Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Upcoming Elections in Iran

Barbara Slavin in her book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies, compared Iranian political system to a square dancing with the supreme leader in the middle and the rest of the people are called by him to come to the middle to take their turn. None are dismissed for good; they stay on the side, since they may become useful later.

How true her observation was then, and how ordinary it sounds now that she made it. Mir Hussein Mousavi, Iran’s prime minister during Iran- Iraq war, was among those staying on sideline waiting to be called back after almost two decades. His being called back surprised many; however, when President Khatami, after a long deliberation on his own nomination for the presidency, and after a visit with the Supreme Leader, announced that “either Mousavi or myself will be a candidate,” all the newspapers and web sites affiliated with the reformists appeared ready to prepare the public for his candidacy for the presidency. I think his announcement today that, “If Mousavi does not come I will come as I have promised,” confirms that Mousavi is our next candidate and very likely our next president.

Mousavi was the last prime minister of the Islamic Republic, before Rafsanjani abolished the office of prime minister and integrated its executive power into the presidency. The rumor has been around that Mousavi did not have a good relationship with Supreme Leader Khamenei, then the president , and his appointment as prime minister took place under the pressure from Imam Khomeini himself.

Apparently Mousavi left office with a good and effective, though very centralized, economic and management record during the reconstruction period; but not such a transparent one regarding other matters, such as his prior involvement with Israel in Iran-Contra arms deal, which is now a matter of public record.

For the last twenty years if anyone heard from him was through his painting exhibits. His wife, Zahra Rahnavard, was more vocal as the head of Al-Zahra University until she was removed from the position just a year ago by Ahmadinejad’s government. Mousavi and his wife’s association with the notorious AMAL organization was not appealing to most Iranians, who are not happy about the Islamic Republic alliances with dubious Middle Eastern groups.

His wall of silence was broken with his interview with the site Kalemeh, just few days after Khatami’s announcement regarding the possibility of his candidacy. In this interview, he sounded as if woken up from hibernation, trying to remember what it was like before he fell asleep. He recalled proudly that he had managed the country with five billion dollars annually, that is one-eight of what is used today. But he did not recall that the dollar was only 400 tomans vs 1100 toman now, and the population was roughly 50 millions vs 75 million now.

He talked vividly about his economy record and very generously attributed his success to the poor, humble, but good hearted peasants and those from the rural and remote parts of the country, the “peasants form Qa'enat, Khorassan, who picked the best of their saffron and send it to his office to be sent to soldiers who were fighting the last stages of war with Iraqis.” The details of his economic expenditures were recalled again and again, and he said, “Nothing would have been possible if not for the good will of the poor and the peasants of the rural areas.”

Mousavi also talked about his economic philosophy rooted in the Islamic economy of the martyrs Motahhari and Beheshti as well as Ayatollah Taleghani’s brilliant thesis (has anybody ever heard of it?), though the practical wisdom of Imam Khomeini prevailed when the legislators wanted to pass a bill adding to the price of cigarettes. “The Imam adamantly opposed to the idea, and they let it go at ordering them to just increase the price of luxury cigarettes,” thus settling the matter.
Interesting was the convenient absence of Bani Sadr from the list of people who had influenced him. (Banisadr, an economist from the Sorbonne, was Iran’s first president and one of the very few close to Imam Khomeini such as Mousavi himself. He has written his Doctorate dissertation on “Eghtesd-e Tohidi,” or monist economics.)

Mousavi talked a lot about the economy of the previous regime (the Pahlavi), saying, “The Fourth Program was not bad, but the Fifth was a total failure.” He spent time comparing them to those of Islamic plans proposed by his idols, Motahhari and Beheshti, and those of himself. Nothing was said about the past twenty years, nothing about the most basics of economics, the role of the private sector, the limits of the government, the oil based economy, foreign investments, the Iranian investments in Gulf countries, centralized economic vs. decentralized economics (particularly Ahmadinejad fake version of it). 

It seems that if he wins the election, and I think he will, we will wind up with a one issue president, an economic president.

And with the picture he drew, he should be expected to run a country very similar to the one which he governed some twenty years ago, a country broken and fatigued after years of war, with a population broken morally, psychologically, physically and spiritually, left with no energy to demand anything. Poor, humble, meek, giving, patient, content people from the rural area remain his ideal of citizenship of that visionary country.

The reporter for Kalemeh could have asked a few non-economic questions such as on the constitution, law, education, human rights, woman, elections, freedom of the press, the judiciary, national security, the environment, employment, the independence of the universities, youth programs, sports, police brutality, NGOs, among many others. Alas, it seems that the economy was the overriding issue and even that in its most primitive centralized government-based form. Our future president’s economics vision sounds more suitable for a tribal society with a limited population, a society devoid of a middle class, devoid of urban life, devoid of a sophisticated educated population, devoid of industry, devoid of any opposition, devoid of any diversity. And his notion of development is more of the charity-based economy very similar to Ahmadinejad’s plans, though perhaps a bit more original.

Many of us, the optimists, try to buoy our hopes by making parallels between Iran’s upcoming presidential elections and the one here in the United States. Regretfully the only similarity between them seems be a proper name “Hussein.” Nothing of that brightness, sharpness, strong will, determination, hope, desire for progress, modernism, or creativity is found in Barak’s Iranian counterpart. The difference between this Hussein and that Hussein remains to be “from earth to sky.”

However, in spite of all this, I personally welcome the choice. First, I’m pleased that it is not Khatami who falls into this masquerade of the Islamic Republic election for the second time. Second, we are going to be spared from Ahmadinejad’s vulgar language and his embarrassing demeanor for a while. Third, Mousavi’s candidacy is indicative of desperateness dominating the regime, since neither the Supreme Leader’s nor other ruling clerics are inclined towards him, and it seems this choice is more of a response to external pressure rather than anything else. I very strongly believe that the emphasis on the economy, and Mousavi’s exaggerated record on it, is a cover up for other reasons behind his candidacy, and it is just a tactic to divert the public from it. Finally, consenting to his candidacy, and consequently his presidency, indicates the failure of ayatollahs in imposing their autocratic rule to their heart’s content. Being forced to keep up appearances, and off and on arranging a show of elections, candidacies, campaigns, voting, and change, the ayatollahs reveal their failure more than what they are willing to admit.

Also, I can not resist taking notice of a parallel. The choice of Mousavi reminded me of when the Shah chose Sharif Emami after he delivered that historical speech and admitted that he heard the people’s message. History proved that he had not heard any of the people’s voices and had no intention of real change, otherwise he would have chosen Bakhtiar in the first place. Although I’m not so sure if the ayatollahs would meet the late Shah’s fate so soon, something inside me promises that Mousavi’s fate will be very similar to Sharif Emami’s; he will fail, whatever his mission.

As for us? We should make the best of it. If “electing Mousavi” could get us even few inches ahead by keeping the habit of being present in election, even if it is a fake one, and participate even in an election whose outcome is decided prior to our voting, still we have to grab the opportunity. The country is ours, we have to reclaim it, and we can’t do if we do not have a presence. No, Mousavi is not our man, but “election” and under this circumstance “electing Mousavi” is our only means, not to democracy, but only a little closer to democracy. May God be friendly to us all.


Dr. Darius Afnan said...

Dear Ms Mina,


Would you please observe this Internet petition, and according to your inner deliberation, if it would not be an intrusion to your privacy sphere, please do add your autograph.

If you don't find it inconvenient, please do inform your colleagues, friends and close (and not so close) relatives.

much obliged, in advance

Dr. Darius Afnan

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. I particularly liked the square dance analogy! I couldn't get myself to vote for anyone from this regime.
Nasser P., California.