The Khomeinis – A Contested Revolution

 

 

By Nir Boms and Elliot Chodoff, 6th May 2008

Executive Summary

  1. Thirty years following the Islamic evolution in Iran, its Zeal lives on – but with an escalating debate about its future.  
  2. Ayatollah Khomeini’s own grandsons, Ali Eshraghi and Hassan are playing central roles in the current debate over the direction of the Iranian Revolution with voices that further strengthened the position of the opposition in Iran.
  3. In order to quell democratic threats to the status quo, Tehran resorted to extreme measures to during recent elections.
  4. The grandchildren of Khomeinis may teach us something about the prospect of change in Iran, a country that, in its post-revolutionary generation, has begun to opt for a more pragmatic path toward the future.

There is no better symbol of the Iranian Islamic Revolution than its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who died in 1989 after a decade of revolutionary zeal, an Islamic revival and a bitter war with neighboring Iraq. Thirty years later, the zeal of the Iranian Revolution is alive in Iran – with its current leader Ahmadinejad attempting to emulate the revolutionary ayatollah. But the debate about that zeal lives as well, with Khomeinis still very much at its core.  The ayatollah’s own grandsons, Ali Eshraghi and Hassan are playing central roles in the current debate over the direction of the Iranian Revolution.

The 39-year-old Eshraghi was among an estimated 2,000 prospective candidates, primarily reformists, who were excluded from Iran’s parliamentary elections that ended last week.  A special vetting committee appointed by Iran’s supreme religious leader has worked hard to assess the ‘character’ of candidates to be allowed to run for a preliminary office. Eshraghi, a clean shaven civil engineer who is apparently much less conservative than his grandfather – expressed astonishment that inspectors conducting the vetting had asked his neighbors about his private life, including if he shaved, smoked, and what kind of car he drove, issues that apparently determine ‘character’ by Iranian election standards.

Hassan Khomeini, another grandson of the late Ayatollah, also had his share of technical problems. Hassan, a mid-ranking cleric, quoted his grandfather as having said that military figures such as those surrounding Ahmadinejad should stay out of politics. That statement generated a fierce attack against the young cleric with accusations that he was only pretending to be a modest leader of the people while having a personal steam sauna, an opulent house in north Tehran and driving a new BMW.  But this criticism, coming from circles close to Ahmadinejad, might have been too much.  In an attempt to restore order, Nosazi, the website that published the criticism was shut down and chief editor arrested.  Apparently nobody is immune from the capriciousness of the Islamic regime.

This shutdown added Nosazi to a long list of radio stations, web sites, and print periodicals that were summarily closed by the Iranian regime. Just last week, nine cinema and lifestyle magazines were closed, and warning notes were sent to 13 other publications on “observing the provisions of the press law.”

Among other prominent newspapers closed by the government was the daily Shargh, which published an interview with a poet who called for greater gender equality; the women’s magazine Zanan (Women), forced to close after 16 years of publication after being accused of painting a “dark picture” of Iran; and the “Hayat-i No” daily, shut down after it published a cartoon deemed insulting to the founder of the Iranian revolution.

To ensure the smooth running and desired outcome of the election campaign and under the pretense that, “the government must have unimpeded internet service for the election,” the Iranian regime shut down virtually all internet access during the election period. Iran has placed many restrictions on the internet, but it has never shut it down on such a sweeping scale.

Election order was maintained.  The hardliners made sure their own candidates would win the legislative elections by a landslide.  Out of the registered 7,600 candidates in the current elections, only 4,500 ultimately survived the “disqualification committee.” Reformist minded candidates were usually not amongst them including Ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson. Voter turnout in Tehran was less than 30%.

Elections notwithstanding, however, voices of protest and criticism could still be heard in the background. Just last week, some 600 Iranian civil rights activists signed an open letter calling for the release of women’s rights and environmental activist Khadijeh Moghaddam, arrested for “acting against national security”. Further, strikes at three sugar factories over non-payment of salaries and bonuses illustrated that the labor unions are still willing to challenge the government. And, of course, student protests remained in the headlines. Shiraz University witnessed one of its worse demonstrations this year in February with students demanding the resignation of the Mullah-appointed head of the university.

The battle for Iran’s future is not yet over since democracy, contrary to popular belief, is not about how leaders are elected, but rather how they are replaced.    

Despite Ahmadinejad’s attempts to maintain the Islamic revolution with a resurgent zeal and fervor, there are many voices inside Iran that increasingly question his choice of direction. The grandchildren of Khomeinis may teach us something about the prospect of change in Iran, a country that, in its post-revolutionary generation, has begun to opt for a more pragmatic path toward the future. It is important to pay close attention to these voices for change, since their time is yet come.

Nir Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Elliot Chodoff is a military and political analyst for MidEast: On Target.

© 2008 The Henry Jackson Society, Project for Democratic Geopolitics. All rights reserved.

 

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