Irans crisis

Published : Sep 11, 2009 00:00 IST

NEITHER the protest nor the repression shows any sign of abating in Iran. A people cannot forgive an election stolen from them while the theft undermines the legitimacy of the regime that perpetrated it. Thirty years after the Islamic Revolution, the regime presents a pathetic and disturbing spectacle, to the delight of its detractors in the West and the distress of Indians, like this writer, who hold Iran in high esteem.

On July 11, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of Irans most senior clerics, issued an unusual decree calling the countrys rulers usurpers and transgressors for their treatment of opposition protesters the strongest condemnation by a religious figure since the presidential election in June.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected for a second term as President, is not one easy to understand. He defeated Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in 2005 on the plank of clean government. But in 2009, his rival Mir Hussein Moussavi was able to win popular support across the board, especially from the youth and the intelligentsia. The Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, only made matters worse for all by throwing the weight of his office behind Ahmadinejad. In the process, he has undermined his prestige and that of the Establishment.

Kasra Naji worked as a journalist in Teheran, reporting for international journals and for the BBC and the CNN. In retrospect, the 2005 election marked a watershed. Insiders recognised that Ahmadinejads victory heralded a sea-change in the politics of Iran. Ahmadinejad represented the successful power grab of militarists in the Islamic regime, made up of a loose alliance of powerful sections of the countrys ideological army, the Revolutionary Guard, the most hard-line section of the clergymen and a crop of Islamic neoconservatives the younger generation in the right-wing Islamic camp. Ahmadinejads victory brought to power an entirely new set of people who until then had been kept at bay on the margins of power because of their extreme views. After 27 years of post-revolutionary upheaval in Iran, the Revolution had been wrested from the grip of the old guard who wanted to put it behind them and build a successful Islamic nation.

The author reveals that when he met Ahmadinejad in the summer of 2007 to let him know that I was writing this book, the President seemed elated at the thought. Any publicity was good publicity as far as he was concerned. I found him still basking in the attention he was getting both at home and abroad. He was awestruck by his own ascent to power. Two years earlier he would have found it difficult to believe that he would be the President. He has a reckless temperament. There are periods in his past that are mysteriously unknown.

The author skilfully traces his rise from obscurity as a blacksmiths son in a village, until his election as Teherans Mayor in 2003 and as President in 2005. He passed the university entrance examination with distinction, was influenced by the writings of Ali Shariati, a left-wing Islamic thinker, and emerged as a student leader supporting the pro-Khomeini Islamists. He went on to win the full support of the Revolutionary Guards and used the mayoralty as a stepping stone to reach higher.

The record was sullied by disclosures by his successor of financial irregularities. He won the presidency with the Guards support and by attacking the reformist President Khatami. The validity of the 2003 election was also attacked by some. Ironically, Ahmadinejad received some support because he was not a cleric.

The book is a dependable guide not only to Irans politics but also to its foreign policy. It describes how its nuclear diplomacy became hostage to domestic politics. The United States intransigence and the Presidents absurd rhetoric wrecked the chances of any accord.

However, within a year of his presidency, Ahmadinejad had dragged Iran up the international agenda and raised his personal profile to within a hairs breadth of that of Ayatollah Khomeini. His U-turn on reform, his strident anti-Israel rhetoric and his aggressive resistance to U.S. and U.N. pressure to halt Irans nuclear programme had all won Ahmadinejad a place on the world stage. Somehow he had strengthened his domestic standing with people all across the political spectrum. He had isolated his critics and won the respect of the Muslim world.

At home, corruption and repression held sway. A personality cult was promoted. Only a massive popular verdict could have unseated him. This book helps us to understand why that verdict was nullified.

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