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Founded in 1972. Formerly Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily.
Volume XXV, No. 20 Tuesday, March 6, 2007
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Iran Moves Toward a Domestic Watershed Despite de facto Implementation of Baker Initiative

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Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. The growing public trend among Iranians of identifying with a traditional Persian character rather than an Islamist one is leading toward a major clash within Iranian society, possibly at the forthcoming celebration of the beginning of the traditional Persian New Year, Now Ruz, on March 11, 2007, in defiance of a ban on such celebrations by the ruling Islamist clerics. There is ample evidence that a significant percentage of the Iranian population will defy the clerical Government to celebrate Now Ruz (literally “new day”, also transliterated as Norooz).

But more than that, there is growing evidence that a cultural and very Persian social renaissance is firmly underway in Iran, totally opposed to the clerics and religious governance, and despite the belief that the US had effectively abandoned the Iranian population and now favored “legitimizing” the Iranian clerical Government. There is a widespread understanding that the US State Dept. was — against the stated wishes of US Pres. George W. Bush — moving toward a softer approach toward the Iranian clerics, in line with proposals made by former US Secretary of State James Baker and the Iraq Study Group.(1)

In recent years, the Iranian urban population had responded significantly when US Pres. Bush had promised support to Iranian aspirations to remove the clerics. A similar phenomenon occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1968, for example, and in Hungary in 1956, when populations in those countries responded to what they believed were US encouragement to seize their own destiny from Soviet control. In Iran, public support for Western values and culture remains high, but expectations of US support — even moral support — have been vitiated.

Now, despite the removal of the promise of US moral support, it seems clear that Iranian society is beginning to take charge of its own destiny, which it largely sees as independent of the clerics. The renaissance is, specifically, Persian in nature; that is, working from a basis of pre-Islamic or anti-Islamic cultural pride. The vibrancy of the Iranian publishing scene, printing ever more ornate editions of famous Persian poetry, is merely symptomatic of the new dynamism and debate in Iranian society, defying the Islamist/jihadist approach of the clerical leadership.

What is now clear is that the element of fear of the Administration is now gone among large segments of the population, who feel more free to criticize the clerics. This may in part be attributable to the fact that the clerics are themselves divided into a number of factions, each bent on assuming power. And with “Supreme Leader” “Ayatollah” Ali Hoseini-Khamene‘i, 67, reportedly ill, the battle for his post has intensified. Significantly, although recent elections of mujtahids for the Assembly of Experts (which in turn elects the “Supreme Leader”) — which took place on December 15, 2006 — produced an even more radical Islamist Assembly, the population at large is moving in a more secular direction. The Iranian Ministry of Interior reported an estimated 60 percent turnout of the 46.5-million eligible voters for the Assembly of Experts election, and later reported that “more than 28-million people” voted, but even Administration sources in Tehran admit that this number was “a joke”, and that voter turnout was, in fact, negligible.

Now, former Pres. Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (the current chairman of the Council of Expediency Discernment) is promoting his one-time follower, former Pres. Mohammed Khatami, for the supreme leadership, in the belief that Khatami’s image of moderation — totally at odds with reality — would help bring him to power, with Rafsanjani attempting to maintain control indirectly. Pres. Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad’s mentor, radical Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, is also attempting to position himself for the job, as is Mahmood Hashemi Shahroodi.

But as the showdown approaches — both within the clerical leadership and between the clerics and the public — Pres. Ahmadi-Nejad now appears to have gained power vis-à-vis Khamene’i. Although Ayatollah Yazdi may not have made as much ground as he would have liked in the Assembly of Experts, he is still a valuable ally for Amhadi-Nejad, but not as valuable as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran). The Pasdaran leadership depends heavily on the President to retain its privileges in controlling the key legal and illegal elements of the economy. Control of liquor, prostitution, and narcotics, as well as strong control over many legal businesses has meant that the Pasdaran leadership now has a vested interest in the status quo.

But Ahmadi-Nejad’s Islamist priorities differ substantially from the Persian orientation of much the general public, which means that — perhaps beginning at the forthcoming Now Ruz celebrations — the Pasdaran may be asked to help suppress any dissidence. In the past, the working levels of the Pasdaran — who are not benefiting from the corruption — had increasingly refused to suppress the Iranian public. The clerical Government has, in recent times, spent large amounts of money and effort, using mostly Basij political police, to suppress anti-Government demonstrations. The question now is whether this will be enough.

Demonstrations in defiance of the Government continue. Teachers and cultural figures held a demonstration on March 3, 2007, in front of the Majlis in Tehran. The demonstration was the third in the past six weeks. Some 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators called on Iranian Education Minister Mahmoud Farshidi to resign, claiming that he was more concerned about obtaining nuclear energy rather than about their livelihood.

Within this environment, Pres. Ahmadi-Nejad’s ability to maneuver has been demonstrated, along with his ability to build a power base. This has contributed to his belief that he needs to continue to use the threat of conflict with the US to sustain his position within the “creative tension” which is the hallmark of current Iranian politics.(2)

Footnotes:

1. See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis,
January 29, 2007: Former US Secretary of State Baker Attempts to Bypass Bush White House on Iran Links. That report noted:

Former US Secretary of State James Baker, who co-chaired the recent US Iraq Study Group — the main recommendations of which were rejected by the George W. Bush Administration — is working indirectly and behind the scenes to bring about direct diplomatic ties between the US and Iran. This is in defiance of Bush White House policy which essentially has said that encouraging direct negotiations with the Iranian clerical leaders would legitimize and strengthen the power of the Iranian mullahs, making it more difficult for Iran’s secular opposition to bring about democratic change in the country.

The visit on January 25-26, 2007, to Tehran by the Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, for talks with his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani on “the critical situation in Lebanon” was, in fact, to scope out a more broadly-based resolution to the Iran-US impasse along the lines of the so-called “Baker Plan” devised by the Iraq Study Group. The Iraq Study Group recommendations had already been discounted and discarded by the George W. Bush White House, but the Bandar maneuver with Ali Larijani is an attempt to sidestep that in order to resume the process of US recognition of the clerical leadership in Iran.

2. See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis,
December 4, 2006: Ahmadi-Nejad’s “Message to the American Nation” Reflects Belief That Tehran Has the Strategic Initiative.
 

 



 

 

 

 


 

 






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