Iranâ€™s Democratic Upsurge
"A messianic apocalyptic cult..."
-- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on
By design or serendipity, the Israeli claim to be "the only democracy in the
The June 2009 parliamentary elections in
As the Arab and Muslim worlds celebrate this democratic victory, it is imperative to see it as having nothing to do with Obama's presidency, or his speech in
On the heels of the Lebanese elections, the cause and the march of democracy took an even bolder leap in
Every four years, during presidential elections followed by parliamentary elections, the paradox of the democratic theocracy of the Islamic Republic of Iran fascinates and baffles the world. During this presidential campaign, Iranians boisterously joined rallies and then stood in long queues to vote under the extended shadow of Israeli warlords threatening a military strike. The propaganda machinery at the disposal of
The reality of the Iranian polity, as the world has once again been witness to, is vastly different to the picture US/Israel propaganda is feeding the world. A vibrant and restless society is defying all mandated limitations on its will and demanding and exacting its democratic rights. The undemocratic institutions of the Islamic Republic -- beginning with the idea of velayat-e faqih, or rule of the cleric, down to the unelected body of the Guardian Council -- are not obstacles to democracy in
This is more than anything a battle between generations. Iranian society is changing and fast. The ageing custodians of the Islamic Republic wish to limit what can be said or expected. But the globally geared and wired youth, more than 60 per cent of the electorate, is now radically altering the contours of those limits. They are not merely defying them, but are sublimating them. The red line in
The rising demographic tide is against the old revolutionaries. Iranian children born after the revolution in the late 1970s have no active memory of its hopes and furies and could not care less about those who do. Every four years since the end of Iran-Iraq war in 1988, and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, the Iranian electorate has been upping the ante. They voted for Rafsanjani in 1989 and for eight years he rebuilt the economic infrastructure of the country after the war, creating a class of nouveau riche. Then in 1997 they voted for Mohamed Khatami who gave them a modicum of civil society and opened the vista of wide-ranging social reform, and yet did nothing -- or very little -- to alleviate the poor masses Rafsanjani had left behind. In 2005, those disenfranchised by Rafsanjani's economic project and indifferent to Khatami's social and cultural agenda pushed power into the hands of Ahmadinejad. And now, in 2009, a major segment of disaffected voters, in their millions, are investing trust in Mousavi, a former prime minister with impeccable revolutionary credentials, a war hero, and a socialist in his economic projects.
Again, the scene is overwhelmed by the massive participation of the youth, students, and above all women, on both sides of the political divide. This new generation is Internet-aware, versatile with Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. It is globally wired. The presence of Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's distinguished wife, is an added aspect of this campaign. A prominent public intellectual and a former university chancellor, a poet, painter and sculptor, and a staunch advocate of women's rights, Rahnavard is dubbed by some foreign journalists as the Michelle Obama of
This election has also been extraordinary because of live televised debates that exposed skeletons collected for 30 years in the closets of the ageing elders of the republic. Ahmadinejad, bastard son of the Islamic Revolution, is fast devouring, in his populist demagoguery, the idealism and aspirations of that revolution. Opposing Ahmadinejad are the architects of
Majid Majidi, another prominent Iranian filmmaker, directed Mousavi's campaign commercials. Other Iranian directors, actors, producers have similarly exerted their efforts. Student organisations, labour unions, professional associations and women's rights organisations -- all have been engaged, on the streets, on the Internet sites, writing fiery essays, shooting movies, and producing video clips. Rahnavard, a painter with a talent for colour symbolism, chose green for her husband's campaign (neither red for violence nor white for martyrdom, the other two colours in the Iranian flag). And when Khatami went to
Disappointed by this democratic flourishing are not just Israeli and American Zionists that spent time and money portraying
On two sides of Iran lie in waste Iraq and Afghanistan, liberated for democracy by George W Bush and now Barack Obama. In the middle, millions of Iranians who would have been maimed or murdered by a similar "liberation" peacefully poured into streets and jubilantly marched to polling stations to vote, in a grassroots, however limited and flawed, but still promising and beautiful, march towards democracy. And now that they think their votes have been stolen from them they are more than capable of demanding them back.
Whoever the final winner of Iran's election may be, fanatical Zionists in Israel and the US, power-mongering Mullahs in Tehran and Qom, comprador intellectuals and career opportunists from Washington DC to California, are its sorest losers. The winners are the indomitable Iranian people. We are witness, regardless of controversy, to a triumph of democratic pluralism, from Lebanon to Iran -- a nightmare for the Jewish state that wants the whole region remade in its delusional, racist, apartheid image where sects and factions fight each other to the dogged end. "A messianic apocalyptic cult," indeed, can only describe the country of the man who pronounced it.
Mr Prime Minister, thou dost protest too much.
The writer is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.