"An Open Letter to the Iranian Clergy"

By Jalal Khorasanee

There is a monumental epoch-making struggle being waged by the Iran people. The outcome of this struggle will decide whether the people of Iran will move into the uplands of civilization; where liberty and freedom reside, with, its unleashing of thought and ideas and free speech; where people can think what they please and speak what they think. The outcome will determine whether the country will be a society where its government is chosen by the people, of the people and for the people; it will determine whether the people will enjoy the unalienable right of human being - the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness. It cannot lose this struggle. This battle of the people, by the people, for the people cannot be lost. It cannot be lost, alike, for the sake of religion and for the sake of the people. As President Khatami put it "Historical experience has proved that the reason behind the defeat and downfall of the religion in middle ages was due to the fact that religion and freedom stood against each other; It is in the interest of religion that the people should have complete freedom, and, so it is the interest of religion that this struggle for the freedom of the people is won by the people. If the ruling clergy should hold on to its power against the will of the people for too long, it will lose its hold on the hearts and minds of the people. With long term absolute power in the hands of the clergy it is bound to sink into corruption (some say it has already been infested) and lose its trust and respect with the people. With reduced trust in the proclaimed or perceived guardian of the faith, it will be a setback to what the guardian of the faith preaches and teaches. Thus, I repeat it is in the interest of the religious authorities that the people should win the battle for freedom. It is in their own interest that they themselves should be defeated. Beware: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeiniís revolution has proved that no power can withhold freedom from the Iranian people. You will ignore this very lesson at your own peril, and, more importantly, you will prove a hazard to your own religion.

You say Iran is now a democratic country. To determine this let us review the Iranian constitution and its current power structure.
Iran today has a two-tire government, the government chosen by the people and a government chosen by the clergy or mullahs. In this system it is the clergy or mullahs who has the power and the not the people.

According to the constitution, section 8 titled -The Leader or Leadership Council, the absolute power rest with the Leader who is the miriji. In this section Article 110 details the duties and powers of the Leader.

"Following are the duties and powers of the Leadership:

  1. 1.Delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran after consultation with the Nation's Exigency Council.
  2. Supervision over the proper execution of the general policies of the system.
  3. Issuing decrees for national referenda.
  4. Assuming supreme command of the armed forces.
  5. Declaration of war and peace, and the mobilization of the armed forces.
  6. Appointment, dismissal, and acceptance of resignation of:
    1.the fuqaha' on the Guardian Council.
    2.the supreme judicial authority of the country. 
    3.the head of the radio and television network of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    4.the chief of the joint staff.
    5.the chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.
    6.the supreme commanders of the armed forces.
    7.Resolving differences between the three wings of the armed forces and regulation of their relations.
    8.Resolving the problems, which cannot be solved by conventional methods, through the Nation's Exigency Council.
    9.Signing the decree formalizing the election of the President of the Republic by the people. The suitability of candidates for the Presidency of the Republic, with respect to the qualifications specified in the Constitution, must be confirmed before elections take place by the Guardian Council;, and, in the case of the first term [of the Presidency], by the Leadership;
    10.Dismissal of the' President of the Republic, with due regard for the interests of the country, after the Supreme Court holds him guilty of the violation of his constitutional duties, or after a vote of the Islamic Consultative Assembly testifying to his incompetence on the basis of Article 89 of the Constitution.
    11.Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts, within the framework of Islamic criteria, on a recommendation [to that effect] from the Head of judicial power. The Leader may delegate part of his duties and powers to another person"


To summarize The Leader or Leadership Council has the authority to appoint the fuqaha' or the Guardian Council, and he is elected by the experts or the Guardian Council who he appoints. He is the head of the arm forces, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.; his and the Guardian Councilís praetorian guards, the head of radio and television of the Republic, the supreme judicial authority of the country, i.e. chief justice of the Iranian Islamic Republic: the interpreter of the law and the chief enforcer of the laws. Finally he also decides who should stand for election for the presidency. He has all this authority which has not been derived from the people although the constitution concedes that he is equal under the lay with any other citizen of the Republic.

Is this a democratic form of government as the religious establishment claims? We will examine the term democracy as it has evolved through the years and get some idea of what constitutes a democratic society. From this review of democracy it will become clear that Iran does not even have the minimum requirements of a democratic society, i.e. power being in the hand of the many or in the hands of the people.

Of all the conventional names describing a society "democracy" has had the most vivid and varied career. Like the other types of society it has a long history in the literature of political thought. The extreme divergent point of view can be seen from the fact that, in one of its meaning, democracy sprouted in the Greek city-states as early as fifth century B.C.; while in another democracy only began to exist in recent times or perhaps it does not exist at all in its ideal form. It will no doubt be redefined in the future as the need and desire of society change.

Today, in our minds, the minimum requirement of a democracy is that it be a government chosen by the people. Dictatorship or despotism we tend to think of as opposite of democracy. Throughout the debates that times and minds have devoted to understanding democracy a common thread seems to have surfaced. The elements of democracy the modern man has determined is the notion of the political power in the hands of the many rather than the few or one. Thus at the very beginning of democratic government, we find Athens a democracy because "its administration favours the many instead of the few."Closer to modern times Mills similarly states that democracy is "the government of the whole people by the whole people" in which " the majority . . .will outvote and prevail."

Throughout all the transitions and hue in meaning, the word democracy has maintained certain constant specific political connotations. Democracy exists according to Montesquieu, " when the body of the people are possessed of the supreme power." In other words democracy is the rule "of the people." The histories have debated and have differed as to the meaning of "the people," but it has uniformly been accepted as the doctrine of citizens ascendance, which makes the umma or people as such the seed and basis of national authority. In modern times the progress of democratic tradition has been accompanied by the establishment of safeguards for the rights of man to assure that once elected the government actually works for the people, and not merely for one group of the people.

Today, it is universally accepted that the elements of democracy are:

  1. A universal franchise
  2. An Independent Judiciary.
  3. A free press.
  4. A loyal opposition and the belief by the members of a society that an opposition is an important and integral element of a society.
  5. The primacy of the rule of law made by the people and applicable to all the people.

To the extent that a society meets with the elements of democracy determines the extent to which that society has democracy.

Is Iran today a democratic society? I let you be the judge.
Let me end by quoting President Khatami again, " Let me declare my belief clearly. The destiny of the religionís social prestige today and tomorrow will depend on our interpretation of the religion in a manner which would not contradict freedom, whenever in history a religion has faced freedom, it has been the religion which has suffered damage...when we speak of freedom we mean the freedom of the opposition. It is no freedom if only the people who agree with those in power and with their ways and means are free."







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