Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Two Simple Questions

The Iranian media called the massive march of February 11th (the day of the victory of Iran 1979 revolution in 1979 that overthrew the monarchy and established an Islamic Republic) the “nuclear referendum” and a “national referendum”. The purpose behind these names appears to be aimed at strengthening the hand of the government in its talks with the international community over the country’s nuclear programs. But this approach raises the question of who is the target of this publicity, which in turn brings up other questions as well.

If the target audience of this propaganda are foreign governments – specifically that of the United States and the Europeans – who are challenging Iran’s nuclear programs, then it must be said that both the governments and world public are well aware of such tactics practiced in the East. The tactic is then futile. In fact, they may even come to believe that the policy makers in Tehran are doing this out of weakness and are demonstrating the support of the public for policies that are essentially wrong. We know that in a closed society with a controlled media, there is always that possibility that the truth is being withheld from the public.

So one may conclude that this march and the propaganda surrounding it is for domestic consumption, and specifically, for the purpose of covering up the failures of the new administration in the realm of foreign affairs. I call it a failure because the purpose of any talk with others, or such policies, is to come to an agreement, not to end up in confrontation or conflict. Any other outcome than an agreement is a failure. In other words, if the purpose of all of this was to come to the point of confrontation, then there was no need for talks to begin with as opposing views and discord existed from day one of all of these events.

The editor of conservative and pro-government Keyhan newspaper, which over the past two years has been beating its chest that talks with the Europeans are futile and should not take place, now changes course and states that the government has received the vote of the public, without in fact even needing it. The newspaper goes even further and claims that no government in the world – whether it was in power through honest votes or through the use of force and deception – ever returns to its public for a vote of confidence and to test its legitimacy. Only the Islamic Republic of Iran does this every year, without even needed to do it, the newspaper asserts.

So it becomes clear then that this purpose better explains the target audience of the February march. It clearly shows that the target of the exercise is not others, but to prove to the people of Iran that the government is popular, legitimate and right. It is very clear that to learn of the kind of relationship that a government has with its people – especially in the East - the international community does not wait for a million-man march to reach its conclusion. History attests to this, and just recently in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when in his last year of rule his party extracted 100 percent support and votes from ballot boxes, the exercise did not amount to anything for the world community. Supportive demonstrations have even a less impact. So the audience is not the world community.

The fact that the goal is the domestic population, however, does not diminish from the importance of the event itself. But it certainly raises a few questions which those who claim exclusive legitimacy should also be prepared to respond to.

The first question is that when the country is going through such a sensitive period, why is the media not allowed to exercise its freedom and express the different views around the country. Web bloggers with some 20 to 30 hits to their websites get arrested for discredited the regime for its human rights abuses. An example is Arash Sigarchi whose writings are publicly available and none smell of any opposition to the regime or contain any insults of it. But the “just” judge easily sentenced him to 13 years of prison, which was subsequently reduced by an appellate court to a third of that.

The second question is that if the regime is as popular and exclusive as the editor of Keyhan claims, then why does it not leave the public to themselves so that they chose whoever they wish as their representatives. Why is it that for any elections Mr. Janati (from the Guardians Council) must hand pick a few candidates to be presented to the public for voting. Why the vetting?

The editor of Keyhan is so drowned in the idea of selection as opposed to election, that he writes the following in another editorial. If the German chancellor is honest, then can he explain the fact in a country where there are only a few hundred Jews, why have 100 Jewish non-German representatives been put into the German parliament. As you see, selection is so ingrained in his mind that the election and vote of people have no place in his mind. He assumes the 100 representatives and probably all the others too have been selected to the Parliament by the German Chancellor.