After the June 12 presidential elections in Iran, confirmation of reelection of President Ahmedinejad by the Supreme Leader Khamenei and his rejection by the opposition groups and demonstrations by thousands on the streets of Tehran and other major cities, the Media have been spending hours per day presenting their observations and the analysis of the situation by many who are considered expert on the subject. But it does not present how the clerics so confidently exert power in suppressing the people and freedom and why the reformers and an overwhelming majority of Iranians are having so much difficulty in advancing their goal of democratization.
In 1998, While a Fulbright Scholar serving in Kazakhstan, attempting to help the newly established government in reforming its higher education, legal and economic systems, to my surprise, I was invited by the Iranian Government to visit Iran for consultation and exchange of ideas. I was received in the Mehrabad Airport and transferred to the prestigious foreign ministry’s guest house and housed in a three bedroom apartment with my wife and son. It was late at night, we were left alone to rest. But I couldn’t rest, questioning myself that despite of thousands of top rank Iranian scholars abroad, why I was selected.
The next morning, I found out that I was arranged a tight schedule of meetings with score of governmental authorities and participation in several round-table discussions with top officials, extending for several days. However, I did not find the reason for my invitation until the first four-hour round table discussion I had with 16 top officials apparently from different departments.
The main reasons were as follows: I was born and raised as a Muslim. Before escaping to the United States, in 1953, to avoid persecution, I had served in the Iranian government for 14 years, under Reza Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah and Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, mostly in military judicial positions. Thus I was considered an anti-monarchist, familiar with Iranian governmental and legal system.; I had a law degree from the University of Tehran Law school, thus I was thought to be familiar with the Iranian and Islamic law; I had three law degrees from the United States (J.D., LL.M., S.J.D.)thus quite familiar with the American jurisprudence, international law, and comparative law, which were my specialty areas under each degree.
I had a Ph.D. in political science specialized in American system and political theory, and had academic teaching experience in all these areas in the United States for over 30 years. Finally, I had published two books about my theory of technological democracy with a critical analysis of the American democratic system, and I had published another book about application of my theory to a developig country like Iraq with three diversified Islamic ethnic groups.
A good part of the first round-table conference was spend in explaining my theory of democracy during which many questions were asked about the possibility of applying it to the Islamic Republic. At the end the director of the conference summed up the idea as follows: Our present system is not coherent, its different components do not fit properly together. The idea is whether I could formulate a theory of an Islamic Republic within the framework of my theory separate from theocracy. I responded that this is a very complex question to answer. You are asking me a bout a whole new political theory and I need time for proper answer.
How much time do you need? I was asked. At least three or four weeks, I responded. We agree with three weeks the director said. This would be also a good opportunity for me, I responded, I have many relatives in different parts of Iran which I have not seen for over 40 years. This will give me opportunity to visit them all if possible.
Of course I desired very much to see my relatives after some 40 years of separation, but my main purpose was to buy time in order to have some opportunity to study the present conditions and find out what people thought about the whole situation. My findings in four different major cities, by interviewing people from different levels of society particularly the younger generation which forms the majority of the population, were quite enlightening.. In order to get unbiased results, I used my relatives and their friends which included people from many different walks of life including a substantial number of university faculty and students.
A great majority of Iranians including the younger generation, desire to have a certain kind of open Islamic republic with freedom of speech , press and assembly. They don’t desire the Western style of capitalism but an equalitarian society where the wealth is equitably distributed among people, with full employment even if it may require lesser hours of work per week, free education up to the college level, free health care and old age benefits. They think with the intellectual, scientific and economic resources the country have, these aims are achievable. The Question is how to get there.
The main road-block is not primarily the clerics but the constitution written by them which governs the country. The government is divided into three independent branches of executive, legislative and judicial. The former two being elective and the latter appointive by the approval of the Imam. The center of the problem is the Imam himself, presently Ayatollah Khamenei.
The Iranian Constitution, written and pushed through ratification by Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, grants the Imam the following powers among others: determining national policies and supervising all branches of the government; commander-in-chief of the regular armed forces and the Revolutionary Guard establishment; initiating and allowing referenda, declaring war and national armament, appointing and dismissing the cleric members of the Council of Guardians which has veto power over all legislation passed by the parliament also power to select political candidates for all elective offices; appointment and dismissal of the head of the judiciary, head of the radio and television, joint chief of staff, all military commanders and police. Simply speaking, the Constitution bestows upon the Supreme Leader the absolute power of one-man rule namely absolute dictatorship. All the electoral processes designed by the Constitution are just paper ornaments covering the true power situs with no democratic consequences at all
Therefore, the president of the country, has no enforcement power, the parliament cannot pass laws not acceptable to the Guardian Council, the judicial branch can arrest, prosecute and put in jail the members of the executive and legislative branches, newspapers, and any other organization who dares to criticize the system. The only way to change the system peacefully seems to be by constitutional amendment which would place the military and police under the executive branch with appropriate checks by the parliament, bring the judiciary under the justice department, and curtail the powers of the Guardian Council, and grant people freedom of speech, press and assembly and eliminate some social Islamic restrictions.
Toward these goals, in some quarters there is an increasing demand for constitutional referendum which is harshly rejected by the clerics claiming that the constitution is a sacred document and cannot be touched. They claim that according to the article 177, any revision of the constitution must be initiated by the Imam. Even if Imam consents to revision, it must be referred to a constitutional convention prescribed under the same article according to which its majority of membership would come from the clerics. Ratification by the people would require only an absolute majority of those who voted. Furthermore, the constitution prescribes that any change in conflict with the Islamic principles shall not be allowed.
The present situation is quite tense. The clerics understand that in order to avert violence and uprising, they must bring about some changes, but what people want, such as elimination of the social restrictions such as veil, appears to the clerics as going against the Islamic principle. They think, they cannot permit it even if they may want to. The greatest anger is directed toward the judicial branch. The fact is that Iranians do not want another revolution, at least for the time being. They are aware of the present insurmountable obstacles and are satisfied by small increments of progress. But the situation is continually deteriorating, by unemployment at about the people, there is no guarantee that the revolutionary guard forces would do the same. So far they have rem 15 percent of which the majority is highly educated, with the scores of graduates from hundreds of universities and colleges pouring into the job market every years with no employment expectation, and above all, the suppression of freedom of speech, press and assembly being of prime value in a highly educated society, may push the limits to the point of explosion.
It is rumored that there are certain elements of dissatisfaction developing within the military but until people are certain of such support, no revolutionary movement is likely to take place. The leadership of President Khatami was instrumental in granting some incremental freedoms which kept serious uprisings and demonstrations from being crystalized. But under present conditions, there appears to be no such guarantee. Even if the majority of armed forces side with ained strongly loyal to their supreme leader.
However, before any revolutionary intent, people will attempt to materialize the revision of the constitution through peaceful means. Revolution will come only when any progress would be deemed impossible.