Friday, June 5, 2009

The Upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran

"I'm sooooo gonna get reelected!"

Searching for and finding similar instances of political brand making committed in wildly different settings and situations can be instructive. Followers of things Iranian may have noticed a couple of parallels between the campaigns of Iranian presidential candidates for the June 12 elections and those of the U.S. presidential elections past.

Most definitely, these are superficial likenesses, but they could also point to deeper parallels. For one, both political systems protect and prolong the rule of an absolute minority. Another deep similarity is that in both political setups, exclusively for the participation of the ruling elites (no matter how many factions they come in), a certain level of 'democracy' (meaning here, tolerance) is institutionally allowed/required.

Now to the superficial similarities. In these presidential elections, Iranians have a 'candidate of change' (yes, literally the same slogan) in the person of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Now, this is very interesting, since Mir-Hossein Mousavi, currently a member of the 'reformist' camp, was the prime minister (when the post existed) from 1981 to 1989. Back then he was a member of the 'left wing' due to his advocacy for a state-run economy. Nowadays, he has changed indeed and supports all manner of privatization (as do all 'reformers').

Mousavi's premiership coincided with the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), during which his economic management carried the country through very rough times. Among other innovations, he introduced the coupon system that made sure everybody received the minimum ration of needed nutrients during those hard times.

He was also deeply involved in the arms-for-hostages deals with the Reagan administrations in the1980s, and was close to Manuchehr Ghorbanifar, one of the central figures in the arms-for-hostages deals.

Mousavi's premiership also coincided with the bloodiest period of post-revolutionary internal violence against the people in Iran. Not only was the country engulfed in a World War I-type of high-fatality military conflict for eight years (which required active-to-the-point-of-forceful recruiting of people to send to the fronts), the new regime was also going through its consolidation; a period that has historically included eradication of internal opponents. During this period, thousands of dissidents were jailed, tortured and executed in summary executions after phony 'trials'.

In one ominous event, at the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war, in the summer of 1988, according to human rights organizations in and outside Iran, between two and five thousand political prisoners were summarily executed. Among the executed were some who had served their sentences, or could qualify for early release. But, in a deliberate move to 'clean up' the political prisons, the government (headed partly by Mousavi) pushed for rushed executions of thousands of these prisoners.

Beside Mousavi's 'Elections for Change' slogan that mirrors Obama's, another interesting parallel is how Mousavi is situating himself to breach some of the divide between the so-called reformists with the conservatives; just like Obama promising to represent the Democrats and Republicans (not necessarily all the people, mind you).

In elaborate speeches, Mousavi has been mesmerizing university audiences thirsting for anything other than stale lectures filled with long quotations from Koran in Arabic verse, which most people don't understand, riddled with militant-sounding speechifying typical of the ideological conservatives. Mousavi has been spreading the news that, unlike others, he believes that 'principled orthodoxy' (osool-geraa'ee) and 'reformism' are but two sides of the same coin, and both are needed for an Islamic society to thrive in the modern world. He calls himself a 'conservative reformer' or a 'reformist conservative', and does not care which particular way you say it. Mousavi, besides having the biggest following supposedly and the best chance of ousting the incumbent president Ahmadinejad, seems also to be the candidate Western 'moderates' like to see win.

* * *

Another trend that has traveled well across the oceans is the 'Anybody But' phenomenon. This year, it finally reached our shores, and we now have the much awaited, 'Anybody but Ahmadinejad!' In many ways, he is Iran's George W. Bush. Just as much as Bush was hated by all but the most dedicated American right-wingers, Ahmadinejad is hated by all but the most dedicated Iranian right-wingers (the Basiji's and the Revolutionary Guards).

And just like George Bush Jr., Ahmadinejad is un-liked so thoroughly that he has split the Iranian conservatives. There are as many (if not more) conservatives against him as there are for him; hence, the decision by another conservative, Mohsen Rezaee, a former Revolutionary Guards chief commander, to run for the presidency in these elections. Some other bigwig conservatives who have chosen to distance themselves from Ahmadinejad include: Ali Larijani (former chief nuclear negotiator), Mohammad Reza Bahonar (first deputy speaker of Majles), and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (current Tehran mayor).

Indeed, Ahmadinejad is so not-liked by some conservatives, that he has driven some to the 'reformist' camp, presumably to assure Ahmadinejad's ouster. According to reports, "some major figures in the conservative/principlist camp, led by Mr. Emad Afrough, the Tehran deputy to the 7th Majles (the parliament), announced the formation of a committee in support of Mr. Mousavi," (The Hard-Liners in a Panic).

In short, just like Bush Jr., Ahmadinejad is too much of a divider, does not play well with others, is an anti-unifier of first degree, and that has become a source of deep worry in the Iranian elite establishment.

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