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July 25, 2003

Iranian Conservatives: How Powerful?
Yashar Ahmadian  [info|posts]

How much power, to use violence, do the conservatives in Iran enjoy today?
Some people believe, the fear of that power and the willingness of hardliners to use it in any brutal way is what keeps reformists, and Khatami in particular, from confronting them in any effective way. Some still use this argument to justify Khatami's actions (inactions rather!)

I prefer Akbar Ganji's opinion on this matter. He believes many in Iran, particularly government reformists, overestimate the power of the conservatives to use violence to thoroughly oppress the reform movement or any popular resistance, or to drag the country into a full scale civil war.

I think this view is supported by the events of recent years, particularly — you might be surprised — the hardliners' show of power in cracking down on student protests. In all the past 5-6 years, in the few instances that Khatami was resolute enough to press for a demand, he could make the hardliners back down and give in to it (like in the case of serial murders of dissidents). On the other hand, the conservatives always lacked a real determination to thoroughly crack down on government reformists even in the most opportune moments (like in their triumphant comeback after the protests following the 18th of Tir 1999*). Sure, they got bolder as Khatami kept losing his popularity, but even now that Khatami has squandered all his vast popularity, they are not so eager to let him resign. To me, it seems that this argument was more of an excuse used by Khatami to justify his lack of determination to bring about any genuine change to the power structure in the Islamic Republic than a real reason behind his inaction. For the conservatives, the threat of naked violence against the Reform was like their A-Bomb (in reality maybe just a regular bomb) that they used in their rhetoric to suppress dissent.

The fate of the Reform today is a result of Khatami's unwillingness to mobilise his popular support and engage in a struggle for change with the conservatives, more than an inevitable outcome of a disproportionate balance of power between the reformists and the conservatives. Today the conservatives no longer enjoy the popularity and legitimacy that they could once use (with violence unrivaled in Iranian history) to suffocate all political dissent in the 80's. The current deadlock in Iran is not caused by conservatives' insurmountable power but by the major reformists' lack of determination and the opposition's lack of any organization that can mobilise the population eager for change. Khatami has tried to convince us that we can only choose between violent change or his way. It seems like more and more of his (former?) supporters, from students like us to Dr. Soroush, refuse to buy into that claim.

It might be too late now, but maybe still, Khatami can seize one last opportunity to truly face the conservatives and start pushing for real reform, and to reclaim his lost popularity. Unfortunately, the evidence of recent years makes that seem like a highly optimistic expectation to me.

Finally, I have no doubt that, as Vahid suggested in a comment, conservatives are willing to pay any price they could, to stay in power — but only if they could!

* On July 9th 1999 (18th of Tir in the Persian calendar), the right wing militia Ansar-e-Hezbollah, assisted by official police forces, stormed a student dormitory in Tehran, violently beating and injuring the students, resulting in one official casualty. The following days witnessed huge student demonstrations unprecedented after the 1979 Revolution, in protest to the violent crackdown.

Yashar at July 25, 2003 08:25 PM [permalink]:

By the way, I liked that picture Kaveh. hehehe.
take back 'the city' with chasb-e-aquarium.

Yashar at July 26, 2003 02:18 AM [permalink]:

Please read my new comment on Iman's post on Persepolis and consider the good offer.

Mehrad at July 27, 2003 05:44 PM [permalink]:

What is eagerness? Who and where are these eager population? I don't think writing down a few names in a six year period would be something worth calling "eagerness". I do believe that Ganji,Hajjarian or a few others have took enough action to be angry of others'(Khatami?)inaction, but when it comes to the majority of Iranians, I can see no will to do something more than just nagging. As Hajjarian mentioned once, Khatami is the one who is paying most... It's now,I believe,up to us to pay and let others know they have to pay for the changes they want, that they should organize and mobilise instead of waiting to be organizzed or mobilised.

negar at July 27, 2003 06:16 PM [permalink]:

Reading "Mehrad's" point, I'm thinking to myself; how are we going to "mobilize"? or "organaize"? These words sound just too familiar to me. they make me think we keep moving in the same box, thinking in the same old way, without trying to change our approach.
Maybe it's just me being sensitive to those words, but I think instead of engaging in the old, admitedly unsuccessful, rhetoric, maybe it's time to consider other possibilites.
Maybe, after all, it's not only who is "conventially" stronger,if that is even true. In fact, I tend to agree with Yashar, somewhat about how it’s all maybe slightly overestimated. Maybe we do have powers we are unaware of. Realizing them and learning how to use them are what we need to put some thought into.

Am I being too idealistic?

Yashar at July 27, 2003 06:51 PM [permalink]:

Well, i dont think the likes of Pouyandeh, Mokhtari, Batebi, Ganji, Hajjarian and all the other imprisoned and tortured students, journalists, reporters and political activists have paid less than Khatami. These aren't just a few. People* show their eagerness to different degrees. They trusted Khatami and thought he could mold this eagerness into concrete political change. I think people are now frustrated with government reform and that makes you think they are not eager for change. And now they are slowly getting over the hangover of realising the impossibility of reform from within the government, which was their least costly choice ( like writing six names on a piece of paper), and are slowly, and unconscioucly even, moving toward methods more independent of the government which are more costly.

Yashar at July 27, 2003 07:39 PM [permalink]:

* i admit that when i say people want change or people are eager to...
the meaning of the term 'people' here is somehow vague. and although i'm not so anal and meticulous about such matters and think the above sentences have a fair amount of true meaning in them, i'm going to clarify that further. no two persons have the same needs, hopes and ideals for the society they live in. a fisherman might not assign as much priority to having a demcratic government as a freelance reporter. (i'm not assigning any value to that!) furthermore people usually put their shot-term personal needs and passions before their long-term plans for the society. some people have a more definite and concrete vision of what their ideal society is. some are more outspoken and vocal some are more abashed to express themselves. some risk more to attain their goals some dont. it's the overall WEIGHTED sum of all these voices and actions that determine the way society goes. i say weighted because i think different social groups have different degrees of effectiveness. students i believe are more important than shopkeepers say in determining which way we go. people living in larger cities are more important in that respect too. literate people i think are more effective now than illiterates (maybe i'm wrong but in less chaotic climates they are, i think) but all in all i think we can agree that the majority in Iran are eager for some form of change. you can see that in their 'nagging', ubiquitous and universal. What sort of change will be determined by what different social groups want and do and their respective weights.