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"Khatami is better than Noori, but it is the difference between bad and worse"

On May 23, Iran's seventh presidential elections took place with the usual arbitrary interference of the Council of Guardians regarding the competence of the candidates. The 12 member Council filtered out 234 candidates including 9 women, without providing any reason orjustification for their decision. Ilic elections took place in an environment where freedom of assembly, free press, an independent legal system, and even active political parties were non-existent. The big turn out, nonetheless, prevented the tampering with the vote count. The great majority of voters, especially artists, intellectuals, urban youths and women, participated to cast their vote for the least evil. Before analyzing the results of this election, we must refer to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and pay close attention to the power and authority invested in the role of the Supreme Theologian. Some experts and supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran often mention the periodic elections for the Majlis (parliament) or the Presidential elections as an indication of some degree of "democratic" rule in Iran. But in essence, even a brief glance at the Islamic Republic's constitution, demonstrates that the system is indeed totally undemocratic. It is based on a theory of the rule of the Supreme Theologian who has absolute power and veto over all decisions of the government and the decrees of the Majlis.

It should be noted that according to article 115 of the constitution all presidential candidates must be religiously and politically devoted to the ideology of the Velayate Faghih (jurisprudence of the Supreme Theologian). It must be noted that in regards to candidates, the constitution refers emphatically to men (rejal) and clearly it has no provisions for and in fact prevents women from being candidates and thus from being elected as president. Moreover, all members of the Majlis and candidates for presidency must be screened for ideological purity by the Council of Guardians - a twelve member body who are appointed by the Supreme leader himself and are subservient to the latter. Islamic credentials of every candidate, basically their eligibility to participate in the election campaign, must be approved by the Council of Guardians.

The Islamic Republic's law does not believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Arbitrary exercise of power by the Council of Guardians and prevention of women to participate, sheds a clear light on the fact that the election process (except for the counting period of votes) is not one which could even remotely be labeled as democratic.
Moreover, according to the Human Rights Watch, with the interference of the Council of Guardian and preventing women and minorities from becoming president, it could be said that elections are taking place in a repressive and undemocratic atmosphere. In this presidential contest, wherein 238 candidates had applied, the Council of Guardian announced that it had vetoed all but four of the candidates, namely, Hojjatol-Islam Ali Akbar Nateq Noori, Hojjatol Islam Mohammad Khatami, Hojjatol-Islam Mohammad Reyshahri and Mr. Reza Zavarei. The Council of Guardians hand picked those four candidates from various factions within the system who compete for power with mere differences in methods and tactics, and not strategy.

Although suspicions of vote tampering were high, competition among different factions of the system created an atmosphere that was apparently used by the people to send a clear message. The large participation of youths and women and their tilt toward Mr. Khatami as a lesser evil changed the equation. Although Ayatollah Khamanei favored Mr. Nateq Noori and most observers believed that Noori would be the next president, the stream of voters were so high and difference in votes for candidates (70 percent went to Khatami) were so big that the government could not rig the vote count as it intended. Therefore, the result turned up in favor of Hojjatol-Islam Khatami.

The people of Iran, in great numbers, elected a new president, who in comparison with Nateq Noori, is a moderate. Now, whether Mr. Khatami acts independent of the Supreme leader or will remain subservient to him is uncertain and the future could only tell. As we have always viewed the nationalist aspirations of our compatriots with highest regard, here also our hope is that the people have taken the right step and have not repeated the mistake of 1979. In this regard, we know that previously, people and especially the western press and governments, have been deceived by the false "messiah".

Despite the fact that Hashemi Rafsanjani also enjoyed the initial praise of western media as a moderate reformer, we have to wait and see how Mr. Khatami would run the country where indeed all power is concentrated in the hands of the Supreme leader and within an undemocratic framework/constitution that has given absolute power to the Supreme Religious Leader. Therefore, as long as the supreme leader with his absolute power, sits atop the pyramid of the Islamic Republic, things are not going to be facile for Mr. Khatami insofar as running the affairs of the country and in keeping his promises to the people who voted for him and gave him the apparent mandate. It seems that this election has created a new situation in Iran which will also have some impact on the configuration of power because of the tactical differences among the ruling cliques. There are going to be, from now on, seven centers of power in the Iranian politics with tactical differences, nonetheless all subordinate to the Supreme leader. If one or two of those centers develop a centrifugal force, the balance will change. Those centers are as _follows:

1- The Supreme Theologian Ayatollah Khamanei: The office he holds, along with an assortment of various councils & foundations, remains the absolute center of decision making. All indications suggest that he is not going to change his radical position and deviate from the tenets of Khomeinisin.

been allegedly suffering from prostate cancer, it is possible that Rafsanjani is groomed to take the place of Khamenei as the leader. In addition, there could be a conflict amongst the new president and the Council of Guardian, and indeed the Supreme leader, here the role of the president of CDE will be quite important. Khamanei probably needs Rafsanjani's help to preserve the balance with Khatami.

3- The new president and his office: Since he has been elected with over 20 million votes he has apparently a new mandate and is expected to act in order to keep his promises and guarantee the fundamental freedoms and a better economic life which he pledged to bring about. He might face difficulties with hard-liners and the Supreme leader. Here again the role of Rafsanjani as the president of CDE is going to be important.
4- The Majlis (Parliament): That could have a new and to some extent assertive role to play, due to the new political situation.

2- Hashemi Rafsanjani: Within two months he will be presiding over the expanded Council for Discernment of Expediency (CDE). One month before the election, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Mr. Rafsanjani as president of that council. The post has always been filled by the president in the past. While the president appoints the members of the government, the Majlis can block the decisions of the president. Also if there are differences between Majlis and the Council of Guardians (protector of the constitution and the Islamic Republic), CDE will intervene as a mediator. With expanded and increasing members of the Council and appointment of Rafsanjani as its president, the CDE will act as a new Islamic politburo of the current system. Since Ayatollah Khamenei has

5- The Arm Forces: They have been until now, under the control of the Supreme leader and it will continue to remain so. However, if Rafsanjani is appointed as the deputy to the supreme leader, he will probably campaign to be the deputy to the commander in chief of the Armed Forces too- in the like manner that he was during the war.

6- The Bazaar: That has always been important in the Iranian politics and their support of government or lack thereof, makes a difference.
7- Last but certainly not the least, the people of Iran, as the most important emerging force: They are the real and potential force and are gradually attempting to exercise their rights.

On May 23, they tried to prove to the ruling clerics that they are the most important emerging social and political force, a force that will have an immense impact on the future and destiny of Iran and that they should be taken seriously. In this election, the people, especially the youth and women, showed that they oppose the system of the Supreme Theologian (Velayate-Faghih) and its constitution rather than choosing another cleric as the president They strongly indicated that they want change and oppose the repressive system and its domestic and foreign policies. The people proved that they are alive, watchful and decided to participate in shaping the destiny of their country.

They showed that they voted for Mr. Khatami not because they like him but because they are against the current repressive system. They are against status quo and are longing for freedom. They rightly believe that today, the public opinion is the center of political gravity. Until the election, this public opinion was absent and today it is present.

How the new president will deal with the new emerging forces and handles the economy and/ or domestic and foreign policy, remains to be seen. How Mr. Khatami deals with different religious dinosaurs, how he will end Iran's isolation and improves its devastated economy, how he terminates the support for radical terrorists groups like Hezballah and deals with international communities, the manner in which he intends to combat the rampant corruption, and finally how he dismantles the different religious foundations which control large segments of the economy remains to be seen.

No one can accurately predict what will happen if views and policies of the newly elected president, conflict with those of the Supreme Leader. Whether he can remain in power as
subservient to the leader or will meet the destiny of the former president, Banisadr, is yet unknown. If he is an integral part of the regime, which he indeed is, he will do no more than his predecessor, namely, aid the prolongation of a shaky, despotic and a corrupt system. However, the people have strongly indicated, via their vote, that they indeed are rejecting Velayat-eFaghih and will not permit the status quo and the dictatorship of the clerics to persist. One thing is certain - the time has come for the people to shape their destiny.
The Azadegan Foundation believes that 18 years of the arbitrary rule of the clerics has ruined our country, damaging its social, economical and political fiber. The mullahs have abolished the rule of law and the fundamental rights of the people and have destroyed the cultural foundation of Iran. We have always advocated a secular democratic government for our country and the return of the ruling clerics to the Mosques.

We do not believe Hojjatol-Islam Khatami, as an integral player in the system of the Velayat-e Faghih, has enough power, will, or even the desire to go the extra mile in opposing the system and establishing democracy which is indeed alien to the mind and nature of the ruling clerics. It is difficult to believe that with the modus operandi of the current regime, he could put an end to terrorism, human rights violations, the nuclear proliferation, deal sensibly with the Middle East peace talks and terminate the export of the revolution to the region.

Therefor we are neither optimistic, as most observers are, nor pessimistic. The reality is that the clerics do not wish to relinquish their dictatorial rule and until they are at the helm, hindering the corning to power of a secular democratic government, there is no hope for change and freedom for the Iranian people.








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