Leaving Islam



Iran's Khumanists Seal off the Fortress

By Walid Phares
Lebanon Wire
June 26, 2005

The understanding of the results of the Iranian Presidential is simple: in the eyes of analysts with inside knowledge of the Islamic Republic, this is a tightening of the Khumainist grip over the state fortress of Shiia Fundamentalism: The Islamic Republic. Mohammed Ahmadnijad, the more radical candidate in the race for the Presidency won the elections of the regime, not of the country. Indeed, as some international observers are rushing to Western-minded conclusions such as “Iranian voters have shown their real face, a more fundamentalist and less liberal,” let's cut the fantasies short: These were not elections about the Iranian regime, so that we can examine the popularity of the pro and anti Khumainism, but elections within the regime between two schools of thought." Let's not have another wrong debate in America and the West, as we were flooded with since 9/11. Our Middle East studies experts have to clarify to, not blur the eyes of their consumers, how elections function in Iran since 1979. The premise of this development is as important as the actual happening. For I have heard some of my students in the 1990s, reporting from colleagues that “Iran is a democracy” simply because “there are elections” in that country! Hence, an erring media can dupe the public into measuring the Mullahs' “Presidential elections” with a regular constitutional happening in the West. That isn't the case: In the Islamic Republic of Iran, elections are closer to the Soviet Presidium rather than the French fifth republic. That's for a start.


After the end of the Cold war, the ruling establishment, first under Khumaini, then under Khamenei, allowed some space for a so-called internal reformist movement to emerge, but within the confines of the regime. Hence the “moderate” Mohammed Khatemi was elected by “all sort” of reformists, both “inside” and outside the regime, all registered citizen being able to vote. It is an irony, that Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (Khatemi's predecessor) was regarded then as a "conservative" pushing against reforms. In this week's elections, he was “painted” as the reformist facing the victorious and “more radical” Ahmadinijad. So everything is relative in an authoritarian theocracy.

Back in the 1990s Khatemi's Presidential election provided the world with a finding: It showed what's under the regime that is millions of pro-Western, and more importantly antifundamentalist and secular youth and women. These “real” reformists were not included in the system, nor are they integrated in the electoral process. Since their candidates cannot make it to the voting mechanism, no elections would express their will, so let's not base our analysis of elections on the parameter of showing or not showing the liberal forces. Elections in Iran are a measurement for who in the regime is carving up more power. The measurement of popular discontent will be possible, only when the international community would offer its institutional testing.

In these elections, it was expected that the more radicals would win: in this case Mohammed Ahmadinijad. The former Governor of Tehran, carefully selected by the Khamenei elite, has the typical profile for these “critical” times: former revolutionary student, commander in the armed forces, officer in the revolutionary guard, Islamist teacher on campus, and staunch proponent of nuclear weapons. Ahmadinijad didn't come on the shoulders of the popular majority of Iran, but rather on the backs of the majority of the regime networks. His opponent Ali Rafsanjani, ex Khamenei favorite in past times, exposed the "interference from above”: Since he knows them well as he served in that nomenclature before. Ahmadinijad is the best horse the Khamenei establishment can launch onto power to oppose and crush the real reformists, who are increasingly representing the deep aspirations of the Iranian popular majority. So, ironically, the victory of a radical, within a radical regime, means that the regime is cornered, knows what the youth and women wants, and has to send its best commissary to the top position in the country.

Overarching the elections, the Khomeinist regime today sees the tremendous changes in the region, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. They witness democracy erupting to its east and west. More seriously, they see in the Shiia leadership of Iraq a competitive nightmare, for they have chosen democracy, and "worse," an alliance with the United States. For sharp connoisseurs, this is why they had to "win" Iran's elections now, with the best horse they have, even if they had to twist all electoral procedures, as one of theirs rightly accuses.”

- Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, a professor of Middle East Studies and the author of "The Khumanist Revolution” in Arabic, in 1987.





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