The prestigious Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA) organised
recently Conference on « The Changing Economic Geography of the (Persian)
Gulf » at which participated a number of well known political, military
and economic experts and analysts from the United States, Europe, Iran
and Persian Gulf Arab States.
Held between 5th to 7Th of November, the three days Conference
dealt with subjects such as Energy, Investment and the Impact of Sanctions
»; « Iran Looking East or West » and « The GCC:
New Horizons ». Lecturers examined « different facets of the
changing scene in the Persian Gulf Region, provided forecasts for the energy
markets, as a result of emerging new oil and gas producers in the Caspian
Basin, the effects of UN and US sanctions on Iraq and Iran and their effects
on business patterns in the region in the one hand and the difficulties
the Islamic Republic of Iran faces in its relations with Europe, Arab countries
and most particularly the United States on the other.
The first day of the meeting became a battle ground between two
American « heavy weights » in Dr Patrick Clawson, a professor
at the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the Washington-based
National Defence University defending forcefully the « necessity
» for the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) to be « fully applied
» and Mr Rodman Bundy, a partner of the US Law Firm Frere Cholmely
based in Paris demonstrating that the « only result of the ILSA so
far ad been to isolate the US and alienate its major European partners
Speakers at the « Iran day » unanimously agreed that
the astonishing victory of the relatively unknown ayatollah Mohammad Khatami
over his main rival, the ayatollah Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri, the Speaker of
the Majles (Parliament), pronounced by all Iran watchers, both Iranians
and foreigners, as winner due the huge backing he enjoyed from the ruling
clerical establishment including the very person of the Leader, the ayatollah
Ali Khamenehi'i was a « major, if not a historic event » in
the life of the Islamic Republic.
They also agreed that giving the present trend in the regime,
where all powers are concentrated in the hands of the Leader in the one
hand and with the former president having placed himself above the new
one, there is « very little » Mr Khatami can do in implementing
the reforms he had pledged during the presidential race.
Considering the importance of some of the interventions for a
better understanding of the Iranian scene, the complicated relationship
of the regime with the outside world, its reaction to ILSA and the future
of the Mullahrchy in light of the election of a new president many Western
governments have tagged as « moderate » and as the Conference
was an open event, IPS has decided to reproduce them in part or in original
form, and, by the same token, presents its most sincere acknowledgements
to both the RIIA, and particularly to Ms Rosemary Holis, the dynamic Director
of the Middle East programmes of the Institute, as well as to the honourable
PART ONE: POLITICAL TR
Go to home page: Iran
BY BAQER MO'IN*
The presidential elections in May, in which some thirty million
Iranians voted, was the most significant event in Iran since the (Islamic)
revolution (of 1979) itself. In fact, more people participated in this
election than in the revolutionary process itself. Despite the selection
of candidates by a non-elected body, the vote too place in a fair manner.
This is an indication of self-confidence on the part if the system and
a degree of maturity in the overall political discourse.
Furthermore, what we are witnessing is the gradual emergence of a dynamic
young segment of the population which had higher expectations and
seek a better life in this world - such as education, job, housing.
Much to the displeasure of the leaders who feel more comfortable
with an approving, obedient and emotional mob, these young men and women
see themselves as participants with their own opinions. They have lived
with the slogans of the revolution, such as « Islam, freedom, justice
and independence » and have experienced the working of those institutions
set up in the republic as its embodiment. They have attempted, at the first
given opportunity, to re-examine the much abused and tired of the slogans
and have shown willingness to seize every opportunity to make them accountable
and more relevant to their own lives.
Therefore, the election of President (Mohammad) Khatami could
be seen as the first statement by this generation, their desire for change
ad ultimately the democratisation of the society in Iran. Not an easy task.
Khatami's mandate would have been enough in any Western democracy
to empower him to run the country according to electoral pledges made.
But not within the framework of the Iranian Constitution where many non-elected
bodies can undermine the elected ones. What are Khatami's pledges? He promised
that as president he would work internally to implement the constitutional
provisions in order for Iran to have a more tolerant and lawful society;
ensure that legal political parties were allowed to operate and freedom
of association and speech would be respected according to Constitution.
He has already taken some measures in easing the censorship of books and
films and has given permission for publication of Iran's first women daily
Zan (Woman) to go ahead.
His promise to ensure equal opportunity for women in all spheres
of life is gradually but slowly being fulfilled. He failed to appoint a
woman minister, must likely because he felt the Majlis (Parliament) would
not approve. However, he has appointed a woman as Vice-president and two
Deputy ministers; appointments which do not require the approval of the
Women have been offered more sporting facilities. Moreover, less
strict interpretation of Islam would benefit women. What is even more encouraging
is the struggle of women themselves which has made some impact on the conservative
Judiciary. Nearly one hundred women have been appointed in the Judicial
profession, although no woman judge as yet.
Making foreign policy is the domain of the Supreme Leader
in consultation with the Expediency Council in which the president and
(some of) his ministers play a role. However, it is the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs which is in charge of implementing those policies. Khatami's government
has responded to the goodwill of those who welcomed his election and had
entered into a kind of constructive dialogue to ease tension - Iran's Arab
neighbours are a case in point.
On the difficult issue of improving relations with the West,
what is more important is that Khatami rejects the inevitability of the
so-called « clash of civilisations ». he believes that the
Islamic world needs to understand the philosophies and the essence of Western
culture in order to pose the right questions to address Muslim's present
state of decay. As a teacher of politics in a university in Tehran, he
encouraged his students to study thoroughly to understand the liberal tradition
in western civilisation. Therefore, he is as much against parroting the
West as rejecting it as whole…..
For Khomeiny, gaining and maintaining political power guaranteed
the survival of Islam. For Khatami, what could lead to the creation of
an Islamic society is the development of political thought and civil society.
The conservative are not are not very keen to hear any of these
terms. For them, any reference to democracy, liberalism and civil society
is a deviation from the true path of Islam. In fact, their attack on the
concept of civil society is paramount. They would only like to see, as
they put it, a « religious society » as opposed to a civil
society. In fact, the arena of conflict in Iran is the cultural one. The
conservatives are challenged politically, religiously and culturally. Pressure
to open up the closed shop of religious interpretation is building up from
within the clerical circle itself. Young theologians are talking about
new reading of the old texts and they put as much emphasis on social, cultural
and artistic issues in jurisprudence as the conservative put on prayer,
fasting and in enjoining the good and forbidding evil….
Khatami's success in pushing his cabinet through Majlis, especially
his robust defence of his ministers of (Islamic) Culture and Interior televised
across the country, boosted his image as a man who stands by his words.
Khatami is well aware that the conservatives - with their rigid interpretation
of Islam and support for a paternalistic, centralised and semi-authoritarian
religious state, have lost the support of the younger generation who have
no time for their long winded sermons. Therefore Khatami has been setting
the tone on how to communicate with the increasingly alienated young generation……
Khatami's weakness in not having a political party become more
obvious as the conservatives regroup to challenge his authority. The combination
of conservative clergy with their allies in the Bazaar and the state institutions
will form a formidable bloc. Led by ayatollah (Mohammad Reza) Mahdavi Kani
and Speaker (Ali Akbar) Nateq Nuri, they enjoy the support of a large network
of clergy across the country.
It is, however, their friends in the Bazaar who are feared most,
for they have an affective organisational ability and are familiar with
campaigning tactics. The most active amongst them is the Coalition of Islamic
Missions, which has been on the Iranian scene for over thirty years.
The Coalition is even against the term "Islamic Republic", preferring the
term "Islamic State (hokumat eslami) whose constitution would be the holy
They have friends among the Basij volunteers and the Judiciary system
and their association with the Ansar-e Hezbollah. This group has experience
in disrupting meetings, intimidating women and going so far as burning
book shops. Their newspapers are the battleground for verbal abuse, libellous
statements and violation of personal integrity. Khatami's emphasis on the
ban on all unlawful actions has not prevented the Basij volunteers
from disrupting meetings and musical concerts. It has prompted many calls
on Khatami to act with firmness. But Khatami does not yet have the tools
to deal with the mob. The former Minister of Interior, who was a member
of the conservative faction, was directly in charge of all disciplinary
forces by Khatami's Minister of Interior has not been delegated with the
similar responsibility by Khameneh'i.
Another example of the conservative's strength is a press, parliamentary
and judicial campaign against the Teheran municipality. The Mayor of Teheran,
Mr Gholamhossein Karbaschi, was a key architect of Khatami's election strategy.
He has been a very effective mayor….A number of his officials have been
accused in the newspapers, arrested, held incommunicado and reportedly
made confessions implicating Mr Karbaschi.
There is bound to be corruption in the municipality. But one can surmise
that the municipality is no more corrupt than many other bodies managed
by the conservatives. The general perception is that the conservatives
are taking revenge on a man who played a major role in depriving their
candidate of what seemed to be certain victory.
However despite the limitations on his authority Khatami has managed
to score some points against the right. The removal of General (Mohsen)
Reza'I from the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard is seen as a key
step by Khatami to assert his authority…. But what is most important is
the impact of Khatami's election on the political scene….
His victory has not only given an impetus to the question of the importance
of elections in Islamic Republic, it has also revived the significant issue
of the position of the Supreme Leader and his source of legitimacy. Does
he represent God of Man?….
Khomeiny was both Leader of the Revolution and a Grand Ayatollah. As
the late Mehdi Bazargan (Islamic Republic's first Prime Minister) wryly
observed "the office of the supreme leadership is a cloak tailored only
to fit his eminence"…..(As) ayatollah Khameneh'i, Khomeiny's chosen successor
lacked religious seniority the prerequisites of being Supreme Leader were
downplayed in the amended constitution for the cloak to fit the new leader…
There is consensus across the board about the need for the constitutional
Leader. As Rafsanjani put it recently, without the Supreme Leader Iran
would have become another Afghanistan. He is the focal point in a highly
centralised state such as Iran. What is being challenged are the sources
of his legitimacy, the limits of his power and the extent of his religious
authority beyond the state apparatus……
The authorities active campaign to limit the number of Marj'as, has
weakened the position of Marj'a Taqlid in the Shi'a world altogether. Khameneh'i's
attempt to be recognised as Marj'a may lead him to move to the city of
Qom where most leading theologians reside. If that happens, Rafsanjani
would be in a good position to be appointed as deputy-Leader. Those on
the left within the Islamic camp have been expressing their desire to see
the Supreme Leader directly elected…What is even more interesting is Rafsanjani's
half hearted defence of the Supreme Leader by saying he can be dismissed…….
The right should not be expected to behave any different from Rafsanjani's
time. It will do its best to undermine Khatami and his government, ensuring
that it fails to carry out his election pledges….
On the economic front, Khatami is bound to a large extent by what has
been agreed. He is committed to completing the second five-year plan which
will run for another two years and seeing through the current budget…The
budget he will present the Majlis will give us some indications of how
he has managed to reconcile differences in economic policies between his
moderate colleagues who are proponents of economic reforms and his left
wing advisers and supporters who favour a more socialist-oriented programme…..
Foreign investment is badly needed to expand oil production. The recent
deal with a consortium led by Total is therefore an important psychological
step. Not only because it defies the American sanctions, but because it
will encourage others to follow suit. The proposed project for the construction
of a gas pipeline from Turkemenistan to Turkey through Iran can further
enhance Iran's position.
On relations with America, despite the ideological barriers, the problem
may have more to do with excluding others from power and also the fact
that whoever is going to be the first to restart a successful dialogue
with the united states is going to be the winner in the internal power
struggle. Therefore, neither faction is willing to allow itself to be left
out of this vital race.
Baqer Mo'in is the Head of the Persian/Pashto service of the BBC
All notes in brackets are from IPS