By Jalal Alavi
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rise to the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2005 was the result of at least two interrelated factors: first, the US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, which meant that an increasingly isolated Iran could end up as George W. Bush's third target for regime change in the Middle East, thus necessitating the rise to power of a Revolutionary Guardsman - and in turn the Revolutionary Guards Corps itself - with close links to the Supreme Leader; and second, the Revolutionary Guards' post-Iraq-Iran war interest in expanding their political - and thus economic - base in and outside Iran, which meant using the first factor above as pretext to gain full control over the executive branch. These are just some of the ideas I put forward in a lengthy radio interview broadcast to Iran shortly after the rise to presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is now 2008, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards have so solidified their grip on power that any prospect of republicanism within the framework of the current system can effectively be ruled out.
Historically speaking, the Revolutionary Guards' more explicit involvement in the realm of politics outside the boundaries set by the late Ayatollah Khomeini can be traced to the era of former president Mohammad Khatami, in which the elite members of the Guards chose to position themselves against the increasing momentum of the reform movement. This, of course, was a move that, contrary to Ayatollah Khomeini's explicit decree against the involvement of military personnel in politics, enjoyed the implicit support of the new Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for whom the reform movement led by Mohammad Khatami was tantamount to the perestroika that allegedly brought down the Soviet empire. The same goes for the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are due to be held in mid-March. The Guardian Council in charge of electoral and vetting processes in Iran has so tightened the rules in recent years as to prevent a reformist majority from ever emerging in the parliament, thus paving the way for a fundamentalist takeover of the legislature of the type advocated by the head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mohammad Ali Ja'fari.
Economically speaking, the Guards' domination of the Iranian economy, and thus of politics, began right around the same time the Iraq-Iran war came to an end. Theirs was purportedly initially an attempt to put to use reconstruction expertise gained during the course of the Iraq-Iran war. Eventually, however, this attempt at reconstruction, whether genuine or duplicitous in nature, led to monopolistic tendencies on their part, if only because of the inner dynamics of capitalist expansion, which, for example, involved their circumvention of tender procedures on many an occasion. Thus the scope of their influence on the Iranian economy can be said to spread across such segments as the petroleum and gas industries, the merchant networks, and the myriad foundations (bonyads) accountable solely to the Supreme Leader. Herein lies the root cause of the antagonism between such figures as Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (Khatami's predecessor) and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for Rafsanjani and the like represent the sorts of mercantile interests whose share of commercial activity in and outside Iran has, as a result of the Guards' sway over the economy, been greatly reduced. In short, it may be said that the Guards' postwar involvement in economic activity has prompted them to further expand their dominion over the Iranian economy as well as the state; hence their natural tendency to remove any and all obstacles that could potentially endanger their privileged position in society.
The domestic and global implications of the above situation are still quite the same, of course, as those I mentioned in that radio interview. Faced with mounting domestic as well as international pressure, the Islamic Republic has resorted to more violence and repressive tactics at home, while simultaneously looking for ways of striking a 'grand bargain' with a US-led West. There is no doubt that the specter of a looming recession is gradually forcing some Western countries to consider 'normalizing' relations with the Islamic Republic. Should this actually be the case, accommodating the demands of a medieval quasi-junta otherwise known as the Islamic Republic will have dire consequences for the future of democracy in a rapidly globalizing world. Accordingly, the West must attempt to weaken the grip of the Revolutionary Guards Corps on Iran's economy and thus politics in ways that do not simultaneously weaken the Iranian citizenry. This means, first and foremost, an aversion to the use of military threats as a way of taming the regime, for such threats have so far had the adverse effect of providing the Guards with more direct access to Iran's oil wealth; and second, continued attempts at fostering a more open political environment in Iran by way of conditioning any meaningful relations between the West and Iran on the regime's respect for and observance of the fundamental human and civil rights of the Iranian people. The combination of the above, along with other 'smart measures' of little or no adverse consequence to ordinary Iranians, should in time provide the international community of nations with yet another democratic polity: Iran.
About the author: Jalal Alavi is a sociologist and political commentator residing in Britain. This commentary was first published by politicalaffairs.net on 17 February.
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