"They have a saying in Tehran that when the women take
part in a chaluk (riot) against a cabinet of the government, the
situation has become serious."
Morgan Shuster- The Strangulation of Persia
Hojatol-Islam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami will take office on August
1, 1997 as the fifth president of the Islamic republic with a
list of hot issues before him to tackle.
In the previous issue of Focus on Iran "Presidential Election
In Iran", we discussed the seven power centers in Iran, all
working around the gravity of the Supreme Theologian (Velayat-e-Faghih).
These centers are: office of the Supreme Leader with its assortment
of religious foundations and security apparatus, the President
and his office, Rafsanjani-as chairman of the newly expanded Council
for Discernment of Expediency, the Majlis (parliament), the Military,
the Bazaar and, the People who are the most important emerging
force since the May 23rd, presidential elections. In each of these
seven centers, various clergymen belonging to different competing
groups within the system exert their influence through their own
clique. As long as the Supreme leader has control over those centers
and the military obeys him, the status quo will remain un changed,
bu t if one or two of those centers develop a centrifugal force
the pillars of the system will loosen and the balance will be
disturbed. For some time there would be a triangular power in
the Islamic Republic, due to coming to office of Seyyed Mohammad
Khatami, who was, for the first time elected with 70 percent of
vote. Although the election took place in an undemocratic atmosphere
and in the absence of freedom, the people, especially the youth
and women, opposed Ayatollah Khamenei's favored candidate (Nateq
Noori) and chose to vote for Khatami who when compared to Noori,
seemed to be a moderate. Therefore, if in the May 23rd elections,
Natcq Noori was preferred by the Supreme Leader, Mr. Khatami,
on the other hand, was not the disfavored one, for he was not
an outsider; he was among the 4 candidates screened, filtered
and chosen by the Council of Guardians out of the 238 individuals
We do not believe that the three top leaders (Khamenei, Khatami
and Rafsanjani) could have a working relationship for long, and
due to new circumstances.
namely the awareness of the people and change of the situation
which developed in this election. the status quo could not remain
How Mr. Khatami can handle the affairs of Iran is unknown. At
present, Iran faces horrendous economic problems and is internationally
isolated as an outlaw state due to - the political behavior of
the present theocratic leadership, its support of domestic and
international terrorism, its subversion of the peace process in
the Middle East and its undermining of the moderate states in
the region. The eighteen year rule of the Islamic Republic has
proved to be a complete failure in domestic and international
affairs of Iran, because of,
The politico-religious system of the Supreme Theologian (Velayat-e-Faghih)
and the Islamic Republic's Constitution which is squarely based
on this undemocratic system;
The oppression and violation of human rights and especially the
rights of women;
The various Bonvads (foundations) under the sole control of various
religious leaders who are subservient to the Supreme Leader.
Many are of the belief that the new president ought to establish
meaningful relations with the West and especially the United States,
ending the isolation of Iran and preparing a sound ground for
rebuilding its shattered economy, but foremost, he must repeal
the Fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini placing a bounty on Salman Rushdie's
head, discontinue supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, abandon Iran's
activities in acquiring or building of weapons of mass destruction
and abrogate the Russian contract for building the nuclear power
plant. Nobody can predict what will happen if the views and policies
of the newly elected president contradict those of the Supreme
Leader. Whether he can remain in power as subservient to the Leader
or be removed. is yet dubious. If he is an integral part of the
regime, which he indeed is, he may try to help the prolongation
of a shaky, corrupt, and unpopular system .
The people of Iran have strongly indicated in their vote that
they indeed are rejecting Velayat-e-Faghih. and will not permit
the present situation - the dictatorship of clerics, to persist.
One thing is certain - the time has come for the people to shape
There are three possible scenarios in Khatami's presidency:
The system of government subsidies for basic foods, medicine and
other essentials that cost $US 15 billion annually;
And the 3 percent population growth with a mere 1.5 percent economic
fill in all, with continuing capital and managerial flight, there
is no hope unless there is meaningful, real change.
How Mr. Khatami deals with these domestic and foreign policy problems
of Iran and his attempts in solving them remains to be seen. How
Mr. Khatami deals with different religious dinosaurs, each at
the head of an important foundation which are governments within
the government, how he will end Iran's isolation and improves
the economy, how he terminates support to radical terrorists groups
like Hezballah and deals with international communities, how he
can terminate the training and indoctrination bases for terrorists
situated in different parts of the country, how he intends to
fight with corruption, and finally how he dismantles different
religious foundations that control great parts of the economy,
1- Although Mr. Khatami, on the surface, seems to be a moderate,
he is a cleric and most probably does not want to dismember the
system and its Constitution which, he is an integral part of.
The fact that the Guardian Council, a 12 member body appointed
by the Supreme leader, permitted Mr. Khatami to run as a candidate,
proves that he is committed to the theory of the Supreme Theologian
or the Absolute Leader. Indeed several years ago he had authored
an article entitled: "A Look at the Foundations of the Velayat-e-Faghih"
. Mr. Khatami could not possibly wish to take actions which could
result in the disintegration of the Islamic government. It may
be suicidal for him to go against the system in which he served
as a cabinet minister for a decade. Therefore, he could well remain
loyal to the system and the ideology that was introduced by Ayatollah
Khomcini. He might act according to wishes of Ayatollah Khamenei,
or at best imitating the Communist China, carrying out paltry
reforms along with a firm political control. It seems that, dissatisfaction
of the people, the verdict of the Berlin court on the involvement
of the Islamic Republic's top leaders regarding the assassination
of Iranian kurdish leaders in 1992 in Germany, and the ongoing
investigation of June 1996 bombing of the
Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, have been a source of great concern
to Tehran's leadership. To divert attention of the domestic and
world public opinion, Tehran regime has probably decided, at least
temporarily, to modify its tactics for strategic gain, buying
time and building its weapons of mass destruction, then continuing
to promote the ideology of a radical Islam via hiding behind Khatami,
the newly emerged "moderate".
Also, the clerical Government is hosting the December summit
for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Iran.
The leadership in Tehran has decided to hold this conference in
a self-serving and pompous way to impress the Islamic world and
establish the legitimacy of the Islamic revolution, with itself
as the leader of the Muslim World. They desperately need the participation
and the blessing of Saudi Arabia as the leader of Sunni Islam.
This is another reason for Tehran's untiring attempts in devising
a temporary rapprochement with Riyadh. That is precisely why Rafsanjani
embraced Crown Prince Abdollah in March in Islamabad, and why
the foreign minister, Velayati, visited Saudi Arabia to invite
King Fahd to participate in the December Summit. Here we must
recall the words of the Chinese strategic thinker, Sun Tzu, he
"when your rival's envoy comes and speaks in humble terms,
but continues his preparation, he will advance".
It is possible that prior to the new president taking office,
the clerical establishment could create a foreign crisis or form
a new alliance to advance its goals as well as silencing Khatami,
in essence forcing him to follow the policy of the Supreme Leader,
Khamenei. The last diplomatic activities amongst Syria, Iraq and
the Islamic Republic, indicate, as previously noted in Focus on
Iran, that these three regimes are heading for the creation of
an axis. In June 19, Tehran dispatched its health minister, Dr.
All Reza Marandi to Iraq in order to pave the way for an entente
between Tehran and Baghdad. Marandi also extended an invitation
to Saddam Hossein to participate in the Islamic Summit which is
going to be held in December in Tehran.
Saddam Hussein's incursion in the Iranian soil in September of
1980, and the consequent 8 year war, has resulted in the loss
of life for over 500,000 Iranians, leaving more than 1000,000
others maimed, wounded and disabled, and last but not least, it
has amassed an astronomic financial damage to the Iranian economy,
estimated to exceed one trillion Dollars ($US 1,000,000,000,000).
It is indeed incredible that
the Islamic Republic's leadership, knowing the extent of such
severe sufferings, finds itself shamelessly seeking accommodations
with Baghdad, without any compensation from the latter. It clearly
demonstrates that the ruling clerics are prepared to advance their
ideology, to stay in power at any cost, thus blatantly sacrificing
the national and security interests of the nation.
2- Khatami might try, through minor reforms, to strengthen the
Islamic system. This means economic reform with some degree of
political change. His decision could and most probably will lead
to more demands for broader reforms and the eventual disintegration
of the system of Vclayat-e-Faghih and its Islamic Republic, consequently,
the establishment of a secular government. This could bring a
real threat to his survival from extreme conservative elements.
Here, before the realization of any meaningful mutations, and
any loss of control, radical clerics and specially the Supreme
Leader might remove and/or sack him. The fate of the former president
Banisadr, who left the country to save his life, might await him
3- Mr. Khatami may try to keep his promises and may take the side
of the people and confront the Spiritual Leader and the radicals.
In this situation, he might act according to the "Role Theory",
namely, cease to be a "yes-man" of the Spiritual Leader,
and modify his political behavior to meet the expectations of
the people, and fight to the hilt to establish democracy and freedom
as he promised Iranians during his election campaign. He knows
that over 70 percent of the ballots, amounting to over 20 million
people, were cast for him to play an independent role, to prepare
the ground for freedom and participation and finally to bring
an end to the gross violation of human rights. If he acts according
to the Role Theory, two things could occur.
A- He will either be killed, or be forced out and replaced with
a radical cleric who would be subservient to the Supreme leader.
B- Courageous and feeling loyal to his national mission, he could
turn to the people and ask their support to "stay and fight".
First of all, he has no organizational base to depend on. All
powers are concentrated in one person, the absolute leader, Ayatollah
Secondly, it is very risky and may finally bring about instability
and possible civil war. In that event, one must consider the role
of the military, depending on which way the latter may go. If
Mr. Khatami is successful, in theory and practice he will turn
Islamic Republic to a secular system, in essence ending the clerical
rule in Iran and himself as a historical figure. If Mr. Khatami
understands his mission and the mandate that he has received,
he will act decisively. If he understands the importance of the
public opinion and new social and political forces that are emerging
in Iran, he will respond to the needs and aspirations of the masses.
But given his past report card, being an integral part of the
system, it is highly unlikely that he will opt for the second
and third options.
Excerpts of a document recently disclosed by the supporters of
the late Dr. Bakhtiar, namely, the National Movement of the Iranian
Resistance (NAMIR), linking Khatami to plots of terrorism abroad,
and his shutting down of magazines like Armaan and Faraad - the
latter for a mere inclusion of a soccer cartoon, corroborate this
notion even further. All in all and most probably, he is not the
man to "stand and fight". He has showed in the past
that he is not a decisive man and posses no will power and courage
to take tough decisions. Nonetheless, we still have to %%alt and
It is worth pointing out that Mr. Rafsanjani should also be watched.
He has been mainly responsible for the corruption, the mismanagement
of the economy, violation of human rights and support of international
terrorism. Oddly enough, he still claims, or rather pretends to
be a "moderate". He will be the chairman of Council
for Discernment of Expediency, the politburo of the Islamic Republic.
He will be one of three important leaders of Islamic Republic.
As we know, historically triumvirates never succeed. Therefore,
it is likely that Rafsanjani. in order to achieve maximum power,
could side with President Khatami to weaken or remove Khamenei,
with the final intention of bringing Khatami under his control.
No matter what happens, the of people Iran do not trust and indeed
detest the clerics. The May 23rd, elections has given the people
a voice. The voice is total dissatisfaction with the oppressive
rule of the clerical leadership. 18 years of the arbitrary rule
of the clerics has ruined the country and shattered Iran's economy.
They abolished the rule of law and fundamental rights of the people
and destroyed the cultural foundations of Iran. We have always
advocated a secular democratic
government for our country and return of the ruling clerics to
the Mosque . As it was noted above, it is difficult to believe
Hojatol-Islam Khatami, who himself worked for 18 years under the
banner of Vclayat-eFaghih, would like to, or will have enough
power, and will, to go against the system and establish democracy
which is alien to the mind and nature of the ruling clerics. It
should be noted also that, Mr. Khatami along with notorious clerics
such as, Moussavi Khoeiniha, Sadegh Khalkhali, Mchdi Karroubi
and All Akbar Mohtashami were founders of the conservative "Society
of Combatant Clerics". Again it is difficult to fathom that
he can go against the will of the Supreme leader, put an end to
terrorism, human rights violations, deal sensibly with nuclear
proliferation and Middle East peace talks and terminate the export
of the revolution in the region. But the May 23rd presidential
elections has introduced a new element into Iranian politics.
From now on, the people will be the center of political gravitation
of Iranian politics. We anticipate that the demands of the people
for freedom, liberty, political and economic reforms will increase
and opposition to clerical rule will continue. We could even witness
more resistance and riots in different cities. Therefore. it is
the duty of Iranian expatriates, to continue sending their social,
political and cultural messages to the people of Iran who are
combating the despotic rule of the clerics. Regardless of Mr.
Khatami's policy, his success or defeat, his subservience to the
Supreme leader or his independent policy, the external dissident
groups must establish better contact and coordination with internal
opposition and especially with the people of Iran, women and youth.
This campaign should continue till the present clerical regime
is replaced with a democratic and a secular one.
With the present situation and undemocratic constitution that
is based on the Governance of the Supreme Theologian (Vclayat-e-Faghih),
Mr. Khatami cannot possibly introduce any reforms and thus, there
remains no hope for change or change in the political behavior
of the genre which is expected by some in Europe and the United
States. With that in mind, the first priority in achieving a meaningful
change must ultimately be the formulation and promulgation of
a new constitution, void of any theocratic ideology, which could
guarantee "liberty and freedom" for all Iranians. Hopefully
this can be achieved by peaceful means. In this campaign for freedom,
the role of youth and women, could indeed be a decisive one.