The Iranian




Reform or rebirth for Iran?
After the death of Khomeini's republic

By Amir-Khosrow Sheibany and Mihandoust
March 31, 2003
The Iranian

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 of IRI.

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 observation.

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 the latter.

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 Iran.

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 clergy.
(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, Ferdowsi).

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 infallible.

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.

Rouhollah Khomeini: 

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 sister.

-- Ayatollah Khomeini in Tahrirolvasyleh, fourth volume, Darol Elm, Qom.

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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