The BBC is as good a reverse barometer as most western media outlets when it comes to international news. Its outlets duly characterized a brief, U.S.-orchestrated coup against Hugo Chavez as a return to democracy in Venezuela. After the Labour party removed the BBC’s backbone, it provided a context in which to support Britain’s part in the American military-industrial complex – at the cost of so many millions of Middle Eastern lives.
Today, it is obvious which side the BBC is on when it comes to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It cheers a pro-free market, pro-privatization candidate few have heard of against an internationally famous, populist president who believes in charity and the imminent return of an all-saving hidden Imam.
In Iran’s thin public space, one so labyrinthine that urban design plays a deterministic role, the corporate media believes there are two stark choices for the Iranian people. Either you believe in the over-praised author Vladimir Nabokov and support the IMF or you believe that all in life is pre-ordained. Many journalists learned about Iran through an orientalist bestseller, “Reading Lolita in Tehran” and much has been said about Mousavi’s cultured family.
But the avowedly modernist revolutionaries who fought against a U.S.-backed dictator in 1979 are older and wiser now. That disappointed generation will not throw their weight behind defeated presidential candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the proxy of Iran’s most successful industrialist, the neoliberal Ayatollah Rafsanjani. In 1979, the people fought for a revolution that would end up being skillfully managed by a brilliant commissariat. Those who supported change in 1979 will not support a 2009 opposition about which so much is uncertain – there are so many that feel they made that mistake last time around.
This time, the poor are with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the middle classes are split. What Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council are deliberating on is the best lightning conductor for dissent as well as the best negotiator amidst the clouds of a new administration in Washington. It should be noted that Ayatollah Khamenei is not a Supreme Leader, and any reporter who uses the phrase betrays ignorance.
On foreign policy, it is relatively obvious that the Guardian Council will want Iran to re-negotiate from a position of strength. President Ahmadinejad has been a great lightning conductor as he tours the world, frightening those who support U.S. hegemony. And when President Ahmadinejad makes mistakes, the people blame him and not the real leadership of Iran.
There will be no change, either way, on the civil nuclear program of the Islamic Republic. It suits all constituencies except the intelligentsia who want solar. As some have argued, a nuclear energy program suits the corrupt rich who salivate at the prospect of skimming increased oil-export profits. Nuclear energy could provide domestic electricity instead of oil which can then earn dollars abroad. And as for the rest of civil society, nuclear energy is a source of pride and opens the possibility of nuclear weapon creation should nuclear-armed Israel act on its repeated threats.
On economic policy, an international financial crisis may not be the best time to engage in quasi-Thatcherite Reaganomics. The Expediency Council gets the drift of Mousavi’s business school mantras. He has a phalanx of middle class North Tehrani foreign-educated MBAs who are the last people who should navigate the future of Iran. The people of Iran recognize the corruption charge-sheet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad laid out during the fierce TV debates.
The country has an industrial class – it has the largest car industry in the Middle East – and trade unions agitate ever more forcefully in the factories of the Republic. Complex networks keep industrial discontent in check. The Expediency Council needs to be careful about upsetting a balance that is already under stress given recent strike action and the prospect of greater economic woes to come.
The petit-bourgeois and elite members of the Bazaari class – so critical in determining the future of the country before 1979 and since – will not tolerate any revolutions in tax policy. President Ahmadinejad tried that and was immediately reined in. The Mousavi MBAs will actively encourage the madness of globalization and the richest, most powerful Bazaaris want a locked off, closed rather than open market.
The subalterns of the regions are so removed from the metropolitan debates in cities like Shiraz and Isfahan as to be swayed by local concerns that have only ever been touched by Ahmadinejad. Although this may be a stretch when it comes to understanding why an Azeri like Mousavi lost in those provinces with an Azeri majority.
A Mousavi presidency would also mean big political upheavals during his term because of the strong vote last year that returned so many “anti-reformist” candidates to the Iranian parliament. The Expediency Council wants to retain constitutional power and doesn’t foresee much stability coming from a parliament so at odds with the presidency. Safeguarding the power of the clergy is paramount.
The Council has and will continue to try and uphold Iranian sovereignty even if it means that Iran doesn’t then procure the foreign technology needed to exploit Iran’s massive oil and gas reserves. It is a very big sacrifice. It will only be attenuated by a change in sanctions policy in Washington and Wall Street.
The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, voiced concern about events in Iran the way George W. Bush would. He was announcing the formation of a whitewash secret inquiry committee into Iraq that will report after the next British general election. His words and those uttered by others from countries whose names are so tarnished by their legacy of empire unite Iranians under their flag.
President Obama has been much more skillful, understanding the effect his words will have in Tehran. One loose lip from a State Department official will in Iran produce ever more fantastic manifestations of patriotic unity against outside interference. The upcoming dismissal of Dennis Ross as U.S. envoy to Iran will be a great step forward and there will be more steps forward in U.S.-Iran relations, under Ahmadinejad.
One may feel for the genuine, passionate yearning of Iran’s bourgeoisie for liberal freedoms but as has happened so many times before, Iranian history can’t move in a straight line. Elections, as so many journalists fail to understand, are about politics and not Laughter – or weeping – in the Dark.
AFSHIN RATTANSI has helped launch and develop television networks and has worked in journalism for more than two decades, at the BBC Today programme, CNN International, Bloomberg News, Al Jazeera Arabic, the Dubai Business Channel, Press TV and The Guardian. His quartet of novels, “The Dream of the Decade” is available on Amazon.com. He has been living and working in Iran for the past year. He can be reached at email@example.com