Washington DC, September 16, 2003 - Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, scholar of political philosophy and head of the Department of Contemporary Studies Culture Research Bureau in Tehran discussed the prospects for political liberalization within the Islamic Republic at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Monday.
Dr. Jahanbegloo commenced his lecture with a quote from Winston Churchill: "Dictators ride to and from upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry." Dr. Jahanbegloo was invoking the turbulent political environment in which Iran's politicized clerics now navigate as a result of the failure of the Islamic Republic to provide its citizenry with the civic freedoms they desperately fought to attain during the Islamic Revolution. In a word, the time is arriving for Iran's incumbents to dismount the tiger, Jahanbegloo argued.
Rather than provide his audience with a simplistic view concerning the waxing of liberal political trends in Iran, which have proven virtually hegemonic in Western journalism, Jahanbegloo prudently outlined what he described as the "ideological bankruptcy of the Islamic Republic," as well as the inadequacies of the "Khatami Revolution," and reform movement as a whole.
Jahanbegloo first took the time to briefly assess what the implications of the recent deconstruction and pending reconstruction of the Iraqi regime are regarding Iran. Among other things he noted that Iran's leaders now harbor a "permanent fear of foreign intervention," which invariably begets more pacifist reactions to dissident behavior. Ayatollah Khamenei's plea with hard-liners to abstain from violence during this past summer's student uprisings provides a case in point. However, he cautioned that President Bush's rhetorical endorsement of civil disobedience may, in the future, adversely legitimize a hard-line course of action.
Jahanbegloo proceeded with an evaluation of the recent diplomatic pressure advanced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to curtail Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program. He used this topic to re-illustrate the rulers' newly borne anxiety as a result of the dismantling of the Baath dictatorship, hypothesizing that the Tehran government would more than likely accept the additional protocol calling for greater nuclear restraints. He noted that in order to avoid the isolation that proved detrimental to Saddam's regime, Iran would have to cooperate with the international community.
On domestic political developments in Iran, Jahanbegloo asserted that there are two overarching certainties regarding internal political reform in Iran: the "Khatami Revolution" has failed at both practical and ideological levels, and President Khatami, himself, is fast becoming a moot actor, and that the "symbols of political Islam are exhausted."
Khatami's passivity in the face of a daunting hard-line challenge, and unwillingness to "choose between the people and the Republic" have discredited his movement and message to such a degree that student groups no longer carry his banner, which represents a break between opposition and incumbent moderates. The divorce of these two reform minded actors, in Jahanbegloo's estimation, will confound the process of a measured reformation of the Islamic system.
Despite the disunity currently exhibited by moderate political forces in Iran, Jahanbegloo stayed true to his conviction that the Islamic Republic is destined for an institutional overhaul in one form or another. He outlined the three most-probable fates that are likely to befall the country. First, and most plausible, the Islamic Republic will weather the storm of both the wilting "Khatami Revolution" and student unrest, and gradually chart a more moderate foreign policy agenda advanced by pragmatists such as Rafsanjani, while dually marginalizing the clerics of a more conservative persuasion, ultimately dissolving the institution of the Supreme Leader.
Second, the conservative forces, including the military and paramilitary groups will initiate a "palace coup" to "save the revolution," and consequently hijack any effort to reform. Lastly, we see a situation of total regime change inspired and advanced by societal forces, and subsequent purging of the Islamic Republic, in which political chaos ensues.
When asked by an audience member what role the Iranian-American Diaspora might play in Iran's evolution from theocracy, Jahanbegloo noted that the average Iranian's impression of Reza Pahlavi and other proponents of constitutional monarchy is one of skepticism, due to their close association with the American press. He suggested that the Iranian-American community encourage peaceful solutions to the political tumult in their homeland, while adopting the American virtue of "keeping our options open."
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