Monday, March 10, 2003

The future challenge of Iran

During the midnight of the last day of January, the neighbors of Husseinali Montazeri, the lofty clergy and the greatest dissident Ayatollah, woke up by the sound of cranes that had appeared to remove the guard chamber and iron road barriers built five years ago, in order to put an end to house imprisonment of a man who even in his eighties inspires awe in certain rulers of Iran and gives hope to those who still believe in the possibility of a religious government observant of Human Rights.
The end of the household imprisonment of Ayatollah Montazeri took place two days before the onset of the celebration of the anniversary of the victory of Islamic Revolution in which he played an important role twenty four years ago. But the number of people who rushed to the religious city of Qum to visit him the next day after his liberation was significantly less than the crowd that when he was released from Shah’s prison in October 1978 raised him on their hands; the same people who forced Shah to flee from the country four months later and put an end to 2500 years of monarchy. Now after the release of Ayatollah Montazeri, the most well-known dissident of the present leaders of Islamic republic, are we again to wait for unexpected events taking place in Iran?
Ayatollah Montazeri who had an interview with BBC a few hours after the disappearance of the guards and his liberation from his household imprisonment said nothing about the difficult time of his arrest and presented no political plan, but while his voice was broadcast, everywhere in the country, in the streets and buses and offices everybody was talking about the news of his liberation. His followers and disciples in Qum and Isfahan and Tehran dared to bring out his pictures that they had hidden in cellars and other hiding places since his removal from his position by Ayatollah Khomeini.
The question now raised after Montazeri’s release in the mind of specialists in Iranian affairs in various media was whether this decision made on the verge of the trip of Christin Patin, the foreign commissar of European Union and Human Rights inspectors to Iran was due to the pressure of Europeans who had set conditions for extension of their relations with Iran. Have the leaders of Iran decided to show that they intend to put an end to violation of human rights in the country as the day of American attack on Iraq is approaching and Islamic Republic is threatened by a similar danger? Is Ayatollah Montazeri a serious threat to Ayatollah Khamenei who is sitting in his position as the leader of Islamic Republic? Could the release of an influential and effective dissident who dared to criticize religious despotism while Ayatollah Khomeini was still alive lead to a new movement in Iran when the majority of people have lost hope in any political reformation taking place in the country; and finally was this decision merely made because the security officials were worried that his death under such conditions may lead to insurgences and explosions that in turn may lead to unexpected changes in Iran?
The answer to all these questions may entails parts of the truth, but there is one question still remaining: What will be the consequences of this event in Iran? In order to find the right answer to this question we have to go back and show the role and significance of Ayatollah Montazeri in the set up of Islamic Republic.
What has granted Ayatollah Montazeri the position to play the role of a dissident and opposition under two political regimes and to give such significance to his imprisonment and release is his perseverance in his convictions, and although some of these believes may have strong tone of traditionalism and anti-modernism, nevertheless the modern society of Iran has a great respect for him. He is the only clergy among the early leaders of Islamic Republic that gave up the life-time role of the leader of Islamic republic and even though he had a part in the unpleasant events that followed the victory of Revolution in 1978, but with his criticisms and objections expressed openly he corrected his path.
In 1978, when the mass protest against the monarchy was culminating, the ex-regime released two clergies, Mahmoud Taleghani and Husseinali Montazeri, on the birthday of Shah as a sign of conciliation with the religious front and for the purpose of calming down the people. An hour after their release from the prison, they joined the crowd that demanded the fall of monarchy in their mass protests. Taleghani was more popular and independent, while Montazeri was closer to Ayatollah Khomeini and shortly after his release from the prison, he traveled to Noffle Le Chateaux in France to meet the Leader of the Revolution and announce his submission and in less than a year, he was the head of the parliament that was to compile the first constitutional law of Islamic Republic.
It was in the same parliament that Montazeri proposed the thesis of Velayat Faghih (the rulership of a clergy) and encouraged its approval by the assembly of Khobragans (highly qualified religious and professional specialists in law) by his constant insistence. To put an ecclesiastic in the highest position of rulership was a thesis that not only many old popular clergies did not approve, but there are many objections against this idea in classical religious Shiite texts as well.
But Montazeri believed that with the presence of a great enemy like Soviet Union in the north of the country and the power that pro-communist forces had in Iran and with the various crises shadowing the whole country with the fall of monarchy, the country can be saved from anarchy only if a powerful clergy assumes the highest position of the government.
Thus the Islamic Republic took shape with the approval of Constitutional Law that put a clergy in the highest position of rulership in the new government of Iran that sounded like a religious monarchy to the opposition. Once Khobregans approved this law, they also elected Montazeri as the vice-leader, replacing Ayatollah Khomeini when the time arrives. A highly difficult and challenging responsibility for which Montazeri did not possess the necessary experience and the delicate political subtleties and tolerance.
In the third anniversary of the establishment of Islamic Republic when the war with Iraq and internal and external crises were threatening the government seriously, Ayatollah Montazeri now seemingly familiar with complexities and challenges of rulership left the center of the government and returned to Qum. The same path that Ayatollah Khomeini had taken two months after his return to the country, but failed to continue due to the overall crisis going on in the country. Montazeri’s first protest took place at the time when the ruling clergies started to establish open and concealed economic and political relations with the world by using the opportunity that the war offered them.
When age and illness overwhelmed Ayatollah Khomeini and apprehension in relation to the future of the country in his absence overwhelmed all the clergies and their conservative followers, Montazeri possessing the high position of vice-leader, tried to defend the rights of the deprived and poor people of villages and small cities in his speeches and proclamations, thus by supporting the monopolized form of state economy he simultaneously challenged conservatives and traditionalist clergies and stockbrokers in Bazaars (central markets).
His main and determining opposition versus conservatives began when he protested against their brutal and severe reactions to their opponents. Montazeri who had experienced prosecution and arrest for years in Shah’s prisons believed in milder methods and acceptance of repentance of the young followers of various guerrilla groups that were arrested and executed due to their participation in assassinations and street demonstrations. Opposed to him were the conservatives who had managed to save the country from all the threatening dangers by their appeal to the harshest possible measures. They had seized the highest ruling positions in the Revolutionary courts, Sepah (Revolutionary army), the intelligent and security services with the support of Ayatollah Khomeini and did not heed Montazeri’s admonitions.
Montazeri’s critical and bitter letters to the leader of Islamic Republic and his attempts to reveal the course of executions and prosecution in the prisons that led to the election of a group to inspect the prisons and rehearing of the execution verdicts, although were successful for a short time, but they made the conservatives to realize that if he were to replace the old sick leader of the Revolution, he would be a great obstacle to the continuation of their rule over politics and economy of the country due to the power anticipated by the law for Vali Faghih. Thus a group of influential individuals was quickly mobilized against him with Ahmad, Ayatollah Khomeini’s son as its effective dynamo.
The removal of Ayatollah Montazeri from his position took place when Khomeini was in sickbed and the intelligent service had approached the office of his vice-leadership, executing the latter’s intimates including Mehdi Hashemi with the excuse of revealing the affair going on between Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ronald Regan’s state, famous as “Iran Gate’ in America. In the letter announcing the removal of Montazeri from his position Ayatollah Khomeini called him “a part of his body” and expressing his regret for Montazeri’s behavior, he advised him to withdraw from political activities and insisted that he only had the right to teach in theological schools. The conservatives revealed this letter five years ago for preparing the way for Montazeri’s household arrest.
By the final months of Ayatollah Khomeini’s life, it was already known that with the apparent aim of renovation of the country ruined as the result of the eight year war with Iraq, the powerful ecclesiastic had the intention to change the constitutional law in order to rule the country differently in the absence of Khomeini. During those days that Hashemi Rafsanjani had been elected as the President that had now more power in his hand, nobody still knew that in that afternoon of fourth of June 1989, ten hours after the announcement of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Khamenei would be the man who would replace him. Montazeri congratulated Ayatollah Khamenei in a telegram on the same day, showing that he was not discouraged that somebody else has taken his position.
However the severe treatment and suppression of opposition taking place under the presidency of Rafsanjani and the dominance of conservatives over intelligent and security services and Ayatollah Khamenei’s use of the additional power that the new constitutional law had bestowed the leader of the Islamic Republic, once again brought Ayatollah Montazeri to the battlefield of power and after his first public speech, certain groups organized by the conservatives attacked his office, but the real blow to his freedom and his household arrest happened when following the victory of reformists, and the disclosure of assassination of dissidents, financial corruption and economic dealings in the past, Montazeri’s opposing tone intensified in all his speeches and proclamations evidently aiming the highest ruling authority of the country. The man who had suggested and insisted on the inclusion of the idea of Velayat Faghih as an article of the constitutional law was now reasoning that Vali Faghih should merely be a just supervisor and not a dictator ruling despotically.
With the publication of the above speech, the conservatives who defeated in the presidential election were waiting for an opportunity to show their real power arranged an organized attack and with the extensive arrest of Montazeri’s relatives and followers intended to put on him trial, but by receiving the news of the probable rise of a public insurgence, they gave up the idea. This event planted once more the name of Husseinali Montazeri as a warrior and defendant of public rights in the mind of the new generation. However, it was after this event that the conservatives succeeded to execute policies that prevented the reformists to reach their goals and as the recent census show the majority of voters have lost their hope in the reformation movement and the reformists who came to power with their votes. The return of Ayatollah Montazeri to the political scene of the country is taking place under such conditions.
What has forced the leaders of Islamic Republic to take this risk in the twenty fourth anniversary of the establishment of Islamic Republic to release Ayatollah Montazeri and allow an effective critic of the regime to re-appear on the political scene of the country is not important. What is important is that in contrast to the optimistic view of opposition, it will not bring about further weakening of the government, but instead it will give it the opportunity to repair its undermined connection with people. Such freedom will not help even those in favor of separation of religion and politics, but rather it will pave the way to link democracy and religion for those who have realized that Islamic fundamentalism is facing a great danger and democracy is the only way that can save the government from the international pressures.
The young generation of Iran demanding a better and more modern life do not expect a miracle from a clergy, no matter how liberalist he may be; that is why the release of Ayatollah Montazeri will not add to the followers of reformation, nevertheless it can help and benefit the course of peaceful reformation in Iran, because it will automatically decrease the influence and power of the conservatives. With his presence, the theological schools will be relatively freed from the monopoly of the conservatives.
Following a crafty policy in practice, Islamic traditionalists and fundamentalists have used every opportunity to propagate the idea that the reformists intend to establish a scholastic and laic government and the real meaning of reformation is the overthrow of the religious rule. Through such propaganda, they have managed to prevent faithful masses and clergies who are still the main source of power in Iran from joining the reformation movement. The continuation of their false propaganda will be more difficult with the direct presence of Ayatollah Montazeri on the scene.
Among those who arrived at Qum on the first day of February was the sister of Hashem Aghajari, the university professor condemned to death on the account of his supposed insult to Islam and Imams during the speech he delivered for university students. Zohreh Aghajari knows that if Ayatollah Montazeri approves that his brother’s speech was not in fact an insult to Imams and Islamic values, no force can carry out that clamorous verdict and this is no little influence in the present conflict in Iranian society that is trying to establish a connection between religious rule and democracy and to improve its life without another revolution.