"We have not launched the revolution to attain democracy" a statement made by several news agencies about Ahmadi Negad, the black horse in the Iranian presidential race. The thin man with the sharp eyes has entered into the election with his own agenda and his feet firm on the ground. He has been described by some as the “Iranian Tsunami”, due to his victory over Rafsanjani, the shrewd politician and pistachio retailer, who is one of the old mullahs that was close to Khomeini.
Does Negad represent a change in mood on the Muslim streets of Iran? Do Iranians now prefer fanatical candidates? Are our Arab and Muslim streets doomed to more chauvinism and introversion? It is possible that the Iranian electorate is simply expressing their boredom with the weakness of Khatami and his reformist team who have accomplished very little throughout their two terms in power. Close associates of Khatami, such as Muhammad Abtahi, have identified his lack of influence and effectiveness. He focused upon the elites and snubbed the underprivileged; and in doing so, he isolated a large portion of the Iranian population. Ahmadi Negad, the son of a poor blacksmith, provided the public with a more down to earth alternative. He is also the man with the pretty voice and the religious chanter in the Revolutions Supreme Guide Council, and the one who was rewarded by Supreme Guide personally with the post of mayor of Tehran.
The Iranian electorate chose the loyal child of Khomeini who had executed the most arduous tasks of intelligence for the revolution. Negad is a man deeply submerged in conservatism with very unprogressive ideas about women. He clarified his position on women in interviews with the Iranian papers after his victory, when he stated, “I strongly reject the recent talk about women, and I regard the news of me choosing three women in my government as a disgrace to women”.
The question for Iran is now twofold: Will the conservative gain of the presidency be in favour or disfavour of reformist change? And does Iran follow the opinion that democracy in the Muslim world would cause progressiveness and enlightenment to rapidly decline? There are some that do not see Negad”s victory as a reflection of an extremist or fanatic mood, but rather it is a result of his focus on local needs and because of his clear financial record of any corruption. Furthermore, the everyday Iranian citizen could identify with this man; Amir, a 29 year owner of a store in Shahrray, a labour area, said “he is one of us…I am happy for the defeat of those who thought the system belonged to them". Perhaps the Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s comment on the Iranian election was most accurate; they stated that it was poverty no democratic reforms that prompted the electors to vote as they did. The US State Department comment was less reflective of the truth; they stated that the result of the election would lead to a lapse of the current freedoms. But what freedoms are they referring to?
It is also possible to argue that the conservative take over in Iranian politics will hasten the change and will cause the Iranian conviction of this change to mature. The Iranians have after all proven to the whole world that they are very civilized and that they can always start afresh. Mariam, an Iranian woman quoted by Al Arabiyyah, said, “This is the best result; now the world and Iranians will no longer be duped by the false reformers who were in power. The moment of real change is getting closer”. The argument is thus that blatant fanaticism could encourage a real change.
Concerning the question of Islamism across the Muslim world, it seems that this victory affirms the statement made by Islamists that fair elections will lead to Islamists winning with a sweeping majority.
There may be some truth in these statements, but also a considerable delusion. It is true that Islamists are the most influential and powerful non-official political force in the entire Muslim World. They are a force with a psychological store that is based on an emotional background obsessed with the image of the aggrieved victim. In addition, the general political mood is currently prone to conservatism.
The delusion lies in misconception that the Arabs and Muslims on the streets prefer the Islamists. Muhammad Mahdi Akef, the Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, told Asharq al Awsat that any Muslim Brotherhood candidate would sweep any constituency in an election. But it is always possible for the electorate to decide to punish the Islamists, as in the Jordanian general elections in 1993, when the Islamic Labor Front (the political wing of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood) lost over 10 seats. Moreover, big names within the Brothers failed to the extent that Dr Ishaq AL Farhan, the Secretary General of the Islamic Labor Front to describe this failure as "painful".
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood do exaggerate when speaking of their size, strength, and the votes they may get if fair elections were held.
According to Xavier Terencienne, the French researcher who published a book on the Brotherhood, observers of Egyptian politics do not agree that the Brothers could win in free elections. It seems that at best estimates give them 30 percent of the Egyptian vote. This may be a large proportion, but it is clearly not a sweep as Sheikh Akef claimed.
No matter how strongly people may identify with certain principles, they can always change their mind at anytime. The victory of Negad, the religious chanter, the enemy of women and the favorite of the Iranian Supreme Guide, who described his victory as a "humiliation" to America, may be the start not the end. However, lifting the ban from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere will be the end; it will stop the capitalization on the image of the victim.
The Islamic world is currently experiencing a state of continuous experimentation that has been going on for decades along with mutual intimidation between conflicting tides. The opponents of Islamists intimidate the public by discussing the likes of Akef, Zawahri, and Negad, however on the other hand, the Islamist blow up in the image of the imprisoned giant who if released will heal the wounds of the world and regain any lost justice. Is there really any time or energy for experimentation again? A scary question, without an answer.