The Republic is Dead Long Live the Republic
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The most important thing to take from the recent developments in Iran is that the 12 June presidential election was less an election and more a movement.
Many Iranians saw the election as an historical opportunity for a massive participation in order to push for democratic changes, improved relations with the world, and better management of the economy. They viewed it in this manner in large part due to the extraordinary way in which internal regime feuds manifested themselves in the presidential debates immediately preceding the election. That is they saw a growing and bitter split among the elite as an opportunity for positive changes from below.
The postelection state repression has even aroused more Iranians to clarify their positions vis-à-vis critical aspects of the regime in ways that goes to the heart of the problem, namely the hybrid nature of the Islamic Republic and the irreconcilable paradox at its heart between its unelected "Islamic" institutions and its elected and participatory aspects.
That tension is no longer latent but has burst into the open for all to see. Understood in this light, the ongoing bloody clampdown on dissent and protest aside, a major outcome of the election and its discontents will be the STRENGTHENING of the forces of republicanism at the expense of those representing what might be called theo-militarism in the actually existing Islamic Republic especially since the mid-2000s.
It may be hard to view recent developments as a plus for democracy advocates when the jails are so full of them and the streets blanketed by the state security forces of one kind or another. But as always we must not forget the long view in our analysis. In the short term theomilitarism may trump theorepublicanism. But witness the overcoming of passivity and the dramatic clarification of positions and thoughts across the state and society in the month of June. Can one really conclude that under these new conditions, given the dramatic gains in consciousness and the manifest will-of-the-many to make their voices known, the theomilitarist project can sustain itself?
Indeed I am inclined to say the more the regime persists in its will-to-theomilitarize the state, the more segments of society may indeed abandon theorepublicanism altogether in favor of (secular) republicanism.
Who can say when a people reach that breakthrough moment? History never bores those who partake in its making.