Iran: Revisiting the 1979 Revolution
By Jalal Alavi
The 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution
is nearing. The revolution of 1979 was not only an act against the US
domination of Iranian politics, which began with the US-British coup of 1953
against the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh, but
also an act that was supposed to place Iran amongst the countries that made
the transition to electoral democracy  as part of what the late Samuel
Huntington and others have called the "third wave" of democratization.
Thirty years later, it seems fair to say that
neither of the above objectives has been achieved to the satisfaction of the
majority population in Iran, of course, for a variety of reasons, the most
important of which, as of the time of the revolution, may be said to be
actor-based in nature: those who promised a more sovereign Iran and a more
open society decided to establish a manifestly anti-Western theocracy
instead, which eventually engendered not only a more interventionist Iran
policy on the part of the United States and other Western powers, but also a
clerical regime that turned out to be more reactionary than the secular
autocracy it replaced.
Thus the turn of events in Iran paved the way
for the gradual international isolation of the country under the global
hegemony of the United States, which has continued to this very day, as well
as the domestic rise in corruption, poverty, and chronic repression.
Implicit in the above is the important
proposition that the Iranian revolution of 1979 could have alternatively led
to a more balanced state of affairs at both the domestic and international
levels had those in charge of the revolution been less impulsive and thus
more pragmatic in their political thinking and behavior.
To be sure, a more pragmatic approach to
politics would have required not only a show of indifference on the part of
the revolutionaries with regard to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's entry into
the United States on medical grounds (as this eventually turned out to be a
source of great tension in US-Iran relations ), but also firm support for
the provisional government of Mehdi Bazargan, whose conciliatory approach
towards the United States - under a somewhat sympathetic Carter
administration - had the potential of not only improving relations between
the two countries at an early stage, but also preventing the occurrence of
both the hostage crisis of 1979-1981 and the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1988.
Alas, such political realism on the part of the
Islamic Republic is as much a rarity now as it was at its formation stage;
hence the current situation, in which the regime is finding it hard to even
manage its day-to-day activities.
The failure of the 1979 revolution to bring
about a more prosperous and democratic Iran can also be blamed on the
Islamic Republic's lax attitude towards the establishment and growth of
myriad special interests that have hitherto permeated Iran's fragile, often
mismanaged petroleum-based economy.
The "bonyads", or charitable trusts often of
dubious nature, and the Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose privileged and thus
predatory position in the Iranian economy has not remained a secret to
anyone, are to name but two of such special interests.
Added to all this, of course, is the fact that
Iran's increasingly volatile state of affairs has made it extremely
difficult over the years for foreign investors to take part in Iran's
various development projects.
It may be concluded, therefore, that, short of
direct action by Iran's disgruntled citizenry, the combination of the above,
along with the possibility of even more international sanctions and lower
petroleum prices in world markets, is bound to have a major effect on policy
decisions within the Islamic Republic. Let us hope, however, that this
effect is not only benign in nature, but also imminent .
 Modern electoral democracy, rooted in Joseph
Schumpeter's notion of procedural democracy, can be found in many less
developed countries and thus does not require the sort of structural changes
that, say, a liberal or social democracy would require. At a minimum,
competitive elections of a free, open, and fair nature must be guaranteed
for a political system to be called electoral democracy.
 In retrospect, it seems the effort by some
influential elements in or close to the Carter administration to secure the
Shah's entry into the United States might have been a shrewd way of
dampening the prospects of better relations between the US and revolutionary
Iran. Thus a show of indifference by Iran would have neutralized this
 Tragic incidents, such as the current
US-backed Israeli massacre of the Gaza population, which, according to such
prominent international law experts as Richard A. Falk, is a "severe and
massive violation" of the very principles of international humanitarian law
as defined by the Geneva Conventions, have historically had an impeding
effect on the process of democratization in Islamic countries, not least by
playing into the hands of authoritarian rulers.
About the author: Jalal
Alavi is a sociologist and political commentator residing in Britain.
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