Yes/Labeik to Leadership and Elites!
Yes from People! [to the Leadership]
The above headlines of the Iranian press on Saturday, the day after the rigged elections (legislative) marked the of the situation in Iran: Submission.
The blueprints for the 2016 elections were carefully drawn and perfected by the Velayat-e Faqih, Khamenei, many months ago, when H. Rouhani was “elected” as president in 2013. At the time, “change” was the buzzword.
Three years later, there has been no change in the country, except a turn for the worse in censorship. The difference is the same tyranny are presented in different wrapping, this time outgoing and smiling.
When the Alarm Bells Rang
The spontaneous outburst of the population during the 2009 “re-elections” of M. Ahmadinejad, its violent repression and the international outcry shook the Velayat-e Faqih. In 2011 and in the following years, the waves of “Arab spring” rang a few more alarm bells inside leadership circles.
After the 2012 Iranian parliamentary elections, the Parliament/Majless turned out to be a fighting ring for Ahmadinejad’s gang and those faithful to Khamenei, although both were in the line of Imam Khomeini. Ali Larijani, a Leader’s man, became the chairman of the Majless and his siblings took charge of many key positions, out of the public spotlight, making sure the Velayat-e Faqih’s pillars were well protected. With the embargo and the various sanctions from the West still in full swing, the State’s revenues dried up to a perilous level. At the same time, the global spending of the Islamic Republic of Iran rose in order to support their allies (Hezbollah, Hamas, Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria …). Filling up the space left by the pulling back of the West and the USA from Iraq was and is costly. Moreover, to expand the nuclear facilities, and to test and produce long-range missiles, billions in hard currency were in urgent need.
To find money, first the government was commissioned to raise taxes and cut on subsidises. However, with corruption reaching levels never seen before, the gain was meagre. Besides mismanagement in all sectors, economic, environmental and social, the adopted policies produced more dissatisfaction, even among the most apathetic citizens. It was time to do something. It did not involve questioning despotism and the ideology pillars of the Islamic Revolution, but questioning the way it was presented to the general public.
A New President, A New Outfit
The presidential elections of 2013 were to “sell” the candidate for “change” to the domestic and foreign observers. That is when the Iranians went to waltz with Ali Khamenei for the first time and there would be many more occasions to come.
Hassan Rouhani was an ideal president and trustworthy: experienced as the head of radio and TV broadcasting, an old hand deputy (about 20 years in key committees). He was also the “Sheikh” in the shadows in the stand-off with the West over the nuclear issues.
Moreover and among other things, he was an advisor to President Khatami during the oppression of the student riot in 1999 and was involved in pushing the concept of dialogue among civilisations, which came to nothing. It was a means of spreading the cultural diplomacy of the Islamic Republic and did not impress the interlocutors.
The selling of the image of a “moderate president” and “a President for change” has worked beautifully outside Iran for the West’s benefit in want of “good news”. However, inside Iran, where people long for a real change but there is no structured opposition to turn to, things are different.
The wallowing corruption, a weak economy (high inflation and unemployment) produced the concepts of the “Economy of Resistance” from Khamenei and “a Key for change” from Rouhani in unison. Hard cash was in urgent need, but none of these concepts produced much result.
The time was ripe to call on the money available in various international accounts, albeit under strict regulation by the sanctions imposed on the nuclear issues. It could not have been a better opportunity: the President of the USA needed something “Historic” to end his mandate. Thus a laborious talks on nuclear issues started, went on for many months, and ended in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). During the talks neither Iran nor the USA wanted to withdraw first and be blamed later to have failed during the negotiations. Both had to save face.
Much has been said and written about it since. However, the blurred articles and the much complicated international legal implications have put off many foreign investors, or created a standby situation that seems to last till a newly elected US president takes office.
The slogan in West Europe reads: “Iran joins the international community, Hurray!” Since then, a large number of Western businessmen and various ministers have travelled to Iran in the hope of making “business deals”. Till now, the short visits have ended up in various memorandums of understanding (MoUs), yet a tangible change or difference, even the tiniest, has yet to be seen.
The Buzzword: Change
For now, all the changes are talks and more talks… They amount to grandiose declarations in Tehran’s media by various governmental bodies, repeated by the Western media, yet unconfirmed by the concerned multinationals in the West.
In Iran, since 2014, inflation has gone down slightly, but not because the economy is on the right path. The austerity policies set by H. Rouhani’s government paralysed businesses and stopped inflation rates from hitting the sky, but brought stagnation. Free food baskets were distributed among the poor, resulting in a series of corruption scandals. Further, new repressive laws regarding the banking system and money exchangers (Sarafis), kept the rates down artificially. Periodically, the Sarafis were ordered to close their businesses. The national and macro statistics were also fiddled with or faked whenever handy.
Hassan Rouhani is man of principles, one that prefers bills of law to unleashed propaganda and censorship. The deputies to the ninth Parliament (2012-2016) followed him even if some disputes were voiced, insults were flying and denunciations were made. The biggest game was to expose the embezzlements, running into billions of USD, by Ahmadinejad’s ministers and minions. Ali Khamenei stayed, above all, silent on these matters, leaving the dirty work to other ayatollahs and Rouhani’s ministers.
Today, thanks to news bills in the press and in publications, the Iranian media is controlled to such perfection that even the mildest criticism of the regime has not been heard since his election. Contained disapproval of the ministers or ministries is there for all to be seen and can be commented on freely. And if something goes terribly wrong, a person or a personality of second rank is tossed out into the cold.
At the same time, the filtering of the internet gets more and more sophisticated and efficient. Even operatives are paid to troll, obfuscate, and blind websites with pseudo facts, or simply attack them via host servers in the West.
Cartoonists, journalists, social media users and targeted dual-nationals are arrested on unspecified charges or jailed on spurious charges. Women’s rights have not budged a bit, even for a symbolic right such as women’s presence in stadiums to watch a match. Hundreds are executed as “drug traffickers”, more for the purpose of eliminating political prisoners rather than preventing fast-spreading drug crime. Juveniles are treated as adults for being “criminals”, and sometimes are hanged underage; some other times a little after they have come of age. Most are accused in lieu of their parents or guardians.
On all these issues, H. Rouhani has nothing to say or, when pressed for an answer, he gives a lecture on the separation of powers in a State subjected to law. Lame excuses from a man that has gained his position thanks to his thorough respect of the limits drawn to his activities by the Leader.
For the last three years, the Iranian Establishment has got closer to Russia. The Pasdarans and bassijis have strengthened their positions to the point that today hundreds of pictures depict Khamenei in military company rather than seeing him lecturing on some theological points.
Yes! Labeik to The Loaded and Cast Dice
It is in such an internal climate that the 2016 legislative elections were to be held following the same blueprint of change written for the presidential elections: change in name but not in practice.
The candidacy to the Majless is already highly restrictive. One must be: a supporter of the Islamic Republic and a practising Muslim (unless a carefully chosen representative of an accepted religious community); have a Master’s degree (?!) and be between 30 and 75 years old. We will not say anything on the vague notions of “be in good health” and have a “good reputation”.
In the run-up to the elections, the very first move was to disqualify the tiresome candidates bothering the regime. In his mythical generosity, Khamenei declared: “They can cast their vote, but not be elected.”
The dice was loaded and cast. The vetted candidates joined various lists (e.g. Omid/ hope) and were labelled as moderate, hard-liners, and even a handful of independents (?!). Those in charge of the lists were no other than the men loyal to the Leader and the crafty politicians.
The listed candidates were two tired old parties cut from the same cloth. In a corrupt country, run by the ayatollahs, one’s label may change from moderate to radical or the other way round, without an eyebrow being raised.
In the couple of weeks before the elections, the ambiance was peppered by the candidates accusing each other of being “English spies” or “foreign operatives”. These labels, even if they are long outdated, overused and false, still fuel heated discussions in a country where “conspiracy theories” rank high in political minds.
The whole point of the elections was to have a homogeneous Parliament/Majles. It would present a more acceptable face to the world by leaving behind the flaws of the hasty 2012 parliamentary elections, and provide some “moderates” in massive participation.
The “massive participation” was the key factor, and once more the seal of approval by the Iranian people for the Velayat-e Faqih. If one loved his country, one voted to disappoint the “enemies” as Khamenei insisted repeatedly before the elections. We had to defy Israel, the USA, and the whole corrupt world of our enemies…
On Friday the 26th of February, the votes were cast smoothly and according to plan. The reports to the world were favourable to the regime. Hundreds of selfies in voting lines were published from Tehran. Tens of pictures of happy people holding their ID booklet (Shenasnameh) made headlines, all from Tehran. The icing on the cake was to announce that the polling stations were to stay open an extra two hours and then by another hour. In their enthusiasm for reporting live from Tehran, many foreign correspondents forgot to mention the vetted candidate lists and to square them with some issues that had popped up lately: the renewal of the fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie and the topping up of the reward for the killer, the frequent visits of the key Iranian military personnel to Moscow, the ransoms paid for the freedom of dual-nationals, to name only a few issues.
Once the polling stations closed on Friday, reporters went back home and continued their jobs by repeating what the Iranian media had to say… unreliable sources since they can hardly be checked.
Our correspondents talked of the uncrowded polling stations and the lengthy process of voting from various parts of the country. However, the Ministry of Interior was swift to officially announce 60% of all voters participated, which has been repeated endlessly since. In practice, the ID booklet is to be stamped once one has voted. Later, the pages can be seen and scrutinised whenever necessary. To have peace, as an insurance, many vote to get the stamp so as to be eyed favourably at work and public offices, or to register at university…
How many did vote? How likely is it that the real number is below 60%? In Iran numbers are malleable.
Once more the regime has won, even if few things needed to be embellished here and there. Once more people waltzed with Ali Khamenei. The population’s choice was between bad and worse, a usual state of affairs in a country hoping to see a new era but passive to its own fate. A bankrupt country, economically, financially, culturally and morally.
These days there is much talk about the number of elected reformists vs the hard-liners in the media. Would it really matter? As an apple tree always produces apples, the Iranian theocracy of Iran can only produce despots and their minions.
Assembly of Experts: The Side Dish
As a side dish to the parliamentary elections, the experts to the “Assembly of Experts” were also to be voted in. These experts are theologians/Mojtaheds. Even if a naive person casts his vote, it is of no importance. The co-optation matters: a cut-throat game between the major ayatollahs and those less major in theology but in key political positions. Rouhani and Rafsanjani are the two old boys of the latter group. This round of Assembly of Experts might have to choose the new Supreme guide of Iran if Khamenei dies during their four years to come.
If the theocracy is to go on, younger ayatollahs must get on board. The eldest and shakiest, the two ayatollahs named Yazdi and tagged hard-liners, have not been “elected”. These two are frail and perhaps gaga from old age. Time is ripe to renew. A number of younger ayatollahs are in the waiting: more sophisticated and more in the line of exercising “soft power” without losing an inch of their powerful tyranny conferred to them by the Velayat-e Faqih. In order to achieve this, for them, H. Rouhani and his “moderates” are allies not opposing forces. They will work in steadfast loyalty to the Leader, since their lives, power and wealth are dependent on him. They have all the time in the world. No one is hard-pressed by the short-term, four-year, election cycles in the West. No one cares for the swing in “public opinion”, something that does not count a bit in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The “outgoing and smiling” president of Iran may manage a few juicy business deals between the Iranian businessmen from Pasadaran circles and the multinationals, all while his brother manages his cuts from the deals. More Western tourists may visit Iran and return home delighted. But as long as the Iranians refuse to see and act against their shackles from the theocracy and traditional despotism, nothing will change. In the 1970s, we had juicy business deals, the State’s coffers were filled to the top, and the tourists were everywhere.