Monday, October 03, 2005

A Step for a Calmer Domestic Atmosphere

The internal rules for the operations of the Expediency Council of the Islamic Republic, that according to Mohsen Rezai who is its current secretary, were approved by ayatollah Khamenei just one month after the June 2005 presidential elections and were publicly announced two months later, is aimed at calming the domestic political factions while also presenting the official opposition groups with an active option rather than withdrawing and rejecting the political structure.

Launching the Expedience Council instead of the Constitutional Court that some countries have is a measure that can provide hope to those political groups that feel the current political structure and atmosphere is too narrow for them to operate in so they can join in and participate in the process. The current political atmosphere is the product of the issues that came up during the recent presidential elections due to the low level of activity by reformers and the dispersion of their candidates and activists, and on the other, also partly due to the hardline and rough policies of their opponents, which lead to a disenchanted public. In that atmosphere, Padgan party played the field. In fact so confident he seemed at the end of the elections that he now even calms his audiences about the next round of elections four years from now by promising them another victory, when he claims he can get some 10 million voters into the ballot boxes. The boycott of the elections that was pursued by some reformers and activists also discouraged segments of the public. This was exactly the opposite of what had happened 8 years ago when people believed their votes counted and the outcome of the elections were not pre determined. So they went out and voted. That belief was absent, or dissipated, so many saw no reason to vote.

The new role for the Expediency Council may be viewed by some as another official game. If the new role and process is allowed to work, then it may actually institutionalize political parties and their activities. If so, then it will also allow political groups to free themselves from the two principal defects they have had, namely monopolizing power after their victory, and try to completely eliminate their rivals. An example for the first issue is the role the Guardian Council plays in eliminating all others in participating in anything, while for the second issue it is what the current government is doing by replacing even second level managers and directors in the government bureaucracy.

It should be noted that when the current Majlis rightly rejected the president’s nominee for the oil ministry because technocrats and industrial workers did not see him fit for the job, president Ahmadinejad was so displeased that he called the decision makers to be foreign agents and the Majlis (Parliament) to be a pawn in the hands of the oil mafia.

This approach in dealing with political issues does not need a major international crises to create a closed domestic political atmosphere. And with just three months into the new presidency, by looking at the record of what has been accomplished, one can conclude that his most important jobs have been to give speeches and promise changes. This is not taking into account that with just one speech, the president threw out all that had been achieved during the last two years in the nuclear negotiations with the international community. Whatever the new administration has done, points to its inexperience and immaturity.

It is no exaggeration if one said that the most important and destructive step that the new chief executive has taken during this short reign has been to help further divide society into two camps. And this at a time when solidarity should be the call of the day to deal with the serious crises facing the nation today. This division is the most serious calamity facing Iran during the last hundred years. During the rule of the first Pahlavi king modernism and modernity was used as a pretext to box a part of society that was not yet ready to embrace modernism. It is fair to say that during the of the second Pahlavi king the countryside and cities embraced the goal of progress and modernism, and thus narrowed, if not ended, the social split. This state of affairs continued till the fifties. It was in the seventies that the devil struck again and divided Iran into two camps. The devil was in the sharp rise in oil prices. Add a softening of the iron rule to this division, and you got street demonstrations and a complete revolution. During the first decade of the revolution, despite the serious daily issues that the public faced, it was still in one camp. Everybody stood in the same queues to buy their bread, meat, etc or was in the same boat when the war brought its disasters. It was during the second decade of the revolution that a group within society found its way to disregard the other sectors of the population and look at it as its prisoner or slave. The idea of “khodi” and “nakhodi” (with us vs. not from us) sprang from this new view. This view was first justified through security contexts which advocated narrowing the field for those who were not “from us”. In fact so narrow did the field of the “with us” become that a young president who came from their culture soon called the founders of the “khodi”s to actually be “nakhodi”.

The eight years of Khatami’s presidency provided an opportunity to rid this country of this me vs. you culture. But like other opportunities, it simply went down the drain. Towards the end of Khatami’s presidency even ayatollah Khamenei used the allegory of two wings of the same bird in flight to its destination in his effort to reduce this split and accept the reformers with their call “Iran for all Iranians” as part of the “khodi”s. The new administration however has disregarded even Khamenei’s call and chose the “us vs. them” approach from the leader’s words.

In practice, they are trying to show and prove that the second revolutionary generation is better and more efficient than the first. But in reality, all that is shown is that this new group simply wants to repeat the very same mistakes that the first generation made during its first decade. It is as if history never took place. They wish to ignore what the first generation learned the hard way. There is a difference between ideals and utopia, and realities of the world we live in. The old generation learned how you could arrive at the worst decisions through beautiful slogans and mottos. When it spoke of freedom, it arrived at totalitarianism, when it spoke of development it arrived at destruction, when it spoke of independence it arrived at enslavement, when it spoke of turning the country into one large school only to arrive a large prison.

Now a new group has arrived that while talking of kindness uses threats and force to try to arrive at it and in the process divide the country into two camps. The problem with the approach became clearer when the message left Iran’s borders. At the UN, they portrayed a message of kindness, but everyone heard war and confrontation. Even a peace loving nation like India which had earlier shown that it did not need gas and rewards, and was against injustice, changed its heart when it heard the “proposals” from this land at the UN General Assembly.

Ahmadinejad’s government has been promising benefits to the Iranian nation which can only be attained by still greater dependence on petrodollars. Any calculation of the promises and expenditures, versus income and resources will show that we are in a fix. These are not political arguments and views, but clear and hard statistics. Can such a government that has made all these promises now talk of not selling oil to the world, something it did just last week? Will these words and threats really scare anyone except those who utter them? The danger is that the world may very well trap the speaker into trying to carry out the threat.

The government can claim that it will shut oil supplies to the world so that Iranians reduce their dependence on petrodollars during a four year plan. If it really takes steps towards implementing this threat, others may believe it. But if the threats remain on radio waves and in speeches only, then they only show your naiveness or your deceipfulness aimed at pinning the nation against the gun.

So if the new mission of the Expediency Council is to block the new inexperienced hands and push to bridge the fast dividing line in the country, then it will be useful. Let me be clear that otherwise, Mr. Janati, Mesbah and the current administration are all capable of tightening the circle of the “khodis” so tight that for the next presidential elections, there will be no votes cast for anyone but themselves.