At the risk of being anachronistic – IRAN!

30 June 2009

so far away.

Thanks to the deaths of, in descending order of importance, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays and Farrah Fawcett, Iran (and a number of other incidents) were dropped from the news.  It’s not on the front page of The Guardian, besides their casualty identifier (though that’s quite neat… in its way) or BBC World and has only small mentions on CNN or Fox News.  Generally I too surrender to the machinations of the 24 hour news cycle, but an article written by friend/professor/real-live-Iranian Farhang Erfani caught my eye.  I recommend reading in full.  It’s unusual to find a philosopher who can write things people can read.

Being a suburban white kid with an overpriced IR degree doesn’t qualify me to say much, but subsequent news gives both reason for hope and pause.  The Assembly of Experts – which in Iran functions as a sort of Senate – has become deeply split between ultra-hardliners and others, even conservatives, who are souring not merely on Ahmadinejad but on Ayatollah Khameini for supporting him.  There is, apparently, plotting afoot to substitute the “Supreme Leader,” which is provided by the Iranian Constitution, for a three-man panel of jurists.  It’s not clear that they could be stopped from doing this, as the Experts appoint the Supreme Leader (though thus far only upon the death of the former).  If so the dynamic of power could change dramatically.

The problem is the Guardian Council.  The Ayatollah, in my opinion, is not actually the most undemocratic figure in their government – as the Guardian article notes he too can be removed.  But the Guardian Council, which is perhaps the world’s most powerful election management body, has the authority not merely to conduct elections but to vet candidates for Parliament, the presidency and the Assembly of Experts.  This is why the opposition to Ahmadinejad was so weak (and why rigging the election may have been unnecessary): all the really threatening candidates were removed from the outset.  The Guardian Council, which is half-appointed by the Leader and half-appointed from candidates chosen by the Leader, is responsible for this function, striking down parliamentary laws, or removing “un-Islamic” officials.  While the powers possessed by the Supreme Leader are reserve, and often treated as such, the Guardian Council is an activist organ that is not shy about intervening in day-to-day politics.  It wrecked the last reformist presidency; it would surely have wrecked Mousavi.

If the Assembly of Experts organizes, however, and manages to shift power from the Ayatollah (or indeed sets itself against the Ayatollah generally), Mousavi’s failure could be far more important than his success would ever have been.  This is in fact the thread Professor Erfani takes up in his article: that Mousavi may be more useful out than in.

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