New conservative power grip

The outcome of Iran’s June 2005 presidential elections proves once again that miracles still happen in this land of legends and wonders. In fact, miracles occur every day in this realm and the Islamic regime owes its end! urance to this amazing phenomenon.

The most recent miracle surprised not only the insiders but the entire world. The surprise came when, contrary to all opinion polls and field surveys, a relatively unknown "conservative hardliner", Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, left behind the powerful pragmatic statesman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a run-off race for Iran’s presidency. How did this miracle happen, and what are the plausible ramifications for the region and the wider world?

The end of the reformists’ reign in the Iranian parliament in 2004 was the beginning of a series of democratic reverses in Iran’s political and social landscape. During the period of progressive control in the executive and legislative branches of the government, Iran was able to prevail over many threats and calamities that could endanger the very existence of the Islamic regime. The West and the world in general hoped that the trend would ultimately lead to a flourishing civil society and democratic institutions that would abandon obsessive and fundamentalist ideas.

But the severe defeat of the reformist elements in parliamentary elections was a serious blow to progressive ideals; it turned naive dreams into nightmares. Soon after conquering the seventh Majlis in Iran, the conservatives aimed at the last bridgehead, the executive branch, in order to complete their decisive battle for absolute power control. This objective was successfully achieved on June 24, 2005.

Considering that analyzing the political process in Iran is a rather thorny issue, one may approach the subject from an optimistic or a pessimistic perspective.

Optimists tend to believe that Iranians are very unpredictable people and their voting attitudes and social psychology with respect to political processes do not necessarily match the standard patterns in western societies. They claim that Iranians are fed up with the reformists’ empty slogans and pompous contentions regarding political development, freedom, and human rights. Their demands are mainly for improvements in material well-being, and their major preoccupations are the eradication of such plagues as corruption, poverty, injustice, favoritism, inflation, unemployment, narcotics, and other social anomalies. To that end, Iranians have endorsed a rather unknown but zealous and energetic figure who aligns himself with the supreme leader and is devoted to the Islamic regime.

The critical pessimists contend that this presidential election was faulty right from the beginning, and that the whole process failed to meet democratic standards. They argue that the Guardian Council’s intervention in the initial arbitrary selection of a limited number of candidates from among more than 1000 applicants was an undemocratic action, which put into doubt the entire election.

Furthermore, they believe that there was a strong political hand behind the election of Ahmadinezhad as president, despite widespread boycotts throughout the country. Thus, balloting statistics were manipulated in his favor with a view to showing a high turnout as proof of the regime’s public support and legitimacy. This was a calculated symbolic action to promote a non-clergy figure to high public office in order to restore the clergy’s severely damaged reputation.

It is premature to offer a realistic assessment of the future trend of Iran’s political behavior regarding domestic, regional and international issues. Nevertheless, a number of points are of note. First and foremost is the nuclear venture, which has created concern throughout the world. The president-elect has reaffirmed Iran’s right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. He also has assured the world that Iran will do everything to gain the confidence of the international community in Iranian nuclear transparency.

With respect to the Middle East and the Palestinian question, he reiterated Iran’s previous position. As to relations with the United States, he did not commit himself, and repeated the official position of the Islamic regime. On other issues that might interest the Middle East region and the world as a whole, we shall wait and see how events develop.

Finally, a word about the emerging new conservatives. Despite the apparent antipathy and hard-line attitude of the president-elect, the new generation of conservatives in Iran is much more educated and pragmatic than are the many old-fashioned actors who lack an academic background and adequate understanding of the modern world. The new conservatives are clever enough not to swim against the current, which could endanger their very survival. Besides, the new international environment will not allow the emergence of an irresponsible leader like those during the cold war.

The new conservatives in Iran speak elegantly of democracy and the rule of law, accountability of office holders, national interests, efficiency, competence, good organization, and goal-oriented management. They allow themselves to use the same rhetoric and vocabulary as their reformist rivals. Yet in one aspect they are different: they merely seek their identity among the hardliners; they go along with their style but not with their substance. The new president appears to be the prototype of this emerging generation.

In conclusion, it seems fair to suggest that with the attainment of all national powers by the new generation of conservatives, henceforth the Islamic regime has no choice but to seek to gain popular support by devoting itself to good governance and offering an effective response to widespread demands for change, justice, and steps against corruption and other social evils. On the international scene it will do its utmost to gain recognition and respect, and will make every conceivable concession in order to remain in power.

This is just an optimistic and wishful assessment of the present trends, unless another miracle changes the entire course of events.