Iran – democracy?

Posted: 15/10/2011 in Democracy, Struggle


Is Iran a democracy?

This came up yesterday – boy these people at the beach talk some rubbish. Anyway I needed more details to answer definitively no.

Firstly it has sham elections making it a democracy like the UK and US and the rest of the western world, but they are not democracies. But Iran’s sham is differently constructed. Iran is an Islamic state, and whilst that makes me have some reservations having lived in the Middle East before the Arab Spring, that does not per se make it non-democratic, or does it? The people of Iran believe in Islam but the democracy lies in the Sharia law being created from the bottom-up. Is that likely to happen? Sharia law is made by senior clerics, and there you have the beginning of what is undemocratic. This lack of democracy has shown throughout the Arab Spring where people have been forced to the streets to overthrow their Islamic dictatorships.

In Iran how does the dictatorship work? ” Iran has made the transition in the last twenty years from a nominal constitutional monarchy to a democratic theocracy. As the United States has checks and balances in its governmental system, so does Iran. There is a strong president elected for a four-year term, and a unicameral legislature ( majles ) of 270 members, elected directly by the people, with some slots reserved for recognized minorities. The position of speaker is politically important, since there is no prime minister. Suffrage is universal, and the voting age is sixteen. The president selects a Council of Ministers, an Expediency Council, and serves as the head of the Council of National Security.

Over and above these elected bodies there is a supreme jurisprudent selected by an independent Assembly of Experts—a council of religious judges. The office of chief jursiprudent ( faqih ) was created for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the time of the Revolution. It was designed to implement a controversial philosophy unique to Khomeini’s teachings—a “guardianship” to be implemented until the day of return of the twelfth Shi’a Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is in occultation (being hidden from view). Alongside the chief jurisprudent is a twelve-member Council of Guardians, six selected by the chief jurisprudent, and six by the Supreme Judicial Council ratified by the majles. The Council of Guardians rules on the Islamic suitability of both elected officials and the laws they pass. They can disqualify candidates for election both before and after they are elected. Another council mediates between the Council of Guardians and the legislature.

The judiciary consists of a Supreme Judge and a Supreme Judicial Council. All members must be Shi’a Muslim jurisprudents. Islamic Shari’a law is the foundation for the court’s decisions. Freedom of the press and assembly are constitutionally guaranteed so long as such activities do not contradict Islamic law.” – an Iranian system view.

Democracy breaks down with thi guardianship – the chief jurisprudent and the Council of Guardians because “the Council of Guardians rules on the Islamic suitability of both elected officials and the laws they pass.” That’s the end of democracy – simple. Islam tends to be authoritarian – top-down, and that is what we have. No person can stand for election unless approved by this Council, and this Council is one sect Shi’a.

Now this Council could be beneficent so let us examine that. My first reaction is to say that they are not but I am Western and there could be much propoganda around that I have fallen prey to. And of course you hear of all the reprisals during the elections. Here is what the two hikers said on their release, and what they said makes me feel that I can trust them. Specifically they said the follwoing about conditions in Iran:-

Their hostage-taking is not democratic, and their description of political prisoners being beaten illegitimises Iran as a regime. Enough said again.

But for me the most damning is the banning of grass roots genuinely-democratic parties. On wiki (search political parties of Iran) they say “There are about 74 political parties outside Iran (they fled the Islamist Regime). Only 13 are fully active of which 4 are powerful :

the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran of Maryam Rajavi, (Religious Left)
the National Front of Iran (Jebhe-ye Melli) of Adib Boroumand, (Liberal Nationalist)
the Constitutionalist Party of Iran (Liberal Democrat) of Daryoush Homayoun, (Liberal Democrat)
the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedaian (Majority) of Behrouz Khaligh (Socialist)”

See wiki for names of the parties. I also read somewhere that more than 2 million Iranians have fled – choosing exile. Now some of the sites I found and opinions written I am quite sure were CIA-funded, a standard CIA destabilisation tactic, but in truth there is no need with Iran for such propoganda, the Clerics create it for themselves. Anti-imperialist rhetoric from Ahmedinajad can fool cursory inspection but not insight, investigation and logic. My position is best summed up by this Peter Tatchell article.

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