After the tragic earthquake in Bam that killed more than thirty thousand people, Iran is once again thrust into the international limelight. This time the focus is on the struggles within the Islamic Republic (IRI) to remain in power. A new earthquake is looming around the corner that threatens to not only crumble the Islamic State but could have ripple affects on the United States and the world.
In wake of the January 4th sit-ins staged by more than one hundred Majles members in protest of the disqualifications of candidate who want to run for a seat in parliament, the Islamic Republic is at a boiling point right now. The February 20th Majlis parliamentary elections will in the long run determine the fate of the IRI. The clerical rulers have to decide, either to reform the system, or risk being overrun by the people's passion for secular democracy.
Six weeks before the first ballot is cast, the battle lines have already been drawn. The seventh Majlis election showcases the internal politics of Iran in terms of the reformists against the conservatives. The conservative Guardian Council continues to disqualify candidates left and right. Most of the disqualified fit into the reformist camp. To fight this, reformist parliamentarians have already staged sit ins in Tehran, and others including those in Khatami's camp have threatened to boycott the elections if things continue as they are with their candidates being prevented from running.
Subsequently, if the reformists boycott the elections, the conservatives might win the battle-the majority of the seats, but they will ultimately lose the long war. The clerics will have strengthened their dictatorship and will have flamed the already present fire of discontent in the Iranian population that threatens to engulf the Persian nation in revolution.
The upcoming election also highlights the credibility and legitimacy of the Republic, as low voter turnout can signal the end to what many Iranians already know and that is the legitimacy of the IRI with the people it rules. The 1997 election of Khatami and then the subsequent Sixth Majles elections that saw an exuberant people's take to the polls and vote reform is no more to be found.
Today, the people have seen the reforms go nowhere, newspapers continue to be closed down, students and those who dare voice opposition to the regime are jailed, tortured, and some executed, social freedoms are again stifled, and economic conditions have not improved, as more Iranians continue to live under the poverty line.
As February 20th nears, the question arises; will the Iranian people go to the ballots and cast their votes? If recent history is proof, then the answer will be no, people will not vote. By refusing to cast their votes, the Iranian people will in essence be voting against the Islamic Republic with their silence at the ballots.
The leaders of the Islamic Republic have in recent times been attempting to bolster their image internationally by attempting to show to the world that the Republic is an experiment in Islamic democracy. If the elections go as it seems, and candidates are disqualified, and people do not take to the polls, what message of democracy will that be sending out to the world and Europe?
Being surrounded by the United States on all sides, it seem the noose is tightening on clerical rule. If the IRI were to lose the only legitimacy they claim they have with their movement towards democracy, then they will be in danger of losing world support and hence be subject to Uncle Sam's strong foreign policy towards the Islamic Republic. Even though, Germany, France, England and Russia may have big business interests in Iran, if things continue as they are, they will be just supporting another dictatorship doomed to fail, as they had done with Saddam's Iraq.
As for the United States, the Bush administration must keep to the sidelines for now and watch from afar what is happening. If protests and demonstrations break out, that is the time when President Bush must stand by his word and support the Iranian people in their struggle for freedom and democracy.
This new political earthquake that is looming ever so close can become a tragedy for the Islamic Republic, but unlike what happened in Bam, it can become a blessing not only for the Iranian peoples, but for the world as the end could very well be around the corner for the leading state sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic.