FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Grassroots Challenge to Iran’s Theocracy

by BEHZAD YAGHMAIAN

Iran is in turmoil: a threat of resignation by the president and his supporters in the Parliament; factional battle within the state about the constitutional power of the president; the student protest in Tehran and other cities; and physical clashes between the pro-reform students and the basij-the devotees of the state. The world is watching these developments with keen interest. Iran’s future has significant regional and global ramifications.

The current turmoil is embedded in Iran’s constitutional crisis: the coexistence of the concept of the republic and velayat-e faghih-the supreme religious leader. The faghih enjoys veto power over the republic. Iran’s constitution is a contradictory document. It is a collage of two distinct and non-reconcilable worldviews and types of state. The document is a reflection of a historic battle between tradition and modernity, the past and the future, and religion and secularism in Iran. The collage is unstable, tenuous, and transient by nature. It cannot be sustained.

The conflict between the two pillars of the constitution remained dormant in the first decade of the Islamic Republic. It came to the open with the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the charismatic leader of the new state. The 1997 presidential victory of Mohammad Khatami heightened the constitutional crisis. A battle between two fractions of the state emerged: one steadfastly defending the faghih, the other promoting the republic-albeit timidly and with vacillation. The past six years have been the years of cat and mouth fight between these two tendencies-two pillars of the constitution.

Outside the state, in the embattled civil society, a pro-republic grassroots movement emerged; it became emboldened; and challenged the Islamic Republic and its constitution through unorganized ruptures of collective action, everyday practice, and acts of cultural defiance. It is that movement that brought Mohammad Khatami to power, created the 1999 student uprising in Tehran and 22 other cities, and opposed the recent death sentence for Hashem Aghajari for his criticism of the clergy’s monopoly of power. The verdict against Aghajari was used as a pretext to challenge the Islamic Republic, to demand the freedom of all political prisoners, to press for freedom of expression, and to exhibit to the Islamic state the hatred of the youth-the children of the Islamic Republic. The student protest was an open outcry for the republic.

The recent student protests were the reincarnation of an outburst that occurred in July 1999. The student action began in response to the closure of Salam, a pro-reform newspaper published by an influential member of the state. But, similar to the support for Aghajari, many of the students that joined the nation-wide protest in 1999 had never read Salam and had no affinity towards the paper and its publisher. The closure of Salam and its consequent developments were events that unleashed the fury of the youths, and gave them the opportunity, for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, to publicly demand the ouster of the faghih-Ayatollah Khamenei.

The recent protests at Tehran University echoed the same feelings and sentiments. In some sense, the recent protests, though smaller in scale, were more radical in content. The freedom of Aghajari was one component in the young people’s long list of political grievances and demands. Some challenged the foundation of the Islamic Republic by demanding the separation of the mosque-religion-from the state.

In 1999, the state responded to the spreading student protest with violence. It temporarily crushed the movement. Two thousand youths were arrested. Ten were sentenced to death. But, fearful of its repercussions, the Islamic Republic did not carry out the executions. This was a turning pint in Iran. It reflected the emergence of a new balance of power: a divided and broken state, and a defiant public.

The Islamic Republic is divided and weakened. The republican movement is grassroots and includes most Iranians-men and women, young and old. Not limited to street protest and political action, it includes the schoolgirls challenging and ridiculing their religious teachers; teenagers wearing loud lipsticks and makeup under the watchful eyes of the moral police; and older women demanding respect and recognition from men in the streets, shops, and the workplace.

Whatever the results of this stage of the student protest, one fact remains unchanged: the Islamic state in Iran is most seriously challenged by its own creation-the children of the Islamic Republic. They are the gravediggers of the Islamic Republic.

Twenty-three years ago, the victory of the Islamic Republic made Iran a role model for millions of marginalized Moslems around the world. Today, the victory of the republicans will be a testament to the failure of political Islam in a relatively modern society in the age of global communication.

BEHZAD YAGHMAIAN is the author of Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights (SUNY Press, 2002).

He can be reached at: behzad_yaghmaian@hotmail.com.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail