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Iran: Mousavi’s Difficult Path Ahead
Monday, 18 May 2009 20:54
by Jalal Alavi

Iran is fast nearing its tenth presidential “election”, and, short of an accident or serious electoral fraud, which would not be unprecedented in the Islamic Republic, reformist former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi (1981-1989) will most likely triumph as the winner of that election.

Like former president Mohammad Khatami, however, Mousavi (or any other reformist president, for that matter) will most certainly face many obstacles from a bureaucracy that is dominated by conservative hard-liners backed by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and protected by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

To overcome these obstacles, Mousavi would have to be willing to do what few reformist heads of state would dare do within the framework of a corrupt pseudo-democratic regime, namely, to tap the support of his reform-oriented electoral base, which in turn would run the risk of further debilitating his own precarious position.

Implicit in the above is the important proposition that the prospects for genuine reform in Iran are tenuous at best, and that Mousavi’s reform agenda (protectionist in nature and thus highly unappealing to the historically powerful merchant class in Iran) may, in the absence of a fully supportive political framework, ultimately manage to merely do away with some of the excesses of the Ahmadinejad administration.

Of course, what would complicate Mousavi’s position even further vis-à-vis the hard-line oligarchy that has been in charge of the Islamic Republic ever since its formation in 1979 would be the possibility of a nuclear compromise and thus renewed diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States, a difficult situation with which even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president, has had to grapple very carefully.

Indeed, Mousavi’s explicit condemnation of the Holocaust and tacit support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he put forward in a recent interview with the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel [1], is already being interpreted in conservative circles as an indication of his willingness to “unclench” the regime’s fist vis-à-vis the “Great Satan” once in office.

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Whatever the merits of the above argument, one thing is for certain: the future of reform in Iran is inversely related to the power and privilege of the ruling elite and special interests, for whom Iran’s political and economic structures and institutions have hitherto served as mere instruments for private gain, and for Mousavi to somehow ignore this by merely trying to reverse the excesses of the Ahmadinejad administration would be self-defeating.

On the other hand, if Mousavi is to have the clout necessary for taking a firm stand against the proponents of the status quo, which incidentally have become much stronger as a result of Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement of the economy, he would have to somehow manage to rally the support of the disenchanted community of ordinary citizens without further strengthening his opponents.

Thus Mousavi would have to try tirelessly to strike a balance between the two approaches mentioned above, which is what Mohammad Khatami did not want or utterly failed to do, hence the sorry state of political reform during his tenure as president (1997-2005), as a result of which some of the most fervent proponents of freedom and democracy in Iran were brutally silenced (not to mention the sixty or so reformist newspapers that were shut down by the judiciary), a situation that has continued in various forms to this very day.

Alas, as it stands, the prospects for real reform in Iran under the existing system of rule are quite dismal, and thus not much hope can be placed in Mousavi’s intentions in that regard.

Whether this translates into Iran being destined for yet another revolution, the signs of which, including Mousavi’s own candidacy after 20 years, are already visible throughout the country, remains to be seen.


1. Available from: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,622225,00.html.

Jalal Alavi is a sociologist and political commentator based in Britain.
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