Democracy in Iran is about consolidating the supreme leader’s authority

As long as Islamists continue to insist on reverting to sharia, there cannot be any real democracy.

Power of the Guide. Two men are seen standing as Iranian women prepare to cast their votes in municipal and presidential elections in the city of Qom, on May 19. (AFP)


2017/05/21 Issue: 107 Page: 15


The Arab Weekly
Mokhtar Dabbabi



Iran’s project to export its revolution to its Arab neighbours is history. The revolution by the religious establishment turned out to be a failure inside Iran and was unable to entice young people in Arab countries to adopt it and fight for it.

Observers of Iranian politics can easily see that the Iranian Revolu­tion has morphed into a huge soul­less bureaucratic machine that has trampled on the dreams of millions of Iranians.

Nothing more than hollow prom­ises and slogans came out of that revolution and, with each passing year, Iranians have found them­selves facing more crises and more despair.

Iranians do not see a light at the end of the tunnel appearing in the foreseeable future. The religious and political leadership in Iran is not looking for solutions to ease the economic and social crises in Iran.

Even the lifting of international sanctions against Iran did not af­fect people’s lives. The leadership thought it best to invest revenues collected from the lifting of sanc­tions in expanding and financing Iran’s presence in the Middle East by buying weapons and paying pro- Iranian parties and organisations in Bahrain, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and other countries.

One would have hoped that the Iranian Revolution would be a model for social and economic well-being that could be felt and experienced by each citizen. Instead, the all-dominating and authoritarian supreme leader’s institution seems bent on present­ing the revolution as the antipode of stability.

Here the supreme leader’s vision is not much different from that of leaders of Sunni political Islamist movements who say a decent living on Earth should be the monopoly of the religious establishment while for everyone else it should be reported to the hereafter.

By saying the above, we are not simply being rhetorical. A digging into the assets of the institution of the supreme leader in Iran will reveal that it does indeed hold and manage projects worth billions of dollars whose proceedings go in the service of the religious estab­lishment to guarantee its complete control of Iran.

A good portion of the revenues go to buying the loyalty of clerics and other members of the religious establishment to ensure that Ira­nian society remains loyal to and in the service of the supreme leader. This power grip, however, is begin­ning to come undone, especially among Iran’s young.

It is ironic to find Arab intellectu­als who admire Iranian democracy. The truth is that democracy in Iran is just rhetorical and limited only to election times.

Can we really talk about democra­cy when social justice and political and ideological diversity are absent?

Is it really democracy when the whole process is controlled by the institution of the supreme leader?

In this respect, Iran’s democracy is like the one espoused by Sunni Islamist movements. Only unim­portant issues are allowed to be discussed.

It is worth noting that in the early days of the 1979 Iranian Revolution commandeered by Ayatollah Ruhol­lah Khomeini, dissenting views, even from within the Islamist para­digm, were suppressed. Ali Shariati, for example, had presented a model in which social justice was the goal of the political process and there were no intermediaries between men and God. He was, of course, silenced.

As long as Islamists continue to insist on reverting to sharia, as is the case with Sunni Islamists, or give priority to the dominance of the supreme leader, as is the case with Iran, there cannot be any real democracy.

If, in the democratic process, Islamists choose to let go of the religious text and accept the real rules of democracy then they will join other liberal civil movements and will no longer have the right to argue in the name of Allah and religion. This means, however, that they will lose a valuable source of easy votes in elections.

Yes, Hassan Rohani has won a second term as Iran’s president but Iran remains a religious state and for many Iranians dreams of a better life will remain just dreams.


Mokhtar Dabbabi is a Tunisian writer.


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