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  Iran: the search for positivism in the swamp of negativism

Auđra Radzevičiűtë
2008 06 02

To search for the manifestation of democracy in Iran is a very difficult task, but a more detailed analysis of Iran’s political life could reveal quite unexpected things.

One of the oldest states in the world became Iran only in 1935, and Iran officially became the Islamic Republic only after the 1979 revolution.  The country became a theocratic state, the political, economic and public systems of which were based exceptionally on the principles of sharia. Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini is the supreme leader of the country. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, controls the military intelligence, appoints police and court authorities and six out of twelve members of the Guardian Council. However, he is not inviolable. He is appointed and can be discharged by the Council of Experts. Its 86 members from the Islamic clerical caste are elected (every 8 years) directly by the people of Iran.

The second person in the Islamic Republic of Iran is president, who is responsible for the executive power. Ten vice presidents and 21 ministers are approved by the parliament. The laws adopted by the parliament are revised by the Guardian Council, half of the members of which are lawyers verifying the compliance of legal acts with the country‘s Constitution, and other six members take care of conformity of laws with the Islamic norms.

Regarding possible changes in Iran‘s political life, first of all it is necessary to speak about A. H. Rafsanjani, who was president of the country during the period of 1989–1997. He started his presidency when country was devastated by the war with Iraq and, consequently, had to liberalize economy. M.Khatami, who was elected president in 1997, expected closer relationship with the West and promised the electorate to give a possibility for the Iranians to travel all over the world, study abroad, use information networks etc. These promises impressed young people (the share of people under 30 years of age in Iran is about 70 percent).

Although M.Khatami contributed to democratization of Iran, the West did not hurry to show friendly gestures. The United States blamed Tehran for the support of the international terrorism, production of the mass weapon of mass destruction and the country was attributed to the „axe of evil“. During the new presidential elections the Iranians organized protests and, although A.H. Rafsanjani was considered a favorite, the mayor of Tehran M. Ahmadinejad won the elections. Strange, but young and mostly educated Iranians voted for the ultra radical conservative, a critic of the liberal policy, technocrat and populist. Why?

Most probably people got tired from promises and absence of major changes.  Besides, the Iranians are strongly influenced by the moods outside the country: aggressive speeches of politicians of the United States and other Western countries regarding Iran are frightening.

However, victory of M. Ahmadinejad did not last long. In December 2006, during the municipal elections and the elections to the Council of Experts, the electorate and even the political allies turned their back on him: post-presidential forces received only 20 percent of municipal seats. The Iranians changed their mind, since the new president did not keep the promise to honestly redistribute the money for oil; the electorate was also unhappy about his foreign policy.

Situation has once again radically changed during the elections to the Iranian parliament in March 2008: 70 percent of seats were won by the supporters of M. Ahmadinejad. The Guardian Council contributed to that. It excluded 17000 reformists from the list of 4500 candidates. Certainly these elections were not fair, however the problem is elsewhere. According to Daily Telegraph, a new generation grew up in Iran since the times of the Islamic Revolution, and this generation does not approve the plans of conservatives and the current policy. The newspaper writes: „refusal of the religious leaders to let the nation freely elect its government would only cause problems in the future. Iran is one of the most democratic countries in the Middle East, but this does not matter a lot while speaking about the region where autocracy is a norm“.

Iran’s habits are also surprising and astonishing. Human rights are significantly restricted in the country: non-Muslims cannot work in the civil services, they must wear headgear and skirts below knees; the Western music is forbidden, Internet is under censorship and e-mails are constantly filtered. According to information of Amnesty International, in 2006, 215 people in Iran were sentenced to death, in 2007 – more than 200 persons.

However, even in Iran one can find many unexpected things: although the Shiite Islam is the state religion, zoroastrists, the Jews and Christians are acknowledged and protected by the country‘s Constitution.  Seats in the parliament are „booked“ for their representatives. However, even to Sunnites (comprising about 8 percent of the population) don’t have the above privileges.

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