearly three decades has
held real power in its hands. It is not beyond the bounds of imagination
that the Assembly of Experts , despite being controlled
by conservatives, will question his suitability to continue
Rafsanjani's recent proposal to replace
the Supreme Leader (Khamenei) with a Council of Leadership
could well be taken up seriously with the support of
other influential clerics. So, why take such a risk? How can
explain this political purge that took place under the
guise of elections? What are its possible consequences?
Why the coup?
The 9th presidential election was a stage where the crisis
engulfing the regime and the solutions that could harness
these crises were simultaneously played out in the shape
of an aggressive struggle for power. It took place at a time
when the existence of the regime was seriously threatened
from three directions: At home the regime is fast approaching
a crisis of control, increasingly isolated and assaulted
by a general wave of disaffection and protest. Meanwhile
the regional and global noose is tightening in pursuit of
Bush's project of "regime change". Finally
within the regime the factional splits and quarrels have
made it impossible for the ruling elites to take decisive
decisions and act in a united way.
These crises, of course, have structural causes  wedded
in the contradictory nature of power in the Islamic Republic.
They were born with the regime, and have steadily worsened
over the last two decades, in particular after the adoption
of neo-liberal policies and the application of the structural
adjustment programmes. They have been deepened, more recently
by Bush's post September 11 policies, to the extent
that today the regime finds itself faced with real dangers.
Over these years, and in response to the regimes crises,
the rulers gradually lined up, gelled into two different
politico-ideological camps. Self-styled "reformists" faced
conservatives. The former believe that without "reforms" the
system cannot survive, although they hold different views
as to what "reform" entails. Some limit it to policies
and ultimately the conduct of the state in relation to the
people, in particular in the social and political arena.
Others go as far as institutional reforms in the power-structure.
For instance they want a change in the constitution to increase
the relative power of elected organs in relation to those
that are appointed . They also want to normalise and "reduce
tension" in foreign relations, and abide by international
norms. This, they believe will guarantee the survival of
the system and hence their hold on power.
During 1999-2001 the "reformists" attracted the
support of a large section of the population and clocked
substantial victories in a chain of elections, occupying
almost every institution up for election. Yet at the very
moment of victory their dream turned to nightmare.
obvious to all but the most blind that this repressive
and reactionary regime is not only immutable, but the institutional
power structure is intertwined with the interests of the
ruling groups such as to make any reforms impossible. In
addition the appalling consequences of the economic policies
of the reformists on the daily life of the millions, had
not only created major disappointment, but made inevitable
the prospect of growing protests.
The international scene fared no better, and September
11 put an abrupt end to Iran's efforts to normalise
foreign relations. Khatami's "dialogue of civilisations" foundered
when Bush placed Iran among rogue states and officially declared
a policy of regime change. It then became obvious that, contrary
to the hopes raised by Khatami's inauguration 8 years
before, in a changing world political environment his discourse
and foreign policies cannot provide the regime with any protection
against outside threats.
The effect of these setbacks was,
on one hand, to weaken the position of the reformist faction
within the overall ruling structures, subjecting them to
greater pressure from the conservatives. And, on the other
hand, destroyed the internal cohesion of the various groupings
that made up the "reformist" alliance. The result
was repeated schisms and splits.
The conservative bloc has
a different strategy to deal with the burgeoning crises:
Concentrate power more and more
at the top and use naked repression and terror through the
military and police apparatus. All the cliques within this
bloc oppose any change in the institutional structure of
power, especially if that means reducing the authority of
the leadership apparatus , which to them assures the "Islamic" foundation
of the entire system. They are convinced that any flexibility
in "principles and values" will lead to oblivion,
and should be ruthlessly resisted.
Indeed conservatives aim to simplify
the muddled and contradictory aspects of the regime by
doing away with the semi-elected republic in favour of a self-appointed
caliphate, with a highly centralised structure . Conservatives
also viewed any openness in the political atmosphere or
formation of any form of independent social or political
associations as a dangerous threat to their total control
of society. Faced with the erosion of politically mobilised
social support for the Islamic Republic, they turned to
hired military and mercenary forces as their sole instrument of
On the international level the conservatives prefer to
play the card of Islamic movements, terrorist activities
and politico-religious conflicts. They also try to open
up whatever breathing space they can by manoeuvring in the gaps
and on the competing interests among great powers, in particular
looking towards China, Russia and Japan. To achieve this
their main weapon is commercial and economic concessions.
Notwithstanding such policies, however, they have not flinched
from making behind the scene deals and concessions, if
served to consolidate their power, nor to use the nuclear
The conservative bloc, particularly since
the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, had occupied all the key positions
power. These included all the organs that came under the
command of the Supreme Leader -- the armed forces, the
police intelligence apparatus and the judiciary. Moreover
control over the Council of Guardians, by drawing red lines
that cannot be crossed, permits control over every branch
of state, including the state bureaucracy and the executive.
the despotic and intensely reactionary nature of the various
cliques within the ultra-conservative bloc severely
limits their ability to deal with the emerging crises.
Indeed within a few years after the revolution of 1979 they themselves
became the main cause of political and social crises, pushing
the latter to bursting point. This may be a reason why
its entire life this bloc could never extend its support
base beyond the military and quasi-military networks and
the people under the direct umbrella of the charities run
Their track record in dealing with the crisis
of legitimacy and the ever-escalating isolation of the regime
has been dismal. This can be seen in the proportion of
votes for their candidates -- never exceeding 25% of the votes
cast. They only became electable when the rest had boycotted
elections . This fact was one reason why, at least
for the last 10 years, they were content to tolerate the rival
bloc's control over the executive machinery and the
legislative Majles, while keeping a tight grip on the
protective shield of the security forces.
With the failure of the reformists to keep their support
base, their inability to act as a safety valve for the
entire regime, the failure of their foreign policy to provide to
provide a partial shield against US threats, the conservatives
faced a new quandary and starkly precarious conditions
They had only two choices: compromise and abandon the ruling
political system in a step by step posses of isolation,
or face a deadly confrontation and put up with the consequences.
Faced with this Hobson's choice the conservatives split
into various factions: The Alliance of Builders of Islamic
Iran (abadgaran), Principled Reformist (usul-garane eslah
These new groupings, which could be called Islamist new-conservatives,
carved their place in the political spectrum of the country
by being critical of and rejecting all other factions:
the reformists (supporters of Mohammad Khatami), pragmatists
(supporters of Rafsanjani)  and traditional conservatives.
In their view all three, had failed in practice, and indeed
exacerbated the crisis such that the very existence of
the regime was threatened. For the new-conservatives, recourse
to an immediate, bold and radical solution seemed unavoidable.
And this is what they did -- a slow consolidation of
power followed by a silent coup.
Over the last few years the new-conservatives had managed
to quietly infiltrate many organs, outwitting their rivals
to end up controlling many town councils, the Majles and
now the presidency.
The new-conservative groups, emerging predominantly from
within the armed forces and working under the umbrella of
the leadership apparatus, aim for a new equilibrium. This
is an equilibrium that will reduce the internal and external
crises and ensure the survival of the system.
The aim is
to create a powerful, centralised, principled state, cleansed
of corruption, one that can count on renewed support from
the lower sections of society, the military and semi-military
forces, armed with nuclear weapons, all funded by petro-dollars.
With these tools they believe they can confront both internal
and external challenges without resorting to any structural
changes, while maintaining the ideological-authoritarian
nature of the regime.
The difference between the new-conservatives and the more
traditional conservatives lies in:
First, prioritising destitute
masses to win back their support for the regime.
on their definition of the state. Theirs will be an interventionist
state, a state that will control all the main lifelines of
the country, quite unlike the "privatised" variety
of the traditional conservatives.
Third, on focusing their
slogans and discourse on social justice and the welfare
of poor rather than on Islamic values and the question of haq
va baatel [right and wrong in religious matters]. This
grouping, however, is still in the process of development, and
exact policies are somewhat ill defined, indeed in the
making. The broad outlines can, however, be deduced from statements
and utterances of its spokespersons. There are two central
a. To centralise power at the apex and embark on a political,
organisational and financial purge of the executive body
of the state. What they hope to do is to harness internal
tensions and to block any effort by opponents to use internal
splits to further their aims. These are reflected in such
slogans as the fight against bureaucratic corruption, the
state aristocracy, and the rentiers.
b. The attempt to form a new political movement in order
to rekindle the social base of the regime, in particular
among the urban and rural poor -- something that had
gradually eroded over the last 15 years. In fact they are
trying to ride the popular discontent of the victims of the
economic policies of the regime. Here they hope to cultivate
the right material to help them rebuild the crumbling fortifications
of the regime.
Moreover, they might well be in need of cannon
fodder were the conflict with the US and Israel to escalate.
The role of such slogans as social justice, the fight against
inequality, the anti-poverty drive, the "taking the
oil money back to the people's table", the solution
to the housing problem, employment and marriage of youth
and such like is precisely to serve this purpose.
of Ahmadinejad have referred to this as the "third revolution" one
that instead of clergy or students has its leadership in
the military . This
revolution is being born in the barracks rather than mosque
or university. Others see this is a rebirth of the idealism
of the early revolutionary years and a re-emergence of Islamic
It was along such a trajectory that the unannounced alliance
between a number of new-conservative groupings under the
leadership of Khameneis circle were able to lead the
recent elections, through a carefully planned and executed
plan with "headlights off" until the eve of the
second ballot, to go on and occupy the last bastion of the
reformists and pragmatists . The ground is now ploughed
for the absolute rule of the velayate faqih -- something
the late Ayatollah Khomeini had called for but failed to
implement successfully - foiled by the deep contradiction
of his regime .
Does this scheme rest on real capabilities, real ground
and real potentialities? If successful can it save the
regime from the quagmire it is sinking in? Or is this just a moribund
attempt with no other outcome but further weakening of
regime, its greater isolation and a speeding up of its
implosion and collapse?
Can the new-cons do the impossible?
To answer these questions we will consider the real conditions,
potentials and limitations faced by the Islamic Republic
today. However it is important to first clarify a few issues:
1. The crisis of the Islamic Republic has structural roots.
They are above all the expression of the incompatibility
of a religio-ideological ultra-reactionary regime with its
material surroundings and historic setting. It is no surprise
that the Islamic government has been in continuous crisis
since birth, repeatedly surfacing under various guises and
at numerous levels. The constant need for political and structural
changes has been an inevitable necessity.
At best these efforts,
which surfaced as political U-turns, have merely shifted
the epi-centres of such crises from one area to another --
avoiding an explosion without removing the underlying causes.
Every time the question was the same: What are the regime's
capacities, where are the U-turns heading and what would
be the passing effects of any change in policy?
For the mullahs
ruling Iran, such crises were the norm. We have therefore
witnessed a move from "principles" to "expediency",
from elitism to populism, from decentralisation to the reverse
and back again -- always in search of stability! .
2. In the current domestic and international conditions
the Islamic Republic cannot find a solution to survive without
totally negating its very existence. The stark choice it
faces is either to submit totally to colonial conditions
(either keeping the religious appearance or under a secular
mask) as have some its neighbours, and to dissolve in Bush's
plan for a "larger Middle East", or surrender to
a progressive participatory and radical democracy.
all the outcries and widespread claims to the contrary,
there is no third road. No matter how daring the manoeuvres, or
how unexpected the changes and shifts in power and policies,
this regime will face a fresh deadlock sooner rather than
later making its collapse inevitable.
3. The Islamic Republic
has come out of the latest election weaker than ever, and
will embark on yet another political
U-turn, creating an even greater level of instability. There
are two main reasons for this. Firstly in order to make to
entice the population to participate in the electoral process,
it has had to retreat from what was always considered its
fundamental principles and values. The rulers were forced
to recognise, and even consider some of the political, economic
and cultural demands of the people. We saw them apologising
for the dismal record of the last 3 decades. Even more astonishing
was how all candidates avoided issues relating to "Islam" and "revolution" and
directly or indirectly criticise the authoritarian and oppressive
nature of their own regime .
Moreover, in this election, candidates on both sides of
the political spectrum encouraged negative voting. People
were asked to vote to reject, rather than to support a
particular candidate or slogan. Reformists and pragmatists encouraged
people to vote against reaction, despotism and to guard
the danger of fascism (meaning Ahmadinejad). Conservatives
asked people to vote against corruption, inequality, poverty,
and the plunder of public resources (meaning Rafsanjani)
Yet despite all the departures
and all the tricks, and in spite of the usual threats of dire consequences
abstention, official sources admit that only 28 of the
48 million eligible were dragged to the polling booths (this
figure includes the rigged votes). In circumstances where
most of the opposition, the ones who call for an overthrow
of the Islamic regime, had asked for a boycott, the absence
of 40% of the voters, rather than a sign of disbelief or
indifference, is a clear and unambiguous sign of widespread
opposition to the very existence of the system .
4. In its quest for political homogeneity and unanimity
in power, the regime was forced to jettison the ruling
alliance that had lasted nearly three decades, an alliance that
the system maintain stability. Now, for the first time
in its entire existence, the Islamic Republic has to be answerable
to its various challenges, both domestic and external,
the help of reformists and pragmatists in key positions.
At a time when it has little room to manoeuvre, the regime
has lost one of the main weapons it has used successfully
on so many occasions to sow indecision among its domestic
and foreign opponents . From now on it has to face
its crises head on, and in doing so to rely on its last resource,
the military barracks, to keep its balance.
The country is increasingly in military hands. Significantly,
on the road to creating a military state, the special position
and stature occupied by the clergy has been uniquely questioned.
For the first time in 25 years a non-cleric is president
-- and a military man to boot. The logic for the central
velayate faqih - the embodiment of the monopoly of rule
by the clergy -- and the very basis of Khomeini's
vision of Islamic government -- has been abandoned.
5. Moreover, by choosing Mahmood Ahmadinejad, an extremist
counter-intelligence officer in the Revolutionary Guards,
with a history of involvement in terrorism and murder ,
to head the executive, foreign relations, even attendance
at international gatherings will become more problematic
than ever before. In particular with the nuclear weapons
issue the US and Israel are in a better position to incite
international public opinion against the Islamic Republic.
Now, any judge or attorney anywhere can try their hand
at prosecuting the second person in the Iranian government.
Not yet ready to fall?
Is the regime, then, ready to fall? Notwithstanding the
fact that the Islamic Republic has come out of this election
weaker and more fragile than before, one cannot necessarily
conclude that it is on the threshold of immediate implosion
and collapse. It is likely to continue its existence for
some time yet. The future of the regime rests on a number
of factors and the way they interact. Some of these factors
may allow the regime a breathing space while others will
do the opposite:
Will Iran's rulers be able to implement a series
of rapid new-conservative reforms to rekindle the support
of a significant section of the destitute masses ? Can
an anti-popular, utterly reactionary, despotic and authoritarian
regime, which was once able to use support from the "dishinherited" to
maintain power do so again? Can a regime, which in pursuit
of exporting its revolution, sent these supporters to clear
minefields for eight years, dangling a plastic "key
to heaven" round their neck, be capable of regaining
their trust? Will the people who had been betrayed once consent
to being betrayed again ?
There are two possible answers to these questions:
Affirmative: If it makes good use of the opportunities
offered, especially those resulting form the US occupation
of Iraq and Afghanistan , the Islamic regime can mobilise
some of the poorest in its support and survive the current
crisis. These opportunities include the quagmire of Iraq
(which could help the Islamic Republic play its Shi'te
card), the current buoyant oil market and the way any new
crisis in the Middle East might influence oil prices, the
significant foreign exchange reserves they have accumulated
and the surplus earnings due to the current high oil prices.
These could be channelled into immediate improvement in
the living conditions for targeted sections of the population
and reduce discontent among them.
Then there is the deep crisis among
the ranks of the opposition forces whose potential to fill
the current political vacuum
has shrunk. There is also the weakness and disunity among
radical and progressive forces that could have helped activate
the existing class divisions and use it to organise and mobilise
the independent organisations of workers and toilers. And
finally if they successfully use the basij -- a nationwide
political-military organisation  that it controls, and
the wide network of mosques and associated charities, as
powerful means of communication between the state and the
deprived and marginalised masses.
Negative: If the new political cliques in power cannot
overcome some of their contradictions the obstacles they
face both within and outside the ruling apparatus. These
Creating a new balance between the economic interests of
the mafia-like rentiers at the top and the demands of the
dispossessed masses [i.e., the core element of the new-conservative's
strategy]: Being able to redistribute public resources (especially
oil income) to reduce the burdens of life. This will require
cutting all or at least some of the tentacles of an insatiable
monster. An octopus with one end in the inner circles around
Khamenei and the numerous institutions under its tutelage,
and tentacles in the Revolutionary Guards, the security apparatus,
the newly built palaces of the top families, and the offices
of their offspring (popularly known as the aghazadeha = sons
of clerics). In other word, being able to keep the promise
to have the "oil money on the table of the poor" and
to create hope.
Neutralising the immediate and savage resistance of capital -- both
domestic and foreign - which will view the slightest deviation
from its model of neo-liberal economy and austerity as anathema:
Being able to gain its confidence and to sell them an economic
policy full of contradictories and ambiguities. And to prevent
domestic and foreign capitalists using their most effective
weapon, flight to other places, thereby squeezing the economy
and increasing unemployment .
Repressing or overcoming the demands of working people,
key agents of socio-political change. Given the radicalisation
of such demands by the masses, the regime will need to block
efforts to organise at various levels; to entice working
people to blindly follow yet another "saviour",
it will have to split the ranks of the labour force, and
to isolate the more radical sections of the labour movement
Controlling the political context within which the regime
operates: That is to say, first of all, to crush the popular
movements for social equality, cultural and political freedom,
and self-governing. Being able to create an environment
of fear such that anti-despotic movements, and in particular
women, youth, intelligentsia, and non-Fars nations and
ethnic groups are controlled. Being capable of suppressing the
waves of cultural and civil disobedience and political
protest. In short, producing a schism between the demand for bread
and that for freedom.
Stabilising the regime's relationship with the world
most powerful states: In particular, preventing the nuclear
weapons issue from becoming explosive, and hence being
able to divert petro-dollars as before to the state coffers.
And finally, preventing the crises
outside from infecting the corridors of power and fracturing
the political and factional
homogeneity achieved by the present coup: That is to say,
preventing the singularity of decision-making being destroyed,
giving way once again to factional squabbles, obstructions
and such like, this time between the existing military-economic
mafias in the conservative faction.
There is little evidence that new-conservatives in Iran
will raise once more the flag of social justice in a "third
revolution". If the "first revolution" was
a real tragedy, the "third revolution" will probably
be nothing more than a nauseating comedy.
Yet the key to the puzzle of Ahmadinejad is in the hands
of the working class. Emergence of a progressive, radical
and mass working class movement is the only development
that could fill the current ideological and political vacuum
which reactionary populism of Ahmadinejad is trying to
act. A class that is the only social force capable of preventing
demagogic populism .
The crucial issue facing Iran, however, is not the fate
of Ahmadinejad. It is the fate of the country. It does
not require much imagination to understand that the Islamic
has a mortal disease. Ahmadinejad's remedy is only
temporary. Inevitable death awaits this regime, so out
of keeping with its era. What Ahmadinejad and the regime
vainly trying to save is already doomed.
But the fate of the country is not inevitable. In the manifold
crises facing Iran, will the country face collapse and
break-up, invasion or a real liberating future? That choice, and
future, is being made today. And the answer is clearly
not preordained nor totally dependent on how, or at the hands
of whom, the Islamic regime falls.
This future is once again in the hands of the organised
working class of Iran. Will the working class be able to
tie its strategic potential to the energy and creativity
of the social movements? Would it be capable of giving birth
to a real agent for social change through combining organisation
and organisational ability? If the answers to these questions
are positive, then not only the swamp the Ahmadinejads of
Iran want to use to create another ultra-conservative and
reactionary movement will dry up, but the country will avoid
the threat of collapse, break-up or invasion. "Otherwise
there will be silence, and silence is our sin!" 
The experience of the last eight years has proved that
a heavy penalty awaits those that are unable to use the
opportunities facing them to create something new and surrender
idea of reconciliation with reality. With the advent of
the ultra-reactionary new-conservatism, those movements who
to take up the occasion provided today to move to a better
life, and to a different world, are without doubt going
to face a more savage penalty.
This article was first published in Iran-Bulletin,
Political quarterly in defence of democracy and socialism
1. An all-powerful 12-man committee appointed by the Supreme
Leader and given veto rights on elections and laws that in
their view are incompatible with "Islam". In the
latest election only 8 of over 2000 candidates passed its
veto and were allowed to go on the ballot paper -- and
even here the two reformist candidates, Mostafa Moin (Minister
of Higher Education in the outgoing government) and Mehralizadeh
were only reinstated after serious protest.
2. See "Iran: Majles election boycott. What next?" Iran
Bulletin - Middle East Forum series II no 1 p 2
3. This is a fundamental difference between elections in
the Islamic Republic and normal parliamentary democracies.
The Iranian electors are highly politicised and have shown
their ability to use the ballot box very adroitly to play
the political field in highly undemocratic conditions pertaining
to the country. See for example Presidential elections: What
if the magic fails. iran bulletin 1993 no 2 p6; Majles elections
iran-bulletin nos 25-26; "Iran: Majles election boycott.
What next?" Iran Bulletin - Middle East Forum
series II no 1 p 2
4. What some western analysts have called "democracy
5. There is evidence that a coup-like plan, kept carefully "blacked-out" until
24 hours before the second round of elections, was put into
motion. Ahmadinejad , who had been trailing in the first
round of elections until counting was well underway suddenly
emerges as the challenger to Hashemi Rafsanjani to the open
protest of the other runner up, former Speaker of Majles,
Mehdi Karrubi. Ahmadinejad 's campaign distributed
5 million copies of a CD, almost exclusively in the poorer
districts of the country, which showed Rafsanjani and his
family living in luxury while Ahmadinejad was portrayed living
a simple life and giving away most of his salary to the poor.
Then in the second round the Basij (militia) troops put into
effect a "headlights off" plan in which each of
the 1.5 million strong Basij had to bring 10 persons to vote.
See Shargh news paper (Farsi) 14 July 2005. Chief of Revolutionary
Guards Corps, Zolqadr addressing in a large meeting of the
Basij: "in the complex political situation when foreign
powers and extremist currents inside have for some time been
determined, and planned, to change the result of the elections
in their favour and to prevent the emergence of an efficient
and principled government, we had to act in a complex way
and the principled forces, thanks be to Allah, through correct
and multi-layered planning, were able to get the support
of the majority of the people in a tight and real competition ... " Sharq,
Teheran July 2005 (in Farsi).
6. There were eight candidates. Moin and to a lesser extent
Mehralizadeh represented the reformists. The pragmatist Rafsanjani
was very much a compromise candidate who came in at the last
minute and was expected by all commentators to win. Others
were Karrubi who represented the Society of Militant Clergy -- with
some links to the reformists. The rest belonged to various
conservative factions. These were former police chief Gjalibaf,
Ali Larijani the Supreme Leader's representative on
the National Security Council and of course Ahmadinejad .
7. The Assembly of Experts is elected by the voters every
8 years from among senior clergy (defined as those with "knowledge
and wisdom"). Among their role is to elect the velayate
faqih -- the supreme leader to the Islamic Republic who
in turn has absolute power over the entire civil and political
8. See Ardeshir Mehrdad. "The road to a terminal decline:
alternatives split society at one end even as it is united
in another" Iran Bulletin 1995, nos11-12 p6
9. The velayate faqih appoints most influential posts.
In additional to the Council of Guardians, he appoints the
heads of the arm forces, the judiciary, and has "representatives
of the velayate faqih" in virtually every organ.
10. The present vali faqih: Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
11. The dual structure of the Islamic Republic rests of
two pyramids. One the religious-political pyramid at the
apex of which sits the Supreme Leader -- Ali Khamenei.
The other the executive presidency based on a parliament
and presidency elected through tightly regulated and controlled
electoral procedures. See Ardeshir Mehrdad. Will Iran' political
system absorb civil society or be overcome by it. iran bulletin
1998 no 19-20 p10
12. As happened in the last elections to the Majles and
the municipal councils. See Iran Bulletin - Middle
East Forum Series II no 2 p
13. Key elements in this quandary were the failure of the
project to "reform civil society" and the increasing
poverty and failure of the economic privation programme.
14. Known in Iran as Kargozaran Sazandegi = agents of construction
15. Khomeini called the occupation of the US embassy in
1981 the "second revolution".
16. Kaveh Afrasiabi. The Ayatollah's Reign, June28,
2005, Asia Times.
17. See ibid footnote 5.
18. See Ardeshir Mehrdad. "Velayate Faqih -- a system
on its deathbed" Iran Bulletin 1998 nos 17
19. For example when the clashes became paralysing Khomeini
created a new organ to stand above all other organs: the
Assembly for Expediency. See "Where does the Assembly for
Expediency fit" Iran Bulletin 1998 nos 17
20. Unlike previous occasions there was little effort to
use religious orthodoxy as a powerful weapon to get voters
into the booths. Instead each candidate tried to distance
themselves as much as possible from the past and to absolve
themselves from any responsibility towards it. This was most
obvious with Ahmadinejad who, as a relatively unknown figure,
made greater use of this ruse with benefit. Moreover such
influential bodies as the Society of Teachers at the Qom
Seminary, the Teheran Society of Militant Clergy, the Assembly
of Militant Clergy, the Islamic Coalition Party (Hey'at-haa-ye
Mo'talefe), who had played such crucial roles in previous
elections, their support being critical for getting the vote,
were sidelined and few candidates were happy to be officially
linked with any of them.
21. A negative vote is not always a protest vote, or even
a boycott. It can also be a vote to prevent things worsening:
a choice between bad and worse.
22. This is exactly the opposite to what Ali Khamenei tried
to imply, and some opposition forces echoed. Presence in
voting booths cannot be automatically put to the account
of the legitimacy of the regime. A negative vote to the record
of the regime is not necessarily a positive vote for its
23. Right up to the recent election many opposition forces
had used the presence of the reformists within the regime
as a chance for a peaceful transition to a post-Islamic Republic
era. The same hopes had been used by, among others, the EU.
24: See for example Enghelabe Islami for details of Ahmadinejad
's involvement in the murder of Kurdistan Democratic Party
in Vienna (in Farsi). See also for other references.
25. The experience of the Iran-Iraq war is useful here.
Then it used this weapon to break the siege of domestic opponents,
while putting up an effective resistance to foreign invasion.
It now hopes to use the same weapon to reduce the capacity
of domestic opponents to manoeuvre and to prevent foreign
powers, and specifically the USA, to try a direct overthrow -- whether
by a velvet revolution, or a limited or unlimited invasion.
26. Can political Islam, as a mass-populist movement, reconstruct
itself in Iran after suffering a serious defeat, especially
in the framework of a system that is the institutionalised
expression of this defeat? It might be better to answer this
question in a separate article.
27. A "barrack-based party", as Mohammad-Reza
Khatami put it in an interview with HOMA TV, a satellite
28. A day after the election of Ahmadinejad the Teheran
Bourse lost 5% of its share value. The decline has continued
since and has not been reversed by the end of July. Iranian
State TV, Jaam-e jam, interview with head of the Iranian
Bourse. July 28, 2005.
29. There is no doubt that the populist slogans of Ahmadinejad
have found an echo in some of the poorest sections of society.
This has been pointed out by the international media, and
corroborated by independent sources. What is forgotten, however,
is that while most of the middle layers turned out to vote
for Rafsanjani, the majority of the 20 million who did not
vote belonged to these destitute strata. This signifies that
Ahmadinejad 's influence among the layers he has specifically
targeted remains weak. This does not bode well for the central
strategy of the new-conservatives.
30. In 2000 at least, 20-23% of the urban and rural households
lived under the absolute poverty line. See Nili et al, "Barrasi-e
tahavolaat-e faghr, tozi'e daramad, va refaah-e ejtemaa'ei;
Sazeman-e modiriyat va barnaameh-rizi-e keshvar; 1379 (Teheran,
in Farsi). The official rate of unemployment in Iran is 16
percent (Central Bank) and unofficial estimates are about
31. Poem by Siavash Kasrai'