Reform or rebirth for Iran?
After the death of Khomeini's republic
By Amir-Khosrow Sheibany and Mihandoust
March 31, 2003
Is Reza Pahlavi's second-place in the Iranian of the Year survey another protest
vote, you ask? [No
surprise?] This article articulates the Republican sore points with Iranian
Shahanshahi, as I have understood them in your various editorial pieces. I have tried
to answer them with mathematical logic, itemised so that people who dismiss Reza
Pahlavi can easily answer back and see why 25% of votes on Republican e-magazines,
and 65% of votes on various LA TV station web sites choose who we know, as opposed
to novel out-side the box solutions or God forbid they who are the underwritters
Iran is at the crossroads of history once again. Fundamentalist
Iran has failed at the one fundamental task that any form of society must fulfill
if it is to endure: it must produce a subsequent generation willing to continue it.
The question now facing Iranians is quite simple: Reforming Khomeiniís Islamic Republic
into some form of a Democratic Republic or uproot Khomeiniís heritage and the legacy
of 1979 altogether and starting afresh with a national referendum under international
The proponents of reforms
have been widely endorsed by the western media. Under their revolutionary leaders,
such as president Khatami, they seek the enthronement of power in an executive with
ultimately mystical/divine justification for its rule. They vehemently oppose any
international observation of the electoral process, indeed any empirical verification
of their claims to popular sovereignty. They insist their vested insterest and privileges
were granted in perpetuity by the events of 1979.
The proponents of a democratic rupture consist mainly of the educated and increasingly
restless youth, both inside and outside the country, whose level of frustration is
increasing at an exponential rate. They state that repairing a totalitarian regime
has no precedent and doubt Iranians would manage this, and that prolonging this regime
would inevitably lead to conflagration with negative consequences for Iranians and
the region. They rally around a National
Referendum under International Observation to determine
the future form of government of Iran, be it a Republic, Iranian Shahanshahi or some
new invention. They insist the future government should be Democratic and Secular.
There is also other small, but significant, political groups that want to impose
a completely new culture upon their fellow Iranians. They do not embrace either the
Islamic or pre-Islamic heritage of Iran. They are the original underwriters of the
Islamic Revolution and promoters of Rouhollah Khomeini. They claim 1979 was their
revolution, and that the clergy later stole it from them. As proponents of various
ideologies from Marxism to Maoism they seek vindication that they were in the right
all along, and they insist the future form of government must be a Secular Republic
but not necessarily democratic.
All proponents of a Republic, whether secular or not, whether democratic or not,
claim that the 1979 Revolution settled the score of the 2500 years Shahanshahi for
Iranians once and for all, in favor of a Republican system. That:
1-The Iranian tradition of monarchy is a feudal system based on property and land
ownership. It will therefore result in a monopoly of power because it is based on
an oligarchic model of wealth distribution. Thus Iranian monarchy is inherently unstable
because it is monopolistic and therefore self-destructs.
2- The 1979 revolution was about Monarchy vs. Republic with popular endorsement of
3-The fact that the last 4 Iranian Monarchs were killed, overthrown or exiled is
proof of the obsolescence of monarchy.
The proponents of reforming Khomeiniís Islamic Republic further claim that:
4-As proof of the stability of the IRI, there has been so far five IRI presidents
and with the exception of Bani Sadr, the transfer of "Power" has been peaceful.
5- The Islamic Republic is more stable mode of government because it is more egalitarian.
The Islamic Republic is therefore more stable than monarchy, which is a feudal absurdity
of the past. And that future liberal interpretation of Islam will take care of marginal
details and Iran will finally evolve to a democracy under the Islamic Republic of
From a European vantage point, the Islamic Reformist hypothesis makes complete sense.
The problem is, however, that most of the underlying assumptions are wrong or irrelevant.
1- The Iranian tradition of monarchy is a feudal system based on property and
land ownership. It will therefore result in a monopoly of power because it is based
on an oligarchic model of wealth distribution. Thus Iranian monarchy is inherently
unstable because it is monopolistic and therefore self-destructs.
Iranian history has known 3 forms of government, pre-Islamic Shahanshahi, various
Post Islamic governments and the modern post 1906 constitutional Shahanshahi. Take
a look at post-Islamic Iran. Who has traditionally been in charge of the (a) legislative,
(b) judicial and (c) executive aspect of government?
(a) The law was the law of Islam, understood, interpreted, modified & implemented
solely by the clergy.
(b) The Judiciary has always been, and is today, the private domain of the
(c) The Executive can be divided in 4 components: Education, Public works, Army and
Administration (such as foreign affairs).
Two of the above: Education and Public Works, in the classical Iranian sense such
as "awqaff" (Public Endowments) have been one hundred percent controlled
by the Clergy. As a result, the Iranian Monarchs such as the Taheris, Samanis, Ghaznavis,
Safavids and Qajars (post-Islamic Dynasties from 9th to 19th Century) have had no
more influence on national affairs than mere tribal chiefs.
For sure the founders of these dynasties were strong, dedicated, men. They showed
this by wresting government from the austere and ardent Arab warriors and wedding
it to the rich culture of Persia. However a historical survey of the past shows that
generally these so called Absolute Monarchs were absolutely powerless to legislate
and pass laws, appoint judges, distribute wealth through land gifts, alter the societyís
beliefs through education or even declare wars and go into foreign alliances. The
absolute monarchy, the locus of the unquestioned monopolistic power was hidden under
the robes of the clergy. Exactly as it is today!
The historical survey of Iranís political and economic power structure also reveals
that the countryís 1400-year system of governance from the Arab invasion right up
to the constitutional revolution and the establishment of the Pahlavi State were
not Monarchy in the European sense but essentially various versions of Caliphate.
In the European system the King was the owner of all lands and would grant gifts
of land to his conquering generals or courtiers in return for their allegiance. This
was for example the whole basis of private property in common law jurisprudence.
This is why you have seven hundred-year-old estates in England or a landed aristocracy
in Europe. One does not have to look too far. Castles and estates of old aristocratic
families mark the whole rural landscape of Europe and Far-Eastern civilizations.
These residences signify the past and present sites of the accumulation of wealth.
So where are al these centuries old residences and family estates in Iran? The Iranian
post Islamic architectural heritage with the exception of the Safavid castles (the
main promoters of Shiism in Iran) is almost solely composed of Mosques. Iranís largest
landlords with an uninterrupted one thousand-year-old record of ownership are clerical
organizations such as the Astan Ghods Razavi (Imam Rezaís Shrine), Shah Abdolazzim
or numerous Imamzadehs in every province and village.
The continuous control of the sources of wealth in Iran such as ownership of agricultural
estates has neither resided in the hands of the Monarchs nor the so-called landed
gentry. Iranís historical monopolists of property are not imaginary European
style aristocrats under a Monarchy but doyens of a religious state: the clerical
caste. Exactly as it is today!
2- The 1979 revolution was about Monarchy vs. Republic with popular endorsement
of the latter.
The fundamentalist that are loosing power and the Khatami gang that is trying to
seize this power share one thing in common. They both attempt to milk democratic
legitimacy without actually sharing any power. Naturally, this is impossible, but
the totalitarian mind always believes that force can square the circle.
They proclaim that the regime embodies the absolute good as such, and that its ideology
is the only possible fundamental truth. The ideology is hermetic, and anyone who
doesn't believe it, doesn't not simply because they are mistaken, but because they
are a bad person (a ëkafirí (infidel), a ëtaghootií (bourgeois) etc).
What has given these people the right to define what the revolution was about? Lacking
a democratic environment, where people can freely express their will, anyone and
everyone can claim what they want about their motives and actions in 1979, they cannot
however define other peopleís motives. In any case 75% of the population of Iran
today where not even born or of age to participate in the ìpopularî revolution
of 1979. To watch the efforts of these revolutionaries try to entrench their own
sects ìIslamicî and revolutionary interest in Iran for eternity is a lark.
Take a look at a thousand years of Iranian literature. Religious leaders have always
been presented as symbols of duplicity and hypocrisy. The condition of terror of
thought and belief, and following of a leadership which is the symbol of duplicity
and hypocrisy has brought about a society based on duplicity, lying, cunning and
irresponsible people with little knowledge
Today, following the behavior of the revolutionaries that made Iranian specialists
escape from the country, we see a country with 100 years of experience in the oil
industry, and yet we do not have enough capital reserves or know-how to
exploit our own natural resources! We are left with an aimless society that justifies
its fate through various versions of ìconspiracy theoriesî and obscurantist gossip.
Is this what the revolution was about?
3- The fact that the last 4 Iranian Monarchs were killed, overthrown or exiled
is proof of the obsolescence of monarchy.
To begin with, the assassination of Nasseredin Shah and the overthrow of Mohammed
Ali Shah (last Qajar rulers of Iran) indicated the Iranianís rejection of the power
monopoly of the mosque and not the modern monarchy. And Reza Shah Pahlavi was not
exiled by Iranians but by an occupying army of foreign forces.
The same men who opposed Nasseredin Shah and Mohammed Ali Shah and forced Mozafareddin
Shah to sign the constitution decree later founded and staffed the Pahlavi State.
It is not accidental that Mohammed Ali Shahís (the most tyrannical, vile and
lecherous of all Qajar rulers) strongest and closest ally, Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri
is one of Khomeiniís and the Islamic Republicís foremost heroes and role models.
The idea of a Constitutional Monarchy was first formulated in the active imagination
of the Iranian liberal intellectuals of the late nineteenth century as an Iranian
response to the challenge of the ìEnlightenmentî coming from the West. From its very
beginning, the objective was to embed the Cartesian and Renaissance notion of the
Modern Utilitarian man within Iranian folk culture.
The traditional aspect of the formulae was devised after the pre-Islamic notion of
the Iranian tradition of Kingship rather than the Caliphate model of the oriental
monarchy. The form and not the content of the government chosen by Iranian intellectuals
for their modern state i.e. the Constitutional Monarchy, was not derived from the
Safavid's model where the ruler called himself ìMorshed e Kamelî (the complete guide)
or ìKalb e Astan e Aliî (The Dog at Aliís door). Monarchy was rather reinvented along
the ìIranshahri Shahnamehî blueprint (from nationalist poet-philosopher of 10th century,
The subtle but crucial difference is legendary kings such as Fereydoun or real kings
such as Cyrus drew their legitimacy and source of power from the people with God
as "davar" (arbiter). They were raised amongst the people and were not
In the Oriental Caliphate model, metaphysical approval was the only source of legitimacy
and people were simply subjects. Iranians overthrew this form of government in the
1906 constitutional revolution after over half a century of struggle! It was re-instated
by the Western educated, and left leaning, ìliberal intellectualsî in 1979. The same
year that, funnily enough, the quarter of a century oil concession with the West
was to expire.
Despite its brief tenure, the modern Monarchyís accomplishments are unsurpassed within
the context of Iranian history. It managed to create a modern state, secularize
the judiciary and the educational system, preserve Iranís territorial integrity in
two World Wars, save Iran from British colonialism and Russian communism, transform
Iranís near dead economy to the most vibrant in the middle east.
The dominant characteristics of the late nineteenth century Iranian society were
a steep social gradient, lack of vertical mobility, limitation of intellectual horizons
through the prevalence of sacred vs. secular. Just at it is today!
The system concentrated wealth in the hands of the small elite, weakened forces of
growth and thereby perpetuated a society with a non-productive minority resting uneasily
atop a poverty-stricken majority. Just as it is today!
The 1906 Iran was far behind Turkey, Egypt, India and even Afghanistan in every respect
as evidenced by the massive migration of Iranians to those countries.
The 1979 Iran was not only the envy of the entire Middle East but was far ahead of
Malaysia, South Korea and (after 1974 oil price hikes) even Spain.
The modern ëConstitutionalí Monarchyís most enduring legacy was to incorporate elements
of economic and social progress within the ancient fabric of a lethargic and underdeveloped
society through the creation of a new entity: The professional middle class.
Education and particularly specialized knowledge, professional accomplishment and
a disdain for religious fanaticism became the new paradigm. Individualism and competitive
spirit superseded the intense concern with piety or family status and paved the way
for the middle classís social and economic advancement.
As a result, the men who rose to the pinnacle of power under the Pahlavi state were
neither aristocrats nor influential Mullahs but the educated sons of the middle class.
Men such as Davar or Foroughi or Hoveyda neither had the wealth nor the extended
family roots of Qajar Shazdehs (Princes) or their reincarnation the current Aqazadeh
class (Mullah's male children).
If anything, the success of the Pahlavi state in modernizing Iranís economy and infrastructure
is actually proof that Cyrus the Greats model of governance was capable of meeting
the challenge of Western Modernity and is thus proof that the system of Shahanshahi
is by no measure obsolete.
4- As proof of the stability of the IRI, there has been so far five IRI presidents
and with the exception of Bani Sadr, the transfer of "Power" has been peaceful.
During the tenure of the Mullahs, real ìPowerî was only transferred ONCE.
That was from the household of Rouhollah Khomeini to Ali Khamenei. That transfer
of power was bloody and still unsettled as evidenced by: The public disgrace and
house arrest of the heir apparent, Hosseinali Montazeri. The torture, televised
confession and execution of Montazeriís chief lieutenant and close relative (Mehdi
Hashemi). And according to the Reformists, the quiet liquidation through poisoning
of Khomeiniís son Ahmad. (See Emaddedin Baghiís story).
The Islamic Republicís power sharing mechanism is far from stable! The Institution
of Presidency or the Parliament in the Islamic Republic has absolutely no power or
say in any matter dealing with national security, foreign affairs, cultural policy
or economic planning. The transfer of presidency is therefore a non-event as far
as power is concerned.
5- The Islamic Republic is more stable mode of government because it is more egalitarian.
The mullahs took power with vast promises to the poor of our country (such as free
water & electricity), and in the first years of the revolution could use the
mob as a battering ram against anything that stood in their way. They have, of course,
never delivered on these promises.
And what have the clergy been doing that suggests they are egalitarian? The mullahs
lead organizations that are called ìReligious Endowmentsî but surprisingly the proceeds
have never been put to any public use. Unlike the Christian clergy, the Iranian Shiite
clergy has no record of social service! Throughout the course of the last 1400 years
despite their massive resources, the clergy has rarely established or financed hospitals,
orphanages, charities or scientific institutions.
As "seyeds" (an Islamic hereditary title) they claim an aristocratic linage
of 1400 years right back to the prophet Mohammad himself. These egalitarians are
in each and every village setting themselves apart and above the rest of society
based on genetic superiority.
In a world of exhaustive economic competition where functional differentiation and
modern technocratic expertise are the only keys to solve a nationís underdevelopment
problem; the clergy, reformed or archaic belong to the Mosque. In the case of Iran,
men who spend two entire semesters of their ìeducationî mastering the fine etiquettes
of moving their bowels without offending God (Mottaharat), and preach their congregations
on their nocturnal adventures with the invisible "Jinnee" have no business
running the economy or formulating foreign and defense policy.
In conclusion, one is free to believe that the debates currently taking place
in the seminaries of Qom are actually the dawn of a new era and not the repetition
of age old intramural discussions that the Shiite clergy has had for at least 700
years without reforming itself.
It is however illogical to state that
Iranians should delay integrating with the rest of humanity and improving their economic
position because the Shiite clergy are only half a millennium late in reforming themselves
and meaningful change must only start in the religious sphere.
Did the Japanese wait for the Shinto priests to reform? Did not Spain modernize despite
a non-reformed Catholic church? Why should not Iranians like so many others benefit
from the experiences of the rest of humanity? Whether Shiite Protestantism succeeds
or fails, the issue still remains that even a reformed clergy is neither representative
of the entirety of Iranian culture nor are they the most qualified citizens
to conduct the affairs of the state.
Since Russian cannons awoke Iranians to a changed world after a coma of a thousand
years at Turkamanchai, we Iranians started the tireless effort of meeting the challenge
of rational and scientific modernity. Iranís biggest enemies have not been foreign
but homegrown: superstition, fanaticism, and ignorance. The social ills crystallized
today in Khomeiniís Islamic Republic.
The real question facing Iranians is which form of government serves the purpose
of social consensus amongst the various social groups, which is a precondition of
democracy, and how best to ensure popular sovereignty and establish majority rule
with non-literate, ill-informed voters.
In any case, I rest
my case and let the founder of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the founder of the
Iranian Shahanshahi in 539 BC speak. Let the public decide whose vision suits Iran
best at the brink of the twenty first century.
A man can have sexual pleasure from a child as young
as a baby. However, although he should not penetrate, sodomising the child
is OK. If the man penetrates and damages the child then he should be responsible
for her subsistence all her life. This girl however does not count as one
of his four permanent wives. The man will not be eligible to marry the girlís
-- Ayatollah Khomeini in Tahrirolvasyleh, fourth volume, Darol
Cyrus the Great:
I am Kourosh (Cyrus), great king,ÖNow that I put the crown of
the kingdom of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head
with the help of Ahura, I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and
religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates
look down on or insult them while I am alive. ÖI will impose my monarchy on
no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never
resolve on war to reign. While I am the kingÖI will never let anyone oppress others,Ö
I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the
others by force or without compensation. While I am alive, I will prevent unpaid,
forced labour. Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion.ÖNo one
could be penalised for his or her relatives' faultsÖ
-- The charter of Cyrus, a baked-clay Aryan language (Old Persian) cuneiform
cylinder, written on the occasion of his crowning on the Nowruz of 539 BC. (Discovered
1878 in the excavation of Babylon)
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