The Meaning of Political Crisis in Iran

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Despite their uncertainty about the nature and trajectory of the post-presidential election events, many analysts consider these events as the most challenging political crisis the Islamic Republic has faced since its establishment in 1979. It seems that the players on the Iranian political scene pay similar attention to the notion of political crisis. A glance at the released statements and speeches by politicians and political activists would verify this observation. These statements and speeches reveal the same eagerness for understanding of the nature of the crisis and show the same uncertainty towards the course of these events as the analysts. While the faction supporting Ahmadinezhad and the supreme leader denies the existence of any crisis in Iran and claims that every thing is normal, the reform oriented faction represented by Moussavi and Karubi claims that the rigged presidential election has brought the Islamic Republic into a deep internal political crisis which may destroy the entire system. But it is not only the reform oriented politicians who are concerned with the political crisis. For many others who have never been connected to the reform movement in any way the question is not whether there is a crisis or not but the real meaning of the current crisis. They ask about the depth, the main causes, and the extent to which it threats the current political system and discuss the measures that should be taken for passing through this political crisis.  The political movement known as the Green Movement seems to have delegitimized Ahmadinezhads presidency not only among millions of Iranians but also among a great number his former allies. For many this very movement is the convincing evidence that there is a deep political crisis in the system.  The denial of the political crisis seemed to have justified the oppressive masseurs taken by the government for a while. Now, these same oppressive measures have produced evidences proving the actuality of the crisis and the inability of the government and security forces to control the crisis. This is why the acknowledgement of the political crisis in Iran has become the red line for conservative politicians supporting Ahmadinezhad and the supreme leader as it has become the main goal of the reform oriented to force the former to declare such acknowledgement.

The dispute on the existence of the political crisis is not confined to Ahmadinezhad supporters and the reform oriented. The issue has engaged political players in the system whose political vision does not accord with democratic reforms by any standard and whose politics remains within a conservative politics. In this regard, senior religious leaders are a case in point. Recently, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, one of these religious leaders, acknowledged that the political system is in a deep crisis and encouraged opposing political forces to announce truce as a precondition for future talks and compromises to find a common ground towards a viable political solution based on written principles authored by moderates of both sides. The acknowledgement of this senior conservative religious leader of the political crisis and the solution he offers indicate that acknowledgement of the political crisis requires a solution to cope with the crisis.

One of the most influential political figures in Iran is Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who is reluctant to be identified either with the reform oriented or with the conservatives and  he is considered as one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic and without his support Ali Khamenei’s leadership would have been unthinkable.  In the only Friday prayer he held in July Rafsanjani acknowledged the deep political crisis in Iran and offered his own solution for dealing with the crisis. He called upon the leader for release of political prisoners, and recognition of the oppositional forces questioning the results of the election and defended their freedom of speech and their rights of assembly and demonstration. In a recent statement, he blamed Ahmadinezhad’s government and the leader for their failure to persuade the people who doubted the election results as well as for their use of Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards against the people. He asks those who deny the political crisis in Iran; if there is no political crisis in the country, why is not a minister of the current government capable of visiting a university, any university, and holding a speech, something members of previous governments did at daily bases, without being interrupted and even chased by angry students? He concludes that the fact of the angry protesters indicates that something unusual has happened in the universities and by extension throughout the entire country, which may jeopardise the entire system. In order to deal with the crisis Rafsanjani repeats his previous suggestions such as release of all political prisoners and giving the oppositional forces the same opportunity in the state media that the government supporters have to talk to people and argue their case and let people choose between different political alternatives. According to Rafsanjani if the people choose to oust the current system the defenders of the system including him and the leader must accept people’s decision. For Rafsanjani demonstrations in the streets are a natural reaction of a people whose government prevents them from making their voices heard.

The fact that acknowledgement of the political crisis reveals the urgency of a solution which considers political opposition as an equal part to Ahamdinezhad’s government, the Guardian Council and the Leader has prevented the hard-line conservatives from acknowledging the realness of the political crisis so far. Furthermore, the acknowledgement of the political crisis necessitates recognition of the reform-oriented faction within the political system and the popular political movement it represents. This means the recognition of the current political movement in Iran known as the Green Movement and the demands it puts forward is the rational conclusion of the argument for realness of a political crisis in Iran.
Rafsanjani considers himself the most qualified within the system to understand the nature of the current political crisis in Iran. Rafsanjani’s belief in his capability lies partly in his exceptional experiences of all sorts of crises in Iran since the revolution and partly in his attempt to make sense of the past crises recorded in his published diary of many volumes entitled passing through crisis (Obour Az Bohran). Rafsanjani is confident that based on his lessons from the past crises his understanding of the depth of the current crisis is the most realistic one. This is why he expects the supreme leader to join him in his acknowledgement of the political crisis and in his recognition of the Green Movement and its legitimate rights. However, Rafsanjani’s invitation of his lifetime friend Khamenei, the supreme leader, has not produced a tangible result so far. The reason for Khameni’s reluctance to listen to Rafsanjani might be that he thinks of the current crisis in the same manner Rafsanjani was thinking in the early 1980s. Rafsanjani, Khamenei and many current reform oriented politicians were part of this same political system that its repressive machinery sent thousands of political activists into the graveyards without paying attention to the former Prime-Minister Mehdi Bazargan and his friends in the parliament who called for more restraint and tolerance vis-à-vis oppositional forces. Rafsanjani and his allies did not want to make the same mistake that the Shah made during the revolution that is giving oppositional forces a free space for propaganda, and then recognise them as a legitimate political alternative to topple the political system. Nevertheless, Rafsanjani may justify his own policy towards oppositional forces during 1980s by pointing to two significant empirical facts. First, what challenged the Islamic Republic in the early 1980s was not a popular political movement but isolated political organisations detached from the ordinary people. Secondly, at that time, the leader of the Islamic Republic was a strong leader to whom every body in the system listened and this prevented a major split within the system. This means that the current political crisis is the expression of the crisis of leadership within the political system as well as the expression of the challenge the system faces in its encounter with a popular political movement whose main agents are ordinary people who claim they are as equal as the supreme leader in political matters.

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