Elite Power in Iran

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We hear so much about democracy, about “people power” and “public opinion” that we forget how everything depends on the right leadership. We fool ourselves that “the people” rule, that the majority decides, that “the public” is something that has an existence independent of pollsters, opinion-makers, and media manipulation. The fact is, as earlier researchers have shown, “democracy” is just another way of organizing oligarchy (a.k.a., “the elite”). That being said, a country’s elite is not always in agreement with itself. There are “reformers” who suggest new possibilities for a country. There are sophisticated people who must either be recognized or eliminated. And the measure of a regime is whether that regime accepts the natural leaders in its midst, and allows them their place; or whether it persecutes them.

The troubles in Iran reflect a real division inside of Iranian society. Here we find that the established ruling faction has become corrupt and ossified. It has lost touch with political realities. And this regime is not merely challenged by the people. It is challenged by sophisticated individuals from within the elite. It is a dispute between one faction of leaders and another, which has broken out in public. Policy differences between the factions are real, though we should not assume that the protests in favor of Mir Hossein Mousavi are pro-American demonstrations. The process is much more complicated. Whatever the protesters actually believe, the leader they are supporting is a man who was foreign minister and prime minister under the Islamic Republic of Iran, a member of the Expediency Discernment Council and the High Council of Cultural Revolution. At one time he was also editor-in-chief of the official newspaper of the Islamic Republican Party. It is said that when the Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, Mousavi was forced to retire from politics. This in itself says a great deal, though few have commented upon it.

Mousavi is not an Iranian version of Thomas Jefferson. He is an Iranian alive to the realities of his country, with views shared by many of his countrymen. On one hand, Mir Hossein Mousavi promises to institutionalize “social justice, equality and fairness.” On the other hand, he wants to move Iran away from “an alms-based economy.” Mousavi wants a stronger, smarter economic foundation, and he is willing to assail the strict traditionalist mania of the clerics, and fight corruption at all levels. He wants women to be involved in the management of society, which the ruling clerics will not allow. More significant than any of his other positions, Mousavi has condemned President Ahmadinejad’s attitude toward the Holocaust, publicly condemning the mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis. He seems to be a nationalist first and an Islamist second. But we must not forget that he is a politician, and this has never been a straightforward vocation. 

People who live under a repressive regime are eager for an outlet. Mousavi has struck a chord, speaking in a way that relates to the frustrations of the average Iranian. “The people are tired of lies,” says Mousavi. They are tired of corruption and repression and militarism. But even if Mousavi were elected, the existing political structures of the country would not suffer a total defeat. They would merely retreat and absorb Mousavi’s message as their own. There would be reforms, but these would probably fall short of what the people want. Underneath, the clerics would continue under a revised program – with superficial amendments and the change of a few corrupt practices. The country would, in fact, be strengthened by the leadership of Mousavi. The changes would bring the country’s elite together under a new understanding. There would be more freedom, but not the freedom that exists in the West. And possibly, the country would blossom as a military and economic power. In short, Mousavi is probably good for Iran. Under this scenario, tensions between Iran and the U.S. could be reduced as America retreats from the Middle East and Iran inevitably fills the vacuum. 

Clearly, the American people sympathize with the Iranian people. Americans want to see Iran succeed as a society. They want to see a peaceful development of Iran’s potential. And I think the Iranians appreciate the well-wishing of the Americans, and realize that there should be no conflict between the two countries. In America we remember the genuine outpouring of sympathy from Iran after 9/11. Today the American people return this well-wishing. If some in the Muslim world have misunderstood America’s motives, the Iranian people are now in a position to appreciate America’s motives more than anyone. President Bush was sincere in his attempt to build democracy in neighboring Iraq. He worked diligently to liberate the oppressed Shiites of that country from the yoke of Saddam. Americans feared that this project was utopian. But now we look to Iran, and we pray for Iranian freedom.

One factor that threatens developments in Iran is the influence of Russia and China on the region. It is in Russia’s interest to trigger a war between Iran and the United States because Russia makes its money from energy exports. A conflict in the Middle East makes these exports more profitable. It should be understood that Iranian politics, like the politics of Europe and America, is penetrated by Kremlin agents. These follow strict instructions in a strategy of divide and conquer. Divide Iran from America, divide Europe from America. Isolate the Americans and drive up the price of oil. People of good will in all countries need to understand the Russian strategy. And they need to understand that the elite strata in every country includes a compromised element. 

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About JR Nyquist