Iran is a country with an interesting and rich political history. It is one of the most geopolitically strategic countries in the middle-east. Its unique policies throughout its various political regimes in its history constantly keep it at the center of attention. Here, we will briefly attempt to cover important events in the last months and years.
The discussion will begin with Ruhani’s rule after Ahmedinejad, touch important issues regarding the “green movement” and conclude with the situation of minorities in Iran.
Ruhani’s rule after Ahmedinejad
Throughout the history of the Islamic Republic, we repeatedly observe a more relaxed and stable period right after a suffocating period of hardship and repression. While it would be far-fetched to claim that this happens 100% under the control of the religious leader, it would equally be naive to think that he does not play a part. Even though Ahmedinejad and the religious leader came to opposite terms at the end of Ahmedinejad’s rule, he was the religious leader’s supported candidate in the beginning. On one hand the economic hardships, partly due to his ‘strict’ (fundamentalist) policies, and on the other hand his desire to organize the masses to support policies different from Khameney’s resulted in the establishment’s desire of a new government. We have already seen such a period of “relaxation” after the Refsencani rule mainly in the cultural domain and now the establishment required another relaxation in the economic and social spheres. Various speeches by Ruhani before his election show extensive proofs of this claim.
What about the pre-election promises of Ruhani?
Let’s summarize these promises:
– Improving the economy and reducing inflation
– Improving minority rights
– Releasing the imprisoned leaders of the green movement
– Decreasing the government repression in social and cultural domains
As a result of disillusionment of the masses towards Ahmedinejad policies, such promises brought back the previously hopeless masses to vote for Ruhani. But after months of Ruhani rule, the struggle between Ruhani and the fundamentalists keep any of these promises from realization. But it is nevertheless obvious to us that Ruhani is still just another agent of the establishment;
– On the economic improvements; post-election came with a period of renewed hope which led to increased investment and economic activity, exchange rates normalized, price of gold normalized. Still, we observe that the economic hardship on the backs of the poor masses did not cease. Against an inflation rate of %36.5, the minimum wage increased only by %25. The establishment tries to control the situation by supplying free food to %13 of the retired old and employing the rhetoric of “Economy of Resistance” and such.
– Right after the beginning of the new government rule, more than 10 political dissidents, among which are Kurdish politicians and Sunni minority, were executed. The repression of Sunnis on the Pakistani border of Iran continues. Education in mother language and the creation of language associations for the minority languages are strictly denied by the Persian language association, backed up by the previous council head, claiming such acts are treasonous and separatist.
– Imprisoned leaders of the green movement are still considered as traitors and are yet to be
– We have yet to observe any decrease in the cultural and social repression. Newspapers are being closed down, previously banned trade unions continue to be banned while the new council is busy discussing the possibility of marrying fathers and daughter-in-laws.
These were the issues with internal politics. Let’s now discuss more on the issue of “relaxation”:
– The buncombe concept of “Heroic Flexibility” (relaxation) originated from Khameney. As
understood from the term, it is an attempt to signal “softer” policies replacing the hard ones. It is obvious that this refers the Iran-America relationships. But from what one can observe from abroad, it does not seem to be against the anti-american policies coming from the foundations of the Islamic Republic. Let me explain:
In reality American-Iranian relationships were not as hostile as one would believe and there are hardly many anti-american policies of Iran in place. Then why does Khamaney speak of USA as the “Big Enemy”, “Devil” and why do the revolutionary guards never let go of the chant “Death to USA”? I believe the answer lies in the principle character of the revolution that based itself on antiamerican sentiments. The anti-american slogans form a basis and justification of the Islamic republic just like the headscarf of women. The insistence on both of these are not results of conviction of their usefulness/correctness but as an attempt to keep the founding symbols of Iran intact.
On the matter of foreign policies, continuity characterizes Ruhani’s policies rather than change. Pro-Syria, Pro-Hizbullah, anti-Israel, pro-Iraqi-Shia policies are dominant as before. The only place we see the effects of “heroic flexibility” is on the matters of nuclear weapons, where Ruhani gave up on enrichment of Uranium which is a step back from the insistence of Ahmedinejad. The hope is that the relaxation of economic sanctions will help improve economic crisis in Iran. However, it is known that full abolishment of the sanctions is still nowhere in sight.
Speaking of the sanctions, the limits of foreign trade emposed by these sanctions, the impossibility of legal money transfers resulted in a new group of rich illegal traders in Iran. Petroleum and other exports are sold through such agents and the resulting money would cause a relief in Iran. Important examples of these newly super-rich are Zerrab and Babek Zencani, which are also known from the latest surge of corruption cases in Turkey. Turkey’s attemp to benefit from Iran’s isolation dates back to the Iran-Iraq war. This time it’s Erdogan’s government that filled their pockets from Iran’s isolation. The continuation of sanctions and isolationist policies have the opposite effect on the middle class and results in a much wider gap between the capital owning class and the working class. Khameney continue to support privatization, claiming that Iranian economy cannot be independent of the world-wide economy and the process of privatization of government owned services sector and in other sectors with the exception of energy sectors and the petroleum. Constitutions provision no. 114 is used to legalize and justify such processes in the name of encouraging entrepreneurship among the citizens, creation of a “competitive free market” all of which naturally lead to justification of widespread adoption of neo-liberal policies in Iran.
Let’s move on to discussing a few important points regarding the green movement:
-Similarities and differences with the Gezi protests in Turkey:
Contrary to Gezi protests, the green movement mobilized a much wider portion of the society, where millions of protesters were on the streets in Tehran, chanting “Death to Khamaney”. This happened despite the indecision of the leaders of the movement and their constant declaration of their loyalty to the current leader Khamaney. On the other hand, the Gezi protests were more widespread in the number of cities involved, where the masses were involved in the protests not only in the major cities like Ankara or Istanbul but all around Turkey. Compare this with the green movement where people resorted to street protests only in Tehran. I believe one of the reasons for this was the lack of a central organization. But the main reason was the failure of involving the minorities of Iran to the protests. Tebriz, while being renowned for its revolutionary activity throughout the history and its anti government stance today, did not support the green movement. Essentially, the green movement was not supported by the repressed minorities including the Turks, Kurds and Arabs.
Both Gezi and the green protests failed to include the proletariat in their countries which would result in an even stronger insurrection. The main groups in both the protests were the middle class and the demands did not include economic changes but were restricted to cultural reforms. Essentially, both of these protests were the reaction of educated middle classes to a repressing cultural environment.
Finally, the reason why the “Gezi spirit” is still alive in Turkey is due to its slightly more organized masses and the relatively free political atmosphere (compared to Iran) together with a more (comparatively) free press, none of which are present in Iran. This resulted in the degeneration of green movement supporters to hopelessness and melancholy.
– Minorities in Iran:
Historically, the anti-government sentiment of minorities date back to 100 years, with the coming of modern nationalism to middle-east and with the predominant Persian nationalists repressing the Turks and Kurds. A major revolution happened in 1943 which resulted in an independent state supported by Turks and Kurds which was betrayed by Stalin and fell the next year, never to stand up as strong again to this date. In this vein, even the TUDEH party of old showed signs of Persian nationalism. Even though the concept of religion attained the central place instead of race after the Islamic revolution and Khameney reacts to Persian nationalists by saying “our identity is Islam not Persian nationalism”, the repression of minority rights increase day by day. The largest of such repressed minorities is Azerbaijan Turks in Iran. In this respect, it is important to take note that an advisor of Khamaney openly advises the state not make any investment to this region because “they will eventually leave anyway”. After a caricature published in newspaper “Iran” which depicted Turks as cockroaches, masses of Tebriz took to the streets. Without a leader, its lack of organization, lack of any support from the masses in Tehran, the insurgence went on days and ended with tens of causalities and hundreds of imprisonments. One can see this as one of the reasons why the people of Tebriz were reluctant in supporting the green movement. This movement continues to create its own intellectuals to this day. But we still cannot see an organized resistance.
The next major repressed group are the Kurds. The case for them is even worse because they are discriminated not only based on race but based on religion as well (being Sunni). Compared to other minorities the Kurds are the most organized but are also harshly repressed by the government which limits their achievements.
On the question of independence of the repressed minorities :
We strongly believe that independence for Turks or Kurds will not help their situation but will make it worse. Today, Kurds and Turks commonly live in close neighbourhoods and a separation will very probably lead to a bloody civil conflict among them. In short, we denounce separation as a viable option.