Islamist Regime in Total Control
by Amir Taheri
June 27, 2005
ZAMINLARZEH! The word, that means earthquake in Persian, is
on every mouth in
as the nation tries to absorb the shock of Friday's election that catapulted a
little-known figure into the position of President of the Islamic Republic.
That figure is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who became mayor of
less than two years ago. He won the presidency in a landslide, crushing the
mullah-cum business tycoon Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the
regime since its inception in 1979.
Ahmadinejad holds a PhD in engineering from
's most elite university, and is far better educated than all of his five
predecessors as president.
A reservist colonel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps, he is the first president of the Islamic Republic with a military
background. The son of a blacksmith, he is the first president of the Islamic
Republic to come from a poor family and one of few senior figures in the regime
not to have amassed a personal fortune in recent years.
But Ahmadinejad's chief asset, and the main if not sole
reason for his victory is his relationship with and fierce loyalty to the
Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenehi, the true and almost absolute ruler of the country.
The two met in 1979 when Khamenehi served as deputy defence minister and have
been close ever since.
Some analysts have dismissed Ahmadinejad's emergence as a
front-line player in Iranian politics as irrelevant because the electoral
process that produced his win was manifestly flawed.
Nevertheless, his election is an important development.
After all, this is the first time in the 26-year history of the Islamic Republic
that a mullah has been beaten by a non-mullah in a high-profile electoral
contest. His win is all the more significant because his rival was not only
's richest man but also the best-known figure of the Khomeinist regime.
Ahmadinejad's victory means that Khamenehi, who has
established himself as head of the most radical faction within the Khomeinist
establishment, now controls all levers of power for the first time. He will now
be able to put his own men in charge of all key government departments. Any idea
of Western-style reforms to please the restive middle classes will be abandoned.
The concentration of power in the hands of the radical
faction will end more than two decades of divided government that has put many
aspects of policy on autopilot as it were. Two years ago when King Abdullah II
of Jordan telephoned Khatami to complain about Iran setting up terrorist cells
in Amman, the Iranian president was able to claim that he knew nothing of it
because he did not control all organs of government.
The Europeans who have been negotiating with Tehran over
the nuclear issue have also heard similar claims from Iranian counterparts. With
Ahmadinejad in charge, however, such claims will no longer be credible because
the camarilla headed by Khamenehi is now in complete control. Rafsanjani had
promised the Chinese model - meaning the combination of a despotic political
regime with capitalist economic policies. Ahmadinejad promises a North Korean
model - that is to say a totalitarian system and a command economy.
Ahmadinejad's election shows that the Khomeinist regime
cannot be reformed from within. It also shows that there is still a strong
constituency in Iran for the populist message of the ayatollah. True, far fewer
people voted than the regime claims. But those who did vote preferred
Ahmadinejad's "pure Islam" to Rafsanjani's attempt at perpetuating the
myth that Iran today is, in the words of the former US president Bill Clinton,
"a progressist democracy".
Ahmadinejad describes himself as a fundamentalist, has no
qualms about asserting that there can be no democracy in Islam, rejects
free-market economics, and insists on "religious duties" rather than
human rights. This clarity will, in the medium term, help the people of Iran
understand the choices involved. They will learn that they cannot have an
Islamist system together with the goodies that the modern world offers in both
material and spiritual terms.
Unlike Khatami, who was trying to hoodwink the Europeans
over the Iranian nuclear project, Ahmadinejad openly says Iran does have such a
program, is proud of it, and that no one has the right to question Iran's right
to develop whatever weapons it wants.
Should the outside world be frightened? Not necessarily.
Paradoxically, the clarity created by this election may prove useful. Khatami
went around the world speaking about Hegel and Nietzsche to ruling elites and
creating the illusion that the Islamic Republic was part of the global system
symbolised by the World Trade Organisation, the Davos forum, and the Western
non-governmental organisations of do-gooders.
Ahmadinejad's victory reveals the true face of the Islamic
Republic as a regional power with its own world vision that challenges the
so-called "global consensus". It reminds the world that the mini-Cold
War that started between the Islamic Republic and the West, notably the US, is
far from over.---
Iranian author Amir Taheri was editor-in-chief of Kayhan,
the most important Iranian daily under the Shah. He is a member of Benador