Iran and the Democratic Struggle in the Middle East

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto in the mid 19th century to explain the meaning of what they called; a specter that was haunting Europe, ‘the  specter of Communism’ and pointed to  “a holy alliance [trying] to exorcise this specter: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.”[1] The specter of communism was the metaphor Marx and Engels used to describe the popular struggle that was going to reconfigure the political scene in Europe entirely. According to twentieth century interpretations the 19th century struggles changed the criteria for deciding who has the right to govern and popularized the idea that all citizens have equal rights to govern. But this democratic idea did not prevent the labor party government in Britain (1945-1951), with a history that can be traced back to the Communist Manifesto, to do all that was in its power to get rid of the specter of democracy in the Middle East displayed by the Mosadiq nationalist government, the only democratic government in the region in the early 1950s.[2]

Since the late 19th century the specter of democracy has haunted the Middle East and Iran in particular under the guise of socialism, nationalism and Islamism but the democratic kernel of these movements has been eliminated from within or by external forces. These days that the specter of democracy appears with its real name in the Middle East; it seems stronger than the “new holy alliance” that tries to get rid of it. The new holy alliance consists, of Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States and many European states that have opposed democracy in  the Arab countries because of their concern for, “stability”, the “peace process”, “orderly transition toward democracy”, and “human rights”, and Iran’s leadership which opposes democracy in Iran but supports it elsewhere. Iran’s regime assumes that the current Iranian democratic movement known as the Green Movement serves the American interests in the region and is backed by the US. Officially, Iran supports the democratic struggles in none-friendly or less friendly countries such as  Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, but it prosecutes its own citizens when they  demand the same political rights that the Egyptians’, Yemenis’, and  Bahrainis’ demand.

Two weeks ago, the leaders of the Green Movement, called upon the Iranian people to take to the streets on 14 February as a gesture of solidarity with Egyptians and Tunisians.[3] Mir-Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karubi, the leaders of the Movement, sent a formal request to Iran’s interior ministry to make security arrangements for the suggested day of solidarity with Tunisians and Egyptians in their struggle for democracy. The call for demonstration in support of the Egyptians and Tunisians put the leadership of the Islamic Republic in a difficult situation. While approval of the Green Movement’s request would result in de facto recognition of the Movement and its democratic demands by the current leadership, denying the Movement to show its solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia would expose the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime which claimed to have supported democratic struggles in these countries.[4] In order to avoid the embarrassment, Ahmadinezhad’s government did not respond to the request of the leaders of the movement. However, despite the tight presence of security forces, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the street of Tehran and several other cities. But unlike 2009 and 2010 demonstrations in which the demonstrators were chanting against Ahmadinezhad, 14 February demonstrations targeted Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and the demonstrators demanded resignation of the leader. There are several reasons for portraying 14 February demonstrations as a turning point in history of the Islamic Republic. On one hand, the moderate conservatives who have shown sympathy with the Green Movement or remained silent since the disputed presidential election in 2009, started to condemn 14 February demonstrations and accused the leaders of the Movement to have broken away from the Islamic Republic in order to serve the interests of the US.[5] On the other hand, the leaders of the Green Movement compared the Islamic Republic with the pre-revolutionary monarchy deposed in 1979.[6] Yet the leaders of the Green Movement claim that they have remained true to the constitution of the Islamic Republic.[7] For the leaders of the Green Movement the Iranian constitution not only guarantees freedom of expression and assembly, and free and fair elections but also authorizes constitutional changes toward more a democratic constitution through referendum.[8]

In actual fact the specter of democracy has been all over the Middle East since the late 19th century, but the political moment which could contribute to its materialization has not occurred in such a wide and intensive manner. The current democratic political movements in the Middle East are in no way a result of the US or European projects of democratic reforms in the region. The project of building good governments which respect the basic human rights did not take into account that democracy was about the right of all members of every society to govern their common affairs. The twisting of democracy into good government and protection of human rights was based on some distorted assumptions. It was assumed, for instance, that since democracy was congruent with the current definition of interests of the US and Europe in the region, they presented as the only conceivable force to guarantee both building and protecting a democratic future in the region, a democratic future that has never come, because it has constantly been postponed. The postponing of democracy in the Middle East has been justified through the knowledge produced on this region. According to the knowledge produced on the Middle East the region is not ready for democracy unless its people are emancipated from their mode of being through gradual education carried out by the guarantors of democracy.

Now the reality of the democratic struggle in the Middle East tells us that the people of this region like all human beings everywhere can not only educate themselves but educate their educators. Not unexpectedly, in order to keep the traditional position of the educator of this region, the educators raise the question whether the current struggles in the Arab countries choose the failed Iranian model that is an Islamic state or the successful Turkish model.[9] The necessary requirement for raising the Iranian and Turkish models as examples of success and failure is total ignorance of the recent history of the region. The Turkish model as a success history is based on an historical amnesia. It forgets that with the eruption of the Iranian revolution and the raise of the Islamic Republic in Iran, this country was surrounded by the most brutal dictatorships in the history of Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan, all supported by the US and Europe, and Iran had to endure a brutal war with a member of this Western oriented axis of dictatorship until the late 1980s. In an area surrounded entirely by dictatorships, Iran’s attempts to unfold its own democracy is expressed very clearly in its 1979 constitution which until recently was the only constitutional law made by democratically elected constitutional parliament in the entire region. The politicians who support or lead the democratic struggle in Iran these days are the same people who founded, defended, and led the Islamic Republic in 1980s while Turkey was a vicious dictatorship and a US-European ally. So the prediction about the future of the Arab democratic struggle with regard to these two political alternatives is based on the one hand, on the confusion of the democratic potentials of the Iranian revolution with the current regime of Iran and a selective narrative of the Turkish politics since the late 1970s and early 1980s. This narrative would like to forget that Turkey was allowed by its Western allies to think and act for itself only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The absurdity of the comparison between Iran and Turkey does not lie in the fact that the majority of those who founded the Islamic Republic of Iran are the leading members of democratic opposition in Iran, but in the original lessons that both Iranians and Turks can learn from the current Arab democratic struggle and display them on their own political scenes. The lessons of the democratic struggles in the Middle East would be of major significance for anyone who thinks that democracy is not a project achieved and completed by the West as the expression of the end of history and politics, and thus ready to be exported to other places.  The democratic struggle in the Middle East reminds us that democracy is a process through which a people in a society try to overcome democratic deficits of their government regardless of its name and regardless of its position in democracy ranking. This means that the inventiveness of the current democratic struggle in the Middle East would enrich conceptualization of democracy in general, regardless of whether the new holy alliance which is concerned with ‘stability’,  ‘orderly transition toward democracy, the ‘peace-process’, good governments and “human rights” succeed to exorcise the specter of democracy in this region or not.

 

 


[1] Marx-Engels,, Coomunist Manifesto

[2] Fakhredin Azimi, Iran : The Crisis of Democrracy, (London: , 2009,I.B.Tauris), p.273

[3] Mir-Hussein Mouusavi, Iran’s prime minister in the 1980s and Mehdi Karubi, Iran’s speaker of parliament in the late 1980s and the early 1990s

[4] Hillary Clinton exploited the situation without hesitation and  said;  Tehran’s crackdown on demonstrators, after it had praised the popular uprising in Egypt, shows the “hypocrisy” of the Iranian government. http://www.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Clinton-Accuses-Iranian-of-Hypocrisy-Over-Egypt-Protests-116194189.html,

[8]http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5202171,00.html and  Iran’s Constitution, Article 59

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