Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Hassan Rouhani’

Iran, Islam and Democracy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd April, 2019

Iran-Islam-and-Democracy--653x1024Contemporary Iran is much maligned and little understood in the West, especially in Washington, where the Trump administration (like several of its predecessors) views Iran as the devil incarnate. Of course, the Islamic Republic returns the compliment by frequently calling the United States the Great Satan. Each country has good reason to object to some aspects of the society and government found in the other. Yet international relations would be much smoother, and the world safer, if both made a greater effort to work out what makes the other tick. Hence the great value of Ali M. Ansari’s monumental Iran, Islam and Democracy (Gingko, £30/$44.95). Through his close examination of the leadership records of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani in particular, the author presents a penetrating view of the complexities and tensions within Iranian politics, far different from the two-dimensional picture proffered by Donald Trump or Binyamin Netanyahu.

The very name “Islamic Republic” illustrates a contradiction at the heart of the system in Iran. Republics — particularly those influenced by French or indeed American revolutionary thought — are inherently bottom-up societies in the sense that ultimate authority derives from the people. But religious societies in contrast are usually top-down. For much of Iran’s history a patrimonial shah or king was in charge, with a firm hand on the driving wheel, and even after the last shah was overthrown in 1979, a new top-down type of authority was imposed, by the Ayatollah Khomeini and since his death, Ayatollah Khamenei. This new authority has the added status of being in principle God-given and it is significant that the spiritual Leader of Iran takes precedence over the elected President, even when the latter has clearly been the Leader’s intellectual superior (not something one could say about Ahmadinejad).

There is an ongoing dialectic between conservatives and reformists within Iranian society and one of the most stimulating parts of this significant book is an extended examination of the record of and expectations regarding the comparatively “liberal” Mohammad Khatami (previously published as a separate volume, now supplemented with additional and more recent texts). Just as conservatives in the country’s religious hierarchy sometimes exaggerate the “threat” of reformist politicians and intellectuals — periodically leading to the closure of allegedly offensive newspapers and magazines — so the West has often put undue faith in the ability of reformists and in particular the Green Movement to affect rapid change. Things move slowly in Iran, where the ousting of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 still rankles. But even revolutions evolve with time. And it seems clear that if the outside world wants Iran to become more “normal” in its internal and external behaviour, then engagement rather than confonrtation is likely to produce better results.

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Iran Protests

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd January, 2018

8F9C6AB2-8F5A-439B-86AD-97F53DC39D7BOver the New Year holiday many of my thoughts have been with the people of Iran, where protest demonstrations have been taking place in many towns and cities, in some extreme cases descending into riots. I am all in favour of people taking to the streets to voice their grievances if they feel their views are not being heard through other channels, and indeed President Hassan Rouhani has endorsed that right of expression, even if some of the country’s religious leadership have been more condemnatory. It is sadly not surprising that some in the religious hierarchy have alleged that the protests have been orchestrated by Iran’s “enemies”, notably Saudi Arabia and the United States, though witnesses on the ground suggest rather that these have been spontaneous uprisings by predominantly young people (mainly but not exclusively young men), protesting about unemployment, high prices and the difficulties experienced by ordinary Iranians despite the country’s huge oil and gas wealth. Most of those youngsters would still have been schoolchildren when the (much larger) “Green” protests took place in 2009 following a widely contested election result. Unfortunately, it only nourishes the conspiracy theorists when Donald Trump and numerous Israelis (sic) tweet messages of support for the demonstrators. The actions of some militants, such as setting fire to police kiosks and even a bank) do nothing to help their cause, but similarly heavy-handed tactics by the security forces can only widen the breach between the representatives of authority and Iran’s young population. I love Iran and have travelled widely in the country, both before and since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The people are some of the most hospitable on earth, as well as among the most well-educated, rightly proud of their country’s long history and rich, diverse culture. So I sincerely hope that many of the young people protesting now get much of what they want, peacefully, and that the regime in Tehran opts for negotiation and not violent confrontation in the way it responds to what is going on.

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