The Iranian elections show that the people's democratic will can no longer be held in, writes Hamid Dabashi*
Khonak an qomarbazi keh bebakht har cheh budash,
Benamand hichash ella havas e qomar e digar.
[Lucky that gambler who lost all he had,
Left with nothing but the urge for yet another game]
-- Anonymous Persian poet
The Iranian presidential election of June 2009 will go down in history as one of the most magnificent manifestations of a people's indomitable will to achieve enduring democratic institutions. The beleaguered custodians of the Islamic Republic, thoroughly aware of their own lack of legitimacy, were quick to use the occasion as a vindication of their illegitimate rule. They are wrong. This was not a vote for their legitimacy. It was a vote against it -- albeit within the mediaeval juridical fortress they have built around the notions and principles of citizenry in a free and democratic republic. The feeble "opposition" to the clerics abroad also rushed to admonish those who participated in the election, insisting on regime change, at a time when upward of 80 per cent of eligible voters willingly participated in the election. Both these desperate, hasty, and banal readings of the election, predicated on bankrupt positions are false.
Let's begin with the losers of this presidential campaign. The single most important loser of the Iranian presidential campaign of June 2009 is Ali Khamenei, the supreme guide, and the velayet-e faqih. If this election, the process of the election not its fraudulent result, showed anything, it should be the nation is not safih (indigent) enough to need a supreme faqih (most learned) to shepherd it. This election revealed the political maturity of a nation that can now be allowed to return to its own devices and the obscenity of the very notion of a velayet-faqih wiped off its body-politic. The very office of the supreme guide is an insult to the democratic intelligence and the collective will of this nation. If Ali Khamenei had an iota of decency left in him, at the autumn of his patriarchy, he would dismantle this obscene office forever, convene a constitutional assembly and disband the three other undemocratic institutions of the republic -- the Assembly of Experts of Leadership, the Guardian Council of the Constitution, and the Expediency Council of the Regime. These are the enduring vestiges of a theocratic legacy that have no room in a democratic republic. Iranians are Muslim, the vast majority of them, and there are millions of Iranians who are not Muslim, or believing or practising Muslims -- and none of that should matter in their privileges and duties as citizens of a republic. As he witnesses the erosion of every single iota of legitimacy that the Islamic revolution claimed over the nation, the soon-to-be 70- year-old Ali Khamenei can leave a legitimate legacy for himself by seeing to it that this mediaeval banality is wiped out of Ira
nian democratic aspirations. It is simply unseemly to see grown up people, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Mir-Hussein Mousavi, appear so obsequious and sycophantic towards another man. What is the difference between a shah and a supreme guide? Nothing.
An equally important loser in this campaign, though declared its winner, is the populist buffoonery of that unsurpassed charlatan Ahmadinejad, the bastard son of the Islamist revolution. In his demagoguery and fanaticism he represents the most fascistic tendencies of the Islamic revolution and republic. All revolutions have a dose or two of populism and demagoguery mixed with their idealism and high aspirations. What has happened in the Islamic revolution is that its innate populism has now been personified in one demagogue who seeks to stay in power by manipulating the poor and disenfranchised segments of his constituency by fraudulent economic policies that gives people fish instead of teaching them how to fish, gives governmental subsidies and handouts instead of generating jobs. The economic policies of Ahmadinejad have been catastrophic and institutionally damaging, causing double-digit inflation and endemic unemployment in an oil-based economy at the mercy of global market fluctuation far beyond Ahmadinejad's control or comprehension. His religious populism and ludicrous claims to divine dispensations is a cruel joke on signs and symbols people hold sacred.
The next loser was Mousavi's poorly run presidential campaign -- ill-advised, ill-prepared, sentimental, full of necessary colour symbolism but lacking substance, a clearly articulated platform, economic detail, political programming or an attempt to reach out to a wider spectrum of his constituency. His campaign was too elitist, tied in its visual paraphernalia to a northern Tehran sensibility and lacking appeal across an oil-based economy. His delay in entering the race, his to-ing and fro-ing with Mohamed Khatami, suggested poor preparation, as did his debate with Ahmadinejad. While Ahmadinejad had come with charts and graphs and dossiers, flaunting his lumpen demeanour, thinking himself "a man of the people", Mousavi had nothing except his gentility to offer. He rambled along, read from written statements in a barely audible voice, ran out of things to say before his time was over. The problem with the Iranian democratic movement is not that it is unable to produce an Obama -- if he is the model. Mousavi could have very well been an Iranian Obama. The problem is there was no David Axelrod or David Plouffe, what the Mousavi campaign desperately needed and sorely lacked. A band of self-indulgent Muslim yuppies surround him with not an idea of how to reach his multiple constituencies. If Mousavi did reach these constituencies it was be
comrades in arms), for having saved the integrity of the country during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). But he faced a new Iran, a new generation, an entirely different constituency that loved and admired him and his wife Zahra Rahnavard at face value. But you never win a campaign on good will. This is not to suggest that the election was not rigged -- it may or may not have been. But there are rudimentary strategies for reaching out to diverse constituencies which his campaign ignored.
The next big loser in this Iranian election was the legacy of George W Bush, i.e. the Bush-Wolfowitz doctrine. Look at Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, on two sides of Iran, and then look at Iran on 12 June 2009. Millions of Iranians in a peaceful, orderly, joyous and enthusiastic march to the ballot box. The second they thought their votes were stolen they poured into the streets, what Americans should have done in 2000. Along with the Bush and Wolfowitz doctrine, the losers include the US Congress, and its headquarters at AIPAC. The US congress can scarce be imagined more transparently hypocritical. On the night before the Iranian election, on 12 June, AIPAC pushed a button and its stooges in the US Congress began pushing for a resolution imposing more severe economic sanction on Iran, knowing only too well that the following day its news would increase the chances of Ahmadinejad, Israel's choice of candidates, as Israeli officials have been only too keen to admit.
Losers also include expatriate Iranian monarchists along with all other politically bankrupt banalities and their native informers and comprador intellectuals, from Washington DC to California, who have established vacuous centres for "dialogue" or and to save "democracy" in Iran. What a band of buffoons they were made to look like after this grassroots, inborn rise for democratic rights.
The sole winners of the presidential election of 2009 were the Iranian people, whoever they voted for -- some 40 million of them, out of an eligible voting population of 48 million, upward of 80 per cent. This election showed the democratic will of Iranians has matured beyond any point of return, no matter how violently the unelected officials of the Islamic Republic wish to reverse it. It is too late. As made evident during the presidential election of 2009, Iranians are perfectly capable of organising themselves around competing views, campaigning for their preferred candidates, peacefully going to polling stations and casting their vote. It is high time that the Shia clerics pack their belongings and go back to their seminaries, and for regime change charlatans like Paul Wolfowitz to retire in ignominy, and for career opportunist comprador intellectuals of one think tank or another in Washington DC or Stanford University to go back to the half decent teaching position they had before.
Before I close, I must also say that a major loser is Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanon. Nasrallah must know that the deep and variegated roots of Iranians' commitment to the Palestinian cause and the fate of the Shias in Lebanon are in the vast ocean of their hearts and minds, fed to them with their mother's milk and not in the dirty pool of Ali Khomeini's pocket. Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, ought to know that Iranians are watching them closely, and wish to hear their voices. This is the Iranian Intifada. A leading slogan in the streets of Tehran is Mardom chera neshestin, Iran shodeh Felestin (People why are you sitting idly by, Iran has become Palestine). Arab and Muslims, their leading public intellectuals, must come out and take the side of this grassroots, inborn, and peaceful demand for a healthy and robust democracy.
The US congressional stooges of AIPAC -- the Israeli generals were all squarely on the side of Ahmadinejad -- are in the same league as Hassan Nasrallah.
All Arab and Muslim potentates ought to know that their young are watching events in Iran with a keen interest. It is not only Iranians that are wired to Facebook and Twitter, so are their brothers and sisters around the globe, throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Young Arab and Muslims around the globe are not immune to the demands young Iranians are exacting at the heavy cost, courageously exposing their bare chests against the bullets and batons of tyranny. This is a post-ideological generation. They could not care less about their parents' political hang-ups. They demand, and will exact, human, civil and women's rights, through a grassroots, entirely legitimate uprising, without compromising an inch to the imperial machinations of the United States or the colonial thuggery of Israel. The custodians of the Islamic Republic are in violation of Article 27 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic. To the best of my knowledge, this is not a revolution to topple the Islamic Republic. This is a grassroots demand for civil rights. Iranians being clubbed and shot in the streets of Tehran are not the stooges of the United States. The Arab and Muslim mediaeval potentates suffocating the democratic aspirations of their people are. Fear the day that young Arabs and Muslims learn from their Iranian brothers and sisters and demand their inalienable human rights, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, equal rights for men and women, economic opportunity, respect for human decency and for the rule of law.
* The writer is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.