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Iran: Forlorn quest for a purgatory | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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With the names of “authorized candidates” published by the Guardians’ Council, Iran’s parliamentary election campaign gets under way in earnest.

However, some of the mullahs and politicians known as “reformists” are calling for a boycott of the exercise.

I think they are wrong and that their manoeuvres would not be in the interest of the people.

However, before I say why, let me clarify a few points.

To start with, I have never voted in any elections organized by the Khomeinist regime and would not vote this time either. The reason is that this regime would allow none of the people for whom I might vote to stand in elections. Moreover, I believe that in a system in which a single mullah could overrule decisions of all organs of the state, the “Islamic Majlis” could not be but an ersatz parliament.

Anyone familiar with the situation in Iran would know that Iranians are divided over what to do about a regime that many regard as toxic.

Some, and I am among them, are for regime change, that is to say the dissolution of the Khomeinist system and its replacement by a new one chosen by the people.

Of course, advocates of “regime change” may be barking up the wrong tree. A majority of Iranians might not be prepared for yet another root-and-branch change in the way their country is governed. Also, regime change may not be feasible in the short term. It may take years, even decades, to get rid of the Khomeinist disease that struck Iran in 1979.

As an intellectual, I deem it my duty to tell it as I see it while admitting the possibility that I might be wrong. I don’t believe that this regime is capable of reform just as the Saddamite regime in Iraq and the Gaddafite tyranny in Libya were not.

However, there is another current that is persuaded of the opposite. Let’s call this current “the reformist camp”, although it has not suggested a single proposal for reforming any important aspect of the Khomeinist regime.

Many prominent “reformist” figures are people who were in office for decades. Their main beef against the system is that they risk losing their privileges and influence in shaping policy. Then there are those who have lost their jobs and, in a growing number of cases, have chosen exile in the West.

That such personages should be critical of those who have replaced them in office is understandable. Even in democracies those who lose office often become critical of their successors.

It is natural for former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to feel sore about “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. For decades, Rafsanjani claimed that he had “invented” Khamenei by propelling him to the top of the pyramid. Now that the dummy has assumed a life of its own, the ventriloquist’s bitterness should surprise no one.

Nor should one be surprised that former President Muhammad Khatami is resentful of his successor. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stopped public money for an outfit set up and run by Khatami. (There are unconfirmed reports that “the authorities” have seized Khatami’s passport.)

So, why are “reformists” wrong in boycotting the elections?

One reason is that by doing so they cause confusion. Iranians who want regime change are united as never before in boycotting the elections. Trying to have one foot in and one foot out our “reformists” could garble the message of the expected mass boycott. The “regime change” camp wants the boycott to be seen as a rejection of Khomeinism as a whole, not just a show of anger against the group now in power.

In any system, those who claim to reform it accept the rules of the game it sets. Iranian “reformists” cannot speak with forked tongues. They cannot claim that elections in the Islamic Republic were free and fair only as long as they themselves got elected and exercised power.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as president in 2009 was as good or as bad as all previous presidential elections in the Islamic Republic. The same is true of next March’s parliamentary elections.

In Khomeinist elections people are not given a free choice because only pre-approved candidates are allowed to stand. Nevertheless, the exercise provides an opportunity for voters to choose from various factions within the Khomeinist establishment. That, in turn, allows the factions to fight over power in a peaceful and pseudo-political way rather than by violence.

In the early stages of Khomeinism some factions tried to win power by recourse to arms, claiming tens of thousands of lives.

After 1983, a consensus emerged that the balance of power among factions be worked out through elections with pre-approved candidates. That helped end murderous factional feuds and, in time, devalued violence as a means of achieving power within the system. One no longer needed to have one’s rivals within the regime assassinated or hanged.

Today, few rivals within the establishment are executed or assassinated. They are either in prison or under house arrest. Some have been allowed to settle in the West.

Those who claim they could “reform” this un-reformable system should accept its rules and participate in all aspects of its life, even if they are not always happy with how things are done. One cannot reform a system that one wishes to overthrow. Nor is a system reformed through boycotts, sulking and/or taqiyah.

Without realizing it perhaps, our “reformists” dream of a purgatory. Against all reason, they hope to cool some of the blazing flames of the hell created by Khomeini and his terrorist companions. However, just as in the trinity of afterlife, few people would knowingly choose the purgatory. Like Stalinism and other totalitarian ideologies, Khomeinism cannot be reformed. The Khomeinist seizure of power in 1979 was not meant to lead Iran to democracy and prosperity. Its chief aim was to stop Iran’s historic evolution towards those goals.

Rather than practicing taqiyah, our “reformists” should ponder the only questions that matter in Iran’s politics today: Is the Khomeinist system capable of reform and, if not, shouldn’t they switch to the “regime change” camp?