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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Is Iran a Democracy? 

The neo-conservative drive to remake the world was more than evident in Bush's speech. Unlike Kissinger's Realpolitik theories of balance of power, Bush et al believe that parts of the world need to be remade. Bush praised Iraq and Afghanistan for moving toward democracy, and even acknowledged that Palestine conducted a democratic election. But what of Iran? Here are excerpts about Iran from CNN's transcript of the speech:

At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half -- in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran -- because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom as well....

Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity.

The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon -- and that must come to an end. The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions -- and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

Based upon Bush's words, you'd conclude that the Iranians are not free and have no choice in their government. But is this true? I've already discussed the view that Iran is a "sort" of democracy:

Together they form the largest bloc in the parliament where, with their allies, they command a two-third majority.

So, why are 80 members of the 290-member Islamic Consultative Assembly -- the Iranian parliament -- behaving like an opposition and holding a sit-in amid threats of mass resignation?

The reason is that the next general election, to be held on Feb. 20 [2004], could end the parliamentary career of many of them, not because of rejection by voters but because they won't even be allowed to stand.

A couple of months ago Richard Armitage, the No. 2 at the U.S. State Department, described the Islamic Republic of Iran as "a sort of democracy."

Well, he was sort of right if by democracy we mean the holding of regular elections without bothering about their quality and purpose.

In a normal democracy anyone who does not have a criminal record and meets basic qualifications, such as citizenship, is allowed to stand for elected office. But this is not the "sort of democracy" that Iran has had since the mullahs seized power in 1979.

In Iran all candidates must be pre-approved by a body known as The Council of the Guardians of the Constitution, a 12-man, mullah-dominated organ appointed by the "Supreme Guide" and answerable to him. These "guardian angels," as they are known not without irony, can decide who is a good Muslim and who is not. Good Muslims are allowed to stand for elections, and bad Muslims are pushed aside.

And here's something from the Middle East Policy Council:

Since the presidential elections of 1997, Iranians have been engaged in a vibrant debate about reform and democratization. During this time period the ideal of democracy has emerged as the focal point of political debates, framing central questions regarding relations of state to society, the place of religion in public life and the future of the Islamic Republic. Those currently involved in the democracy debate in Iran can be placed into two principal camps. First are those who would like to reform Islam in order to reconcile it with democracy and to have a pluralistic and more open government. Second are those who would like to reform the constitution in order to separate religion from politics and have a secular democracy. The debate is occurring in the context of mounting social, economic and political problems, on the one hand, and the growing importance of electoral politics, on the other. The democratic debate in Iran and the common conceptions of pluralism and rule of law that it has produced are products of political changes Iran has gone through over the course of the past two decades.

Islamic reformers were more prominent earlier in the debate, during the 1990s. With the end of the Iran-Iraq War and the dissipation of revolutionary zeal following Ayatollah Khomeini's death, Iran embarked upon an ambitious reconstruction effort. That undertaking led to a demand for rationalization of government institutions and the freeing of policymaking from the grip of ideological dogma. That demand was voiced by pragmatists within the regime and Islamic reformers associated with it. The two presented a new interpretation of Islamic ideology that would pave the way for greater pluralism within an Islamic framework.

Pragmatism and Islamic reform did not, however, produce democracy. The prospects for democracy were rather associated with a growing importance of electoral politics that would eventually lead to a resurgence of civil society voices in the elections of 1997. Those elections would make the presidency the main agent of change. The new president, Mohammad Khatami, would promise to restore the rule of law, expand the scope of civil-society activity and push forward with reform. However, the Khatami period failed to deliver on its promises, as its gains were rolled back by the leadership of the Islamic Republic.

The dissatisfaction with Khatami has pushed the democracy debate beyond discussion of Islamic reform to that of constitutional change. These ideas are elaborated by liberal democratic forces, civil-society institutions, activists and secular intellectuals. Their ideas are resonating with the Iranian youth and middle class, who no longer look to reforming Islam in order to produce democracy, but to creating constitutional boundaries that can check the powers of the state, guarantee the rights of the society and the individual, and separate religion from politics. The transformation of the democracy debate in Iran is a unique case in the Muslim world in terms of grass-roots secular, democratic demands that have evolved beyond a concern with the compatibility of Islam with democracy to a demand for liberal democracy.

Here's what other bloggers are saying about Iran during and after the State of the Union address.

From Venezuela News and Views:

Finally, something which I am sure to savor immensely is Joseph Ellis “Founding Fathers”. This is a portrait of some of the men who made the US and set the foundation for the most successful democracy to date, whether people like it or not being irrelevant. For all of its flaws, their work allowed the US to survive Independence, Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and it will survive Bush and Iraq as it survived Clinton and Monica. By the way, some of these critics are delighted to remain in the US and would not dream for a second to move to Venezuela or Cuba or Zimbabwe or Iran or Iraq pre-Saddam.

From Watson Vagabond:

3) Tonight, it very much sounds like Bush wants the U.S. to embrace a crusade policy. He declared the U.S. should help several countries including Iran gain "freedom." "Liberty" like the one we find in Iraq now? Most of the people there hate us. We march in with no understanding of their culture and become targets for ignited people. "Liberty" like the kind we have in the United States? Bush claims he has the executive power and can do illegal phone tapping on his own people. Politicians that disagree with the war in Iraq are considered "unpatriotic" or are simply doing unproductive complaining.

4) Bush is convinced that democracy is THE only way any government should rule. But can a democratic government become so controlling with trying to protect itself that it eventually becomes a bureautic dictatorship? Can it become so headstrong in defense that it becomes the very thing it thought it was fighting?

From Astrazoic:

He also threatened Iran, which I might agree with in principle, but our military is so stretched and our budget so strained that the threat was empty, and I'm willing to bet Iran will call the bluff. That will be an interesting development for sure. In any event, I suspect Iran will topple of its own accord anyway.

From Frisco Wanderer:

Iranians, beware, W wants to be your friend, like he was to Saddam. Are you reading between the lines, is he getting us ready to attack Iran?

From scifantasy and others:

(21:30:43) jchance: ...now he's talking about Iran. The clerical elite came back to solid power because we were scaring them.

(21:31:56) jchance: Yeah. Except, to the people of Iran, "p[l]ease rebel because we're too overcommitted to go in there."

From Ohio Conservative:

Calls for freedom in the world. Names North Korea, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe as unfree countries. That can make a big difference in those countries. Ask Solzhenitsyn or Sharansky....

Says America will rally the world to oppose Iran, and says that we support the Iranian people. I wish he would have called on them to overthrow their government and pledged American support for the effort.

From stewsday:

Why are we threatening Palestine again all of the sudden? They had a democratic election! There people elected Hamas because they would stand up to the oppression and corruption of the West... So, its only a democracy if we agree with them?

And now we're threatening Iran! Beautiful... they're a sovereign nation.
Don't talk to Iranians, talk to us... this is the state of the Union addres... why are you wasting this time to talk to anyone other than your constituents!

From The Lawson Review:

Iran is isolating its people. they have a higher literacy rate than America.
But Bush is needing something to be bold on.

Bush is speaking to the people of IRAN. He hopes to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

From the Ugly Evangelical:

6:17 - A longer list of troubled countries, including N. Korea, Syria, Iran, and interestingly, Zimbabwe....

6:30 - I thought the regime in Iran was popular. I know that there was a parlimentary vote ordering the leadership to suspend any diplomatic activities if we dared to push them on the nuclear issue.

Cortez Opossum:

Uh oh.. he's eyeballing Iran -- "they got them nuclear ambitions".

From Untying the Gordian Knot:

6:32pm - Iran responds: "Dear American president, go fuck yourself. We overthrew your puppet government 26 years ago"

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens.

The traditions of their citizens are not democratic, period. They will never be democratic nations because the idea is a foreign one, which goes against every value and more they have lived with for centuries.

We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom.

Then leave them the hell alone!
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