Maturity, ecstasy and death come in quick succession in nature, and sometimes in politics. After years of earnest but incoherent struggle under an unimaginative and timid leadership, Iran's political reform finally balked at the disqualification of most of its parliamentary candidates by the right wing Guardian Council.
It flew high on three heady weeks of defiant liberation rhetoric, hunger strikes and audacious threats of boycott and resignation. The star of Iran's reform went supernova before turning into what it will be for the foreseeable future: a political red dwarf.
The American administration that has abandoned Afghanistan to warlordism and is resigned to tribalism and fragmentation in Iraq has opted for the exact opposite of “regime change” in Iran. As the minions of Senator Arlen Specter prepare to embrace the entourage of Ayatollah Hassan Rouhani one can almost hear the podium pounding election speeches of President Bush.
This administration's capitulation to the right wing mullahs at the moment of the reversal of American fortunes in the Middle East will be spun as Iran's capitulation in the wake of a proper show of force in Iraq. There is no surprise as Americans once more put the rhetoric of spreading democracy in the Middle East on the backburner — especially in an election year. The real news is that the Iranian reformers put on a grand show of defying the widely hated Islamic troglodytes and Iranians didn't care.
The majority of Iranians didn't care about the spectacle of the reformist resistance on the floor of their parliament because they had no confidence in a movement that had once embodied their political aspirations. The reform mint had lost its luster and much of its currency when Iranians went to the polls in 2001 to reelect a do-nothing reform president.
President Khatami quickly confirmed people's misgivings by appointing a right wing cabinet and appearing to support the dastardly measures of the right wing judiciary against reform journalists. Khatami's public betrayal of reform occurred against the backdrop of the emasculation of reform parliament that was elected in 1999.
When the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenie snipped the blossom of the nascent reform parliament by forbidding their revision of Iran's draconian press laws, very few reformers evinced the kind of defiance that their constituents (and even their right wing enemies) expected from them.
It is true that the reform parliament acted as a check against further erosion of liberties and more than once blew the whistle on the right wing's abuses of human rights. It is also true that this parliament passed more than a hundred progressive laws that were blocked by the right wing. But all these were seen as proof for the imperviousness of the Islamic regime to reform rather than evidence for the resilience of the reform parliament.
News of the death of political reform in the wake of the popular boycott of last spring's City and Village Councils' elections have not been exaggerated. That event portended the present public nonchalance toward the reformers' unlikely rebellion. It also foreshadowed the coming boycott of the February 20th parliamentary elections (and almost certainly that of the next year's presidential elections) by about 80% of the electorate.
The right wing didn't care about the demise of democratic politics in the Islamic republic because that game's domestic costs had surpassed its international benefits. By barring the bulk the reform contenders (including all but five of the present reform majority in the parliament) from standing for office the right wing has transformed the Islamic Republic of Iran into an Islamic Caliphate with an appointed consultative Shura in place of an elected parliament.
The right wing is well aware that it is swimming against the universal tide of democratization but it has too much at stake to worry about international perceptions.
Democratic politics and perestroika of the spring of Tehran (1997-99) could not be tolerated by the old revolutionary power elite. Their two decades of secrecy, political oppression and economic malfeasance could not stand the searchlight of the reform press. Revolutionary holy cows such as the “second revolution” (the taking of American hostages) and the “holy defense” (the eight years of ghastly war with Iraq) would not be gored in the public arena.
The right wing's self-serving interpretation of Islamic law and their ideological foreign policy could not take many jabs. And hence, years of sabotaging reform's piecemeal advances had to lead to a final counterattack: the reform had to be buried once and for all.
But winning this battle may prove a pyrrhic victory for the theocrats. They may have just pushed the legitimacy crisis of the Islamic Republic's into dangerous depths. What populist regime can rely for long on ten to twelve percent of popular support? They still have plenty of brute force but a bayonet makes for a notoriously uncomfortable seat.
Nor are these dark days devoid of blessings for the reform politicians. The moderate reformers who promised to resolve the crisis through lobbying and negotiations are discredited while mass resignations of the reform MPs and government officials will be seen as an impressive exit. Optimists hope that this conspicuous turning away from the system shall galvanize the dormant support for the reform and make for a future resurrection.
The only complete loser of the day is Mohammad Khatami whose pusillanimous presidency was crowned by dereliction of duty at these dark hours of the nation. He will secure the distinction of the most cowardly leader in Iran's long history, his doctor's note notwithstanding.>>> News & politics forum
Ahmad Sadri is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, IL, USA. See Features . See Homepage