Iran: The garrison state conducts a parliamentary election

Iranians are facing both the dubious staging of democratic elections and external threats from Israel.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has hinted the office of the presidency may be dismantled [GALLO/GETTY]

New York, NY – A parliamentary election is scheduled for March 2, 2012, in which Iranians are yet again going to the ballot box to elect new members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. After the tumultuous presidential election of June 2009, which resulted in the two chief rivals of the current president being put under house arrest, it is the first time the beleaguered garrison state wishes to stage its deeply dubious claim to being a democracy. 

The registration of candidates for the March elections, handled by the interior ministry and vetted by the Guardian Council, was conducted last December and revealed the new fault lines of the Iranian political scene, with Ahmadinejad as the key divisive factor in the conservative faction. The reformist faction, led by the former President Mohammad Khatami, has openly boycotted the election, but there are defections among their ranks. On the other hand, the supporters of Mousavi and Karroubi, the nebulous Green Movement, have categorically denounced the election. 

The more regional attention is drawn to the dangerous Syrian scene and the warmongering of Israel against the Islamic Republic, the less relevant these internal factionalisms appear to be on the political horizon. 

If Iranian national politics took the centre stage and overshadowed the regional geopolitics shortly after the presidential election of June 2009, it is now the turn of the geopolitics of the region, dominated by the unfolding Arab Spring and the counter-revolutionary machinations of Saudi Arabia and its other reactionary regional forces, to overwhelm Iranian national politics at the threshold of the new parliamentary elections. 

Come March 2, the propaganda machinery of the Islamic Republic will go on a high octave fanfare to congratulate the brave Muslim nation of Iran for once again delivering its enemies a hard blow – but that election will be hardly more than a whimper against the bang of the Israel-led propaganda bravura against the country. 

The year-long internal factionalism that has sidestepped the Green Movement and is now actively waged between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei – a diversionary confrontation that at one point resulted in the beleaguered president disappearing from public and refusing to meet with his cabinet for 11 days – is a tempest in a teacup. The crisis-ridden Islamic Republic has yet again successfully manufactured a factionalist diversionary tactic within its ruling echelons to camouflage its more deep-rooted crisis of legitimacy.   

Jarayan-e Enherafi [“The Misguided Affair”] is the term that pro-Khamenei forces use for Ahmadinejad and his faction. Ayatollah Jannati, the general secretary of the Guardian Council, has accused Ahmadinejad of massive expenditure from public sources to ensure the election of his faction to the parliament. The propaganda machinery of the Islamic Republic is very adept in coining terms with which to label and dismiss its potential enemies; they labelled the Green Movement  the Fetneh Sabz [“The Green Menace”], and Jarayan-e Enherafi is the newest manufactured crisis.

Soon after the presidential election of June 2009 – when Khamenei had to side with Ahmadinejad – the widely contested president was under the illusion that he enjoyed grassroots support. As a result of that deadly miscalculation, he and his faction now face two problems: not having his allies qualified for the next parliamentary election, and being impeached by the newly formed parliament for a barrage of corruption charges against him, his aides, and his cabinet. Ahmadinejad was always dispensable for Khamenei – but he seems to have had misread the Supreme Leader’s intentions, who has even recently suggested that the office of presidency might very well be altogether dismantled to guarantee his absolutist Sultanism without even a hint of democratic menace. 

A dual obstacle 

The key concept of Velayat-madari (which acknowledges the political and spiritual authority of Ayatollah Khamenei as the Supreme Jurist) has now become a key factor in who gets to be qualified to run for the parliamentary election. This very fact is reminiscent of the period known in early Islamic history as Mihna, the inquisition that was first instituted by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun in 833 AD, in which religious scholars were persecuted unless they conceded to an official doctrine concerning divine revelation in the body of the Holy Qur’an. 

Under the current “state of exception”, the Islamic Republic has entered a period of doctrinal Mihna: The only factor that can qualify you for parliamentary election is Velayat-madari – a Stalinist loyalty test now exacerbated by the external threats to its very existence. The Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt defined sovereignty as the power to decide the state of exception, in which the Leader becomes the law – to the point of suspending the law. In the same way, the new Mihna becomes the law of the land by the sheer will of the dictator. 

This threat to the democratic uprising in Iran, and by extension to the Arab Spring, is entirely to the advantage of Israel: The last thing that the Jewish garrison state wants in the region is a succession of free and democratic states, which will ipso facto only expose the settler colony for what it is.

The new legislative body will in effect give legal disposition to the political will of the sovereign. By now all the gloves are off, and Khamenei has become the principal icon of the garrison state – his declared state of exception the rule.  
Expected to rush to ballot boxes and choose a make-believe parliament, Iranians are now in fact facing not one but two obstacles: The garrison state in which they are trapped, and the garrison state called Israel that seems to be hell-bound on mobilising crippling sanctions against Iranians in anticipation of a pending military strike. 

The barefaced hypocrisy of the United States and European Union (aided and abetted by even more treacherous elements within the expatriate “Iranian opposition”) in disregarding the military arsenal of the Jewish State and imposing crippling sanctions on some seventy-five million human beings will do precisely the opposite of what these sanctions are purported to do.  

As the distinguished Iranian scholar Kaveh Ehsani has recently observed, these sanctions and a fortiori the pending military strike, have contributed massively to thwarting the current democratic movement in Iran that has been rising since the presidential election of June 2009. This threat to the democratic uprising in Iran, and by extension to the Arab Spring, is entirely to the advantage of Israel: The last thing that the Jewish garrison state wants in the region is a succession of free and democratic states, which will ipso facto only expose the settler colony for what it is. 

As the two garrison states of the Islamic Republic and Israel stare each other down, the fake shows of democracy in one or the other categorically fail to conceal the fact that the two gravest dangers for the unfolding democratic aspirations of the region have scarcely anything to offer them except a menacing model of status quo ante.  But if the Islamic Republic and Israel at least go through the show of a democracy that is belied by widespread dissent in one and by the Palestinian predicament in the other, the tribal patrimonialism of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will have to be recognised as the grandest joke to pose as the promoter of democracy in the region. 

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His forthcoming book, The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism is scheduled for publication from Zed in May 2012.