By Selim Celal
-The Turkey-based writer is an expert on Iran's foreign policy and domestic politics.
On March 21, 2018, Iranians celebrated their new year (1397). The Supreme Leader also delivered a new year speech, in which he emphatically claimed that there was ‘freedom of expression’ in the Islamic Republic. His statement was misguiding, because what is missing in the Islamic Republic is not ‘freedom of expression’ per se, but ‘freedom after expression’. That is why hundreds of political and civil society activists are behind the bars, serving many years of imprisonment.
Twelve days ago, on April 1 the Islamic Republic celebrated its 40th Republic Day. On this day in 1980, over 98 percent of Iranians in a referendum voted in favor of a constitution that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic. However, four decades on, the envisaged ideal ‘Islamic Just Society’ has not been realized. The revolution has not only failed to bring any positive change in the country but also pushed it to the edge of bankruptcy.
Surprisingly, the Guardian of Islamic Revolution (GIR), in a statement on the Republic Day, also openly admitted that the performance of the Islamic Republic at the threshold of its 40th anniversary was seriously questionable. According to the statement, the Islamic Republic has fallen far behind its ideals due to political tribalism and lack of courage to fight corruption, poverty, and discrimination.
A few days later on April 5, three open letters were simultaneously released, all addressed to the Supreme Leader. The first one was written by Abul-fazl Ghadyani, a senior politician and a member of the Holy Warriors of the Islamic Revolution, an organization founded in 1979 by non-cleric followers of Ayatollah Khomeini. Referring to the Supreme Leader’s new year speech, Ghadyani addresses the Supreme Leader as “a liar in the caliber of Joseph Gobbles”, Hitler’s propaganda minister, who believed that “in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility”. The second letter came from the Freedom Movement of Iran, a party established in 1961 by Mehdi Bazargan, the head of Iran's interim government after the 1979 revolution. This letter warns about the bankruptcy of the country on social, political, and economic levels.
The third letter was 30 pages long and had over 300 signatures. The majority of the signatories are former diehard members of the Organization of the Oppressed, (Sazman-e Basij-e Mostaz'afin), a voluntary paramilitary militia established in 1979 on the order of Ayatollah Khomeini, and is one of the five forces within the GIR. The signatories resemble the current Islamic political system with ‘a body without a soul, spoiled from within’.
They criticize all public institutions including those functioning under the Supreme Leader, and argue that these organs are operating against the very philosophy of their existence. Most importantly, they refer to the GIR Intelligence Protection Organization as a source of disruption in the country, and also accuse the foreign policy apparatus of being involved in “regional imperialism”. According to them, the Islamic Republic is in need of fundamental reforms. And surprisingly enough, they mention former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the sole person who represents the public demands for such reforms.
Although each of these letters is from a different social and political background. The common point about them is that all are directly addressed to the Supreme Leader. It means that they are viewing the Supreme Leader as the source of every vice in the country. Moreover, reading between the lines, the letters also reveal an important point, which is the ‘senility’ of the Islamic Republic, to talk in the context of the 14th-century Muslim historiographer Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of the rise and fall of dynasties. But while Ibn Khaldun proposes a 120-year life span for dynasties to reach senility and die, the current state of affairs of the Islamic Republic indicates that it has already become senile as it nears its 40th anniversary, and many independent observers and analysts endorse this observation.
We should at this point ask a few questions: why has the Islamic Republic so quickly reached senility? How do Iranian leaders approach this issue? And, what are the available options to them?
Technically speaking, every kind of system, even the best democracies develop problems; but then again, in democratic systems there is a built-in transparency mechanism that allows their leaders to identify the problems in their early stages before too late. Moreover, the first and foremost prerequisite for fixing a problem is to acknowledge its existence. That is why it is said that the treatment of a mental patient is more difficult than that of a cancer-stricken one, because the former does not accept or realize that he or she is sick.
That said, the main problem of the Islamic Republic is that its leaders never accept the realities on time. A few years ago, Muhammad Khatami, a former Iranian president, in view of the widening rift among the political forces, suggested bolstering the discourse of ‘national dialogue’, but his idea went unheeded. Later on, he offered ‘national reconciliation’, and this time the Supreme Leader publicly ridiculed his idea. Recently, he has offered ‘national salvage’. Nonetheless, the recent speech of the Supreme Leader indicates that he does not realize the depth of the crisis. The primary reason is that his take on the socio-political situation of the country comes from a dozen daily bulletins carefully prepared by a small circle. These bulletins do not depict the real situation and are often ended with the stereotype “everything is under control”.
Essentially, public resentment in the Islamic Republic is a recurrent phenomenon. But the Islamic Republic has managed to survive thus far by recycling old faces. The Iranian social psychology has also been receptive to this trend. In fact, the saying that ‘general public has no memory’ is very true about Iranians. For instance, the late Rafsanjani, who imposed the current Supreme Leader on the country and also helped pave the way for the GIR to emerge as a monster following the Iran-Iraq War, had begun to be viewed like a Messiah by Iranians in the last few years of his life. More interestingly, in the 2009 presidential elections, Iranians rallied behind Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose key slogan was about taking the country “back to the golden age of Imam Khomeini”.
Notwithstanding these, there are signs that people are gradually realizing that the current system cannot be reformed and the solution to their problem lies outside of the existing system. They have already renamed the ‘reformist’ camp as ‘continuationists’ (which means that all they want is to lengthen the life of the Islamic Republic). The system is, moreover, falling apart from within, and every fraction and group is conspiring against the others. That is why in his cabinet meeting on Feb. 14, 2018, President Rouhani warned: "We are all sitting in the same boat; if a part of it gets destroyed, we will drown together."
To the senility of the Iranian political system, one should also add the physical deterioration of its Supreme Leader. As a result, the options for the Islamic Republic in general and the Supreme leader in particular are limited. The overall situation has led the Supreme Leader to rely more and more on the GIR, which in turn has provided the latter with an opportunity to consider taking control of the executive. In this regard, the GIR has begun testing the waters, and its propaganda machine is already in motion. For instance, a few days ago, Dr. Houshang Amirahmadi, the president of the American-Iranian Council, a U.S. based pro-Iranian lobbyist, in an article suggested that Iran was in need of a cabinet with military outfits to impress the U.S.
In the meantime, on March 8, Hussain Allah Karam, a former ultra-hardline military commander, argued that, given the geostrategic location of Iran, a military face would be more suitable for presidency. The GIR is highly active on the ground to destabilize the government. The ideal scenario for the GIR is to force Rouhani to resign, and then grab the power through an early election. But if Rouhani resists, the GIR may also go for a traditional coup, and given the growing economic crisis in the country, it is not difficult at all. Yet, the Iranian leaders must be under a delusion if they think that the GIR can fix the problems the Islamic Republic has been faced with. According to Ibn Khaldun, once a dynasty has become senile, no power can restore it to juvenility.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.