Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Akbar Ganji Asks: Who Rules Iran?

Image of Iran's Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei via WikiMedia

During numerous discussions about Iran, it has become apparent that a pervasive ignorance exists regarding the Islamic Republic. The complexity of its political arrangements, demographics, and strained history. I've recently completed Akbar Ganji's dense article on the political structure of Iran in Foreign Affairs. Ganji delicately parses this structure as a 'Sultanate' in the words of Weber as opposed to the 'fascist' or 'totalitarian' labels he argues are misrepresentative while bluntly discussing the terror the nation has employed. I sincerely recommend it to all those interested. A few highlights:
  • But this analysis [Ahmadinejad has brought the country to ruin] is incorrect, if only because it exaggerates Ahmadinejad's importance and leaves out of the picture the country's single most powerful figure: Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader...Formally or not, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government all operate under the absolute sovereignty of the supreme leader; Khamenei is the head of state, the commander in chief, and the top ideologue.

  • Judging by the freedom of Iran's elections, there has been little progress. Whether they are for the post of president, the unicameral parliament (known as the Majlis), or local councils, elections in Iran are rigged pseudoelections.

  • If instances of political repression have decreased over the past three decades, it is largely because notions of democracy and human rights have taken root among the Iranian people and thus it has become much more difficult for the government to commit crimes.

  • Ahmadinejad's populist rhetoric has also had the unexpected effect of allowing greater scrutiny of his policies. By using plain language to criticize his political opponents, Ahmadinejad has prompted them to speak in plainer and more forceful terms, too. Early this year, when Ahmadinejad dismissed reformist politicians as being "ill qualified" to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Mohsen Armin, a prominent reformist, shot back: "If ill-qualified people are being advised to desist from registering as candidates so that they don't inflict a cost on the country, Ahmadinejad is undoubtedly the first person who should be banned from standing in elections."

  • Iran today is indeed a neosultanate, not a totalitarian state, nor even a fascist one. Such regimes create single-voiced societies, and many different voices can be heard in Iran today. Contemporary Iran is still officially an Islamic theocracy, but no single ideology dominates the country. In the totalitarian Soviet state, there was nothing but Marxism and the official Bolshevik version of it at that. In Iran, liberalism, socialism, and feminism have all been tagged as alternatives to the ruling ideology, and many Iranians openly identify with these currents. Iran has no single all-embracing party in charge of organizing society. It has dozens of parties -- such as the pro-reform Mosharekat (Participation) Party and the pragmatic conservative Kargozaran-e Sazandegi (Executives of Construction) Party -- and although they are not as free or autonomous as parties in democratic countries, they represent views that deviate from the government's. To some extent, too, Khamenei has to address their concerns.

  • A major lever of power is the supreme leader's ability to appoint and dismiss senior government officials. President Rafsanjani allowed Khamenei to choose his culture minister, interior minister, intelligence minister, higher-education minister, and foreign minister.

  • More broadly, Khamenei exercises control over all of Iran's elected institutions by virtue of a constitutional provision (Article 110) that empowers him to set the state's general policies. Khamenei draws up countless military, economic, judicial, social, cultural, and educational policies and conveys them to state bodies for implementation via the Expediency Council.

  • [This one is for Pericles] Based on his [Khamenei's] interpretation of the Koran and the early history of Islam, he said at this meeting, "The majority of the people in the state are silent. A selfless group of individuals can make the state endure by using terror." This theory has served as the justification for assassinating dissidents in Iran and abroad and otherwise silencing anyone who has posed an ideological challenge to the regime.


  1. @7584174070584009327.0

    does this work?

  2. @5093408449567359635.0

    there still may be a problem with new posts / comments, but this appears to work

  3. @Katya
    now it's a question of people not forgetting to use the "@person" before commenting

  4. @1305339320686868640.0

    might you try to comment on a different post please


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