Saturday, 13 June 2009


A radically-different take on Iran's presidential elections

  • Saturday, 13 June 2009
  • Fouad GM
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  • We might agree that Iran is presided over by a nightmare called Ahmadinejad who is, in more ways than one, ill-fate for Iran, Iranians, the Middle East, the Sunni-Shiite rift and Israel alike. More alarming is the fact that Ahmadinejad could soon turn into a nuclear nightmare!

    These fears have been echoed by many all over the world since his election for a first term in office and again every time he made his infamous and inflammatory statements on various issues. However, I'm blogging today about his disputed re-election to a second term in office. He might be a nightmare for the likes of me, but I also happen to see him as promising nightmare - a phenomenon which has successfully reached out to provincial Iran and broke the Tehrani, elitest monopoly over decision-making and statesmanship in Iran.

    Could Iran's election last Friday really be seen as a conquest of the "centre" by the "periphery"? I cannot claim to have an answer to that question right now - but I can attempt to answer another question: could opposition to Ahmadinejad and those who voiced outrage and utter disbelief at his re-election be seen as an expression of disappointment and an outroar of defeat on the side of a traditionally-dominant elite? Could the conservative (oligarchic -Mullahs) and the reformist (academic-philosophers) be united in outrage at their defeat and their inability to regain their grip on statesmanship and "the centre" after their initial shock in 2005?

    I'm neither Iranian-in-Iran nor am I Iranian-in-the-diaspora. I'm also not an Iranophobe nor am I a blind critique of political Islam. But from where I stand as an outside observer whose knowledge of the country, travels to Iran and basic ability to read and comprehend Farsi - I seem to have seen things very different to how most people saw things.

    Iran has departed from the socio-political trajectories of its politically-backward neighbours where participation in elections hovers between 2% and 30% since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 - and perhaps even earlier, since the Constitutional Revolution in 1909. However, for the most part, these societal and socio-political movements were far from cross-class - they were often against a regime and an elite that constituted, legitimated and benefited from the regime. Iran's radical revolutions have therefore always been target to the criticism and international outroar of a large and transnational Iranian elite spanning the globe from Tehran itself to North America, Europe and Australia.

    For me, the latest radical change in Iran ans its regime was the election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in 2005, and his re-election last week. The election of an austere man from outside the clerical institution; from outside the circle of oligarchs whose control over the Iranian economy and their corruption has been ever-increasingly obvious to the blind; and from outside the circle of academic-philosophers (self-styled reformists). The election of Ahmedinejad can therefore promise to bridge the traditional gap between state and society that has tainted the politics of development in the non-Western world (and the Middle East in specific) since the incept of the 19th century.

    No longer are the people of Iran concerned with a life and causes so different than that which concerns the incumbent government in Tehran. And no longer is the incumbent President a man from a detached and elitist circle of economic and/or philosophical giants with little or no impact on the daily livelihood of the masses.

    For Westerners, it's easy to simplify matters and decide to believe that Iranians voted for a confrontation or for further isolation. It's also east for them to bury their heads in the sand and overlook social changes in Iran arguing that Iran's clerical dictatorship has rigged the votes and ripped its people of their right to have a say in the statesmanship of their government. On the contrary
    , one could argue that Iranians voted to unite their state with the grievances of Iranian society - they voted for a state which would engage its institutions in fields that concern civil society and the general public.

    Iranians may have voted for a lunatic who's leading Iran down a dangerous road and whose re-election they may regret - but they also voted against a contestant coalition of people confined to a battle that only concerns an isolationist elite, resident in Tehran's fancier northern quarters and those who sought and got a better life abroad.

    Iran voted to narrow that gap: the villagers, the less-fortunate urban poor and the "peasants" (constituting Iran's periphery) have been treated by Iran's not-so-unusual exclusive elite whose members view themselves as a "select few". To the latter, the surge was one in the number of voters from the "less-significant" strata of the great Iranian nation.

    Insignificant as they may be; uneducated and ignorant as they also be - the surge in the number of non-elitest voters (if I may use such a term) marked the persistence of those who people to have their voice heard and that of the elites silences for the second election in a row, they took action to remedy their lives and rally the state behind their cause.

    It's perhaps only normal for Iran's resident and emigrant elite to react so hysterically to Ahmedinejad's re-election, after all,
    Iran's traditionally-marginalised masses have shown political maturity and renewed their revolution against a socio-political reality reminiscent of the 1970s: a Shah-like elite (although divided into two competing wings) with a strong grip on the regime and its instrumental institutions, hence imposing their classist, isolationist and unpopular agendas upon the discussion tables of Iran's numerous and complicated political circles.

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