Iranian “Reform” Charades, Volume II
by Professor Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker
International Analyst Network, June 7, 2009
Iran’s presidential elections, scheduled for the end of this week (12 June 2009), are an elaborate charade, intended to give the appearance of democracy as well as the ability of Iranian voters to choose between hardline conservatives and reforming moderates. It is a charade because the election is neither free nor fair, and the outcome already has been pre-determined by the decision of one man, and one man alone. For those unfamiliar with the electoral system in the Islamic Republic of Iran, let me elaborate.
First, all important decisions, dealing with both foreign and domestic affairs are the prerogative of the faqih—the Supreme Leader—Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei has the last word on everything, from nuclear weaponry to dress codes, and everything in between. All candidates for office must meet Khamenei’s approval. Using the screening board—the twelve-man Council of Guardians—half of whom are appointed by himself, to assure that all candidates are Islamicly knowledgeable and meet his piety standards, Khamenei is able to assure that no real reformer stands for office. As a result of this vetting process, out of the hundreds of candidates that applied to run for the office of president, this year we are left with a field of four candidates.
Now who are the four that would serve as Iran’s president? Of the four, one is a cleric, one is a former prime minister under the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini—founder and first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran—and the other two are former ranking members of Iran’s theological army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), recently placed on the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list. It should be emphasized that all four are Islamists; they believe that Iran should be governed by Shari‘ah—Islamic religious law—and that Iran should continue to export its Islamic revolution to other countries in the region. They also all share a belief that Iran has the right and should continue its nuclear program. None of the four has any intention of turning Iran into a democracy, and certainly none have any intention of diminishing the Islamic character of the Iranian state—not that they could if they cared to do so, as power to make such changes remains in Ayatollah Khamenei’s hands alone, and the proverbial hell will freeze over many times before the current Imam agrees to such.
Of the four candidates, cleric and former Speaker of the Majlis Mehdi Karoubi (age 72) is probably the most liberal, being a spokesman for moderate reform. He supports a continuation of the Iranian state socialism, but wishes to weed out corruption and bring all Iranians into a sense of equally shared membership in the Islamic Republic. He is noted for his desire to move forward the position of women in Iranian society. In foreign policy, Karoubi advocates a milder approach and believes that a degree of reconciliation with the U.S. and the West is possible. Karoubi is popular with rural moderates.
Former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi (age 68) is—like Mehdi Karoubi—perceived as a reformer. Mousavi’s principal difference from Karoubi lies in his rejection of Iran’s state socialism and his desire to promote privatization, as well as his desire to limit the powers of the Supreme Leader and return them to the hands of the presidency. He too wishes to promote social justice and integration of all elements of Iranian society, vigorously opposes corruption, and favors a similar more moderate foreign policy like that of Karoubi. Mousavi’s popularity lies principally with the urban moderates and the young.
Independent conservative Mohsen Rezaei (age 55) is trying to appear as a reformer, but few in Iran (or elsewhere) have forgotten that it was Rezaei who—at Ayatollah Khomeini’s request—set up, and for years led, Iran’s theological army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Saphe-e Pasdaran), the principal organ of suppression that helps prop up the current theological regime. Currently the Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council—an advisory group appointed by the Supreme Leader to aid him in resolving disputes between the Majlis (parliament) and the Council of Guardians (Islamic judicial council group monitoring decisions of the Majlis)—Rezaei can be expected to support the Supreme Leader in just about everything. The main difference between Rezaei and Ahmadinejad is that Rezaei is much more adept at using guile to advance that which he desires. Rezaei is critical of Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust as an act that brought ridicule and isolation to Iran. Running as an independent conservative, Rezaei basically plays the conservative’s “good cop” while Ahmadinejad plays the “bad cop”. Rezaei is under indictment from Interpol for his role in the AMIA bombing in Argentina in 1994.
Hard-line conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (age 52) is currently the president of Iran, and is running for re-election. He is controversial to say the least, declaring that the Holocaust didn’t happen and “that Israel will be erased from the sands of time”, as well as that Iran has no gay population. His refusal to back down on the nuclear issue has made his name a worldwide household term. He campaigned as a populist in 2005, but has failed to improve the economic life of ordinary Iranians; indeed, inflation is over 28% at present. He is also accused of corruption so that his populist image is quite tarnished. However, it should be noted that he generally has the backing of Supreme Leader Khamenei, who declared ten months ago his prediction that Ahmadinejad would serve another term as president.
Depending on voter turnout, I would predict that either Ahmadinejad or Mousavi wins; indeed there may need to be a follow-up runoff election as occurred in 2005. If turnout is low, due to apathy and voter boycott as a protest, Ahmadinejad will retain his seat. But if there is a large turnout, Mousavi could win. Then again, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, at the end of the day, only one man has a vote; Ayatollah Khamenei’s decision will magically turn the ballots into votes for his chosen candidate. Despite his growing unpopularity, Mahmoud Ahmadiejad continues to have Khamenei’s support, and so that is the name that I predict will be declared the winner when the dust settles. If not, it means that Khamenei blinked in Iran’s eyeball to eyeball confrontation with the West.
Bottom line: Iran’s basic policies will not change; the only question is what face it puts forward in the mask it presents to the outside world.
Professor Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching our elected officials and the public of the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism and the need to establish genuine democratic institutions in the Middle-East as an antidote to the venom of fundamentalism. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws.