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Understanding a Religious Democracy

Understanding a Religious Democracy

by Thomas R Estes

To most Americans, the mention of Iran evokes a black hole of individual consciousness – a place in the mind that is perpetual subject to media infill, well-versed propaganda and indefinite controversy. To most Americans Iran is the enemy somewhere over there, looming on the horizon; an ominous threat, an impending doom. One could safely say that to most Iranians the mention of America evokes the same. The difference however should be obvious to the world community. The Islamic Republic of Iran does not have over a hundred thousand military personnel occupying Canada.

Parliamentary elections were held across Iran last week. In a press statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack had this to say: "The Iranian regime again used ideological grounds to disqualify candidates for parliament." He later told reporters that "[the Iranians] are given the choice of choosing between one supporter of the regime or another supporter of the regime," and went on to describe the latest election process as "cooked."

Of Iran's 44 million eligible voters, turnout at the polls was estimated at around 60 percent. This figure is up approximately 10 percent from four years ago. Of the 60 percent nearly half of the ballots cast were cast by women. Considering that in 2007, legislation was passed by the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) increasing the voting age from age 15 to age 18, Sean McCormack may be correct in his assertion that the Iranian elections last week, cooked.

After casting his own ballot, Iran's firebrand hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestured "this presence is a humiliation to our enemies" addressing the sea of voters surrounding him, referring to the U.S. and the West. Earlier in the week Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei publically encouraged voters to participate in the elections and to support the candidates who are opposed to the U.S. and who are loyal to Islam and justice.

Sharp exchanges of rhetoric between Iran's leadership and U.S. officials has seemingly become commonplace in the global arena. One could question whether anyone would know who the Iranian president is if instead of having statements interpreted to 'wiping Israel off the map,' he made public his observation of the treatment of hurricane Katrina victims in America. Factually, he did both. But the latter wasn't an English translation of an Arabic translation of speech made in Iran's national language of Farsi. For America's foreign policy directors, the language folly was enough to renew vilification of a religious and cultural hegemony of the region, Iran; and to catapult its then relatively obscure populist president into international headlines.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council passed a third round of economic sanctions against Iran for its pursuit of nuclear energy technology. Iranian officials familiar with the nuclear dossier have been outspoken in their suggesting that the timing of the latest UNSC resolution was intended to raze the nation's elections. Some economists now admit that the effects of the first two rounds of sanctions are being felt by parties in Iran's middle class. The passage of a third round that targets assets of specific individuals and institutions, passage being led by the U.S. and the West just days before national elections, has been underscored with contempt.

Citing the country's inalienable right to uranium enrichment as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran responded in a statement that "[Iran] cannot and will not accept a requirement which is legally defective and politically coercive."

Whether the passage of a new round of economic sanctions by the UNSC was cause for the dismissal of candidates is debatable. Past elections show it is not. There is no question however that financial woes within Iran has caused new divisions of an innately raucous political theater.

Ahmadinejad's camp enjoys the support and endorsement of Ayatollah Khamenei, who ultimately has final say over all matters within the Republic. Since taking office in August of 2005, Ahmadinejad's Iran has seen remarkable increases in unemployment and inflation -- but contrary to this, Ahmadinejad remains popular in rural areas and with the working class and poor who view the advent of Iranian nuclear energy production as the key to the future of the nation's economic prosperity. This demographic also embraces its Shiite Muslim identity -- the clerical society that toppled the U.S.-backed regime 28 years ago. Within the cities, petrol shortages plague the middle class. On the countryside, government funded projects are spurring agrarian communities in hopes to become a regional exporter and competitor in commodities such as wheat.

Under the current sanctions imposed by the UNSC, international divestment in Iran's economic capacity has been formalized. Imports have dwindled. Leading up to the election, the Majlis was compelled to place a ban on campaign posters larger than an index card in effort to conserve paper.

The UNSC isn't the only institution demanding change in Iranian behavior. U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama last year co-authored the Iran Sanction Enabling Act, which necessitates by law the divestment of Iranian companies from municipal portfolios of American cities. Language is included in the Act stating that it shall be rescinded only when Iran officially apologizes to Israel in calling for its destruction.

Whether any of the approximately 2,000 nominations blocked of nearly 4,500 throughout the Republic were dismissed for being pro-American is unlikely. The current leadership dictates that Iran is in a confrontation with the world for exercising its right to uranium enrichment under the NPT. Having what is viewed as a foreign occupier at the border and a world monopoly over sustainable energy technology, there is deep apprehension in the country against dissenting voices. For the fledgling religious democracy, this is a critical time of defiance of the powers of global arrogance.

Political moderates desiring to take a more pragmatic approach, mainly on domestic issues around the cities, claim that the conservatives of the country seek to maintain their stronghold over the Majlis and thus employed the religious clerical organs of the nation to eliminate competitors.

The disqualification process, however, embroiled even the grandson of the father of the revolution, the late Ayatollah Khomeini. In a rare interview given with foreign reporters he openly disapproved of being monitored by officials who sought to confirm that he was adhering to customs of dutiful prayer, fasting and smoking. In effort to not further disgrace his family, keeping with Islamic tradition, he has chosen to not openly challenge the decision of himself being barred as a candidate.

Among conservatives, the shining victory of last week's election appears to be Ali Larijani. Larijani received more than 70 percent of the conservative vote, running in the city of Qom. Qom is historically a seminary city of Islamic learning. Larijani is known throughout the international community as former chief nuclear negotiator. He was close to Ahmadinejad but resigned his cabinet post in reservation of Ahmadinejad's bellicose rhetoric toward the West. Declaring that it impeded his own progress, Larijani is now set to join the Majlis.


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