This issue of Pro et Contra explores the political processes currently taking place in Iran. Three years ago, Ahmadinejad gained the trust of the electorate, promising to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians. His promises, however, remain unfulfilled, and his term runs out in June 2009. The Iranian regime’s theocratic nature continues to coexist with political pluralism and competition, while popular dissatisfaction with Iran’s economic problems – as would be the case in most other countries – gives the opposition an opening with voters.
Public Attitudes in Iran
Without a clear alternative model or alternative leadership, this deep-seated desire for economic, political, and social reform among many Iranians is tempered by a strong aversion to unrest, uncertainty, and insecurity. Having already experienced one tumultuous revolution and a brutal eight-year war with Iraq, Iranians have few concrete ideas as to how change should take place other than it ought to occur without bloodshed. The post-war carnage and tumult in next-door neighbor Iraq has made Iranians even warier about the prospects of a quick-fix solution.
Ayatollah Khamenei: Supreme Leader
As Supreme Leader, Khamenei has tended to inherit and administer Khomeini’s foreign policy positions rather than break with the past and initiate his own approaches. While Iranian foreign policy has evolved considerably since the early days of the revolution, the ideological edifice of the Islamic Republic remains built upon three important pillars: the mandatory veil (hejab) for women and opposition to the United States and Israel. Changing these policies would call into serious question the raison d’etre of the Islamic system, blurring the lines between regime ideology and regime interests.
The Weakness of the Reformers
The reform movement emerged as an influential political force in the second half of the 1990s. However, despite the trust they earned from the Iranian electorate, reformers were unable to enact the social and economics transformations they had promised. Now, reformers’ lack of a solid social base, the likelihood that their candidate will not be registered by the election authorities and the use of administrative resources during voting and vote counting not only create serious obstacles to reformers’ electoral success but may lead to their total exclusion from the political arena.
The Rise and Impact of Iran’s Neocons
The Iranian neocons are in power because they “rediscovered” the traditional lower and middle classes and because they separated themselves from the traditional conservatives, who were seen as not having done enough to protect the masses. The masses were also angered by the corruption among Iranian politicians, who were perceived as self-interested, and as using their offices for personal gain. Ahmadinejad used opposition to corruption to great effect in his campaign, arguing that such people were not only immoral but also untrustworthy, for they had abused the religion of the people.
Iran as a Regional Power
After the fall of the Shah, Iran continued its course towards becoming a major regional power, gradually expanding its sphere of influence, including into the former Soviet Union, Iraq and Afghanistan. With the death of Imam Khomeini and his closest allies, the Islamic revolution in Iran came to an end. The country is gradually ridding itself of those elements of the revolutionary legacy that are inhibiting development. Iran has the potential to become a global power, but success will require not only political will, knowledge and cadres, but also peace in the region.
Iran and Russian-American Cooperation
There are still many issues of mutual interest that must be pursued, to the equal benefit of both Russians and Americans. However, in the wake of the 2008 summer war, this view will be difficult to keep in focus. The nuclear nonproliferation and arms control agenda normally is well-accepted in times of troubles, and so may be turned to once again. It may not be broad enough, however, to solve the key problem of Iran and its nuclear program. In this context, the next U.S. administration must choose carefully how it can work with Russia—perhaps there will be more opportunities than currently are visible.
The Political Ideal and the Political Regime in Post-Soviet Russia
The authoritarian regime is the result of choices made by Russians during the relatively free electoral processes of the Yeltsin and early Putin years: even if the official results of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections do not perfectly reflect how the electorate voted, there can be no doubt that Putin won convincingly. The choice of the majority of the population was further reflected in part in direct support for Putin’s policies, and in part in their passive consent and the absence of resistance. Only changes in Russian political culture can bring about fundamental changes in the nature of the regime. Such changes, however, do not happen quickly.