Sunday, June 21, 2009

The end of the Iranian model? (Gershon Shafir)

Whatever the short-term outcome of Iran's current political crisis turns out to be, the effects of this popular upheaval and its suppression will almost certainly include a severe blow to the (already much eroded) legitimacy of the theocratic-authoritarian regime. And it's likely that this effect will not be confined to Iran itself.

Khomeini's 1979 revolution inspired and electrified a wide range of people throughout the Middle East and other parts of the Islamic world (and alarmed or terrified a number of others). The ongoing events in Iran, by contrast, should help to undermine the remaining appeal of the whole Iranian model launched by Khomeini. That could be enough, by itself, to give these events a world-historical importance.

(Perhaps the popular uprising going on in Iran today might even help to establish a new Iranian model--that of a democratic intifada? Well, we shouldn't let optimism carry us away ...)

My friend Gershon Shafir reflects on the wider ideological impact of the current political upheaval in Iran.

--Jeff Weintraub

Informed Comment - Global Affairs
Saturday, June 20, 2009
The Failure of the Iranian Model
By Gershon Shafir

Twelve years ago, with the election of Khatami as President of Iran, it became obvious that in large cross sections of Iranian society the revolutionary zeal had petered out. The clergy was determined to keep the revolution that brought it to power alive and prevent its moderation and for that aim went to great length to limit free elections and democracy. With Ahmedinejad’s first (and only) election there was an attempt to revive its zeal internally and, as is customary with revolutions, project it outwards by linking it with local grievances, in this case, in Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The rigging of the elections and the violent clampdown on peaceful protestors that began today, demonstrates that the uneasy combination of an Islamic state and democracy has failed. By choosing revolution [JW: i.e., the continuation of an allegedly "revolutionary" regime] over the remaining vestiges of democracy, the clergy ensured that Iran will no longer serve as a model of mass supported Islamic Revolution. While internally the revolution has been saved, its foreign influence is likely to vane. Nor, as we learned, is it possible to make a peaceful transition from an Islamic to a democratic state, as happened in the aftermath of communism. Instead, Iran is coming to resemble the authoritarian regimes of the region.