The heated debate arising from the recent contribution of Hossein Derakhshan can be considered a wake-up call for those who still try to apply post-23 of May Frameworks to the realities of politics in Iran. The present inquiry would present that the controversy over Derakhshan's analysis is closely related to his "perception" of "reality" and his proposed way of "dealing with it". His vision to achieve a strong Iran is premised upon the inevitability of a conservative take-over of the Executive and Legislative branches. Accordingly, it is better to embrace "Neo-Conservatives" since inevitably "Some Conservatives" are posed to win anyways, and "hope" they, whom Derakhshan poorly define their new-conservative brand, will save Iran. That is why his question is: "Can Neo-Conservatives save Iran?" However, if the basic premise of a vision for a strong Iran would be based upon democratization and achievement of a responsible government, perhaps, the question would be presented differently: "How Iran can be saved?" rather than "Can Neo-Conservatives save Iran?"
The question of "How Iran can be saved?" is directly connected to two questions. How the dynamics of the Conservatives' hegemony preservation have worked and how such methods should be confronted?
Two major hegemony preservations strategies used throughout the past fifteen years are of note: development of "constantly adjusting survivalist patterns", and taking advantage of "renewing high-expectations and new-expectations promoting schemes".
From the second year of Khatami’s first administration, a new pattern of confrontation and control began to emerge. Keeping the leadership of the reform movement hostage, through the arrest of the major troublemakers, many of them former allies of the present leadership in the early stages of the Islamic Republic themselves, caused the reformist movement irretrievable damages in strategy development and mobilization.
Civil disobedience never became a strong and fundamental strategy of the reformists and they invested much of their hope in being able to reform the government through elections and capturing the seat of government. The grassroots' tier of the democratization, the student movement, was thus never used as a pressure tool to demand constitutional reforms. In fact, the reformists remained throughout hopeful that playing by the rules of the game will score them more popular support and the rationalization of the process will cause divisions in the ranks of the conservatives. They have been so far proven to be wrong on both counts.
First, as reforming the government received much resistance from the institutions controlled by the Conservatives, mainly the Judiciary and the Guardian Council, popular support for the reform plunged. People's frustration became quite evident as the low voter turnout won the Conservatives a landslide victory in the latest local municipality elections. Second, the resolve of the conservatives has been strengthened to put a more legitimate face on their politics by posing to win with a landslide, and perhaps a very low turnout, in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in the next two years.
The wheel of the reform is already being rolled back and this should be a cause for concern as corrupt patterns of administration, rentiering practices in governance, and legitimized repression will exponentially increase as each day passes, i.e. tightening the Conservatives' grip further and further.
Civil disobedience, active through demonstration or passive through boycotting is just one tactic in the grand scheme of a much needed strategy for resistance against an ever unfolding pattern of lack of peace, order, and good governance.
The flaw in Derakhshan’s analysis is that he attempts to keep his poorly defined "neo-conservative" politics variable constant from other conservatives. His analysis is at best a victim of wishful thinking for a change of heart amongst those who used to be regarded as hard-liners. If conservatives (or the new ones) were conservative enough according to the Western definitions, as opposed to adventurist and revolutionary, Iran had already started the path of development through, for example, establishing "full" diplomatic relationship with the US; a process that took the Communist China almost ten years to complete without needing to fundamentally change its power apparatus.
Here, the New-Conservative alternative, which can be either proposed by Laridjani or even possibly by the former Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Rezai, as possible Presidential candidates, accords with another survival scheme developed by the regime. This scheme is what I have alluded to in the above as Renewing High-Expectations/New-Expectations Promoting Schemes. People are encouraged to lend their hope to yet another "change of guard", this time however to no avail. After the bankruptcy of the Reform enterprise, it is highly unlikely that the New-Conservatives' promises can be substantial enough and/or have the capacity of being translatable to any further opening of the public space.
In fact, their agenda has been always the reverse. From the economic perspective, their most viable economic schemes may receive the blessing of those who once ran on a platform of "Development through Commerce" and have the latter introduced in a new disguise. The Neo-Conservatives will not be able to remain aloof to the pressures of the "supremely" supported hard-line vigilantes (Dehnamaki-AllahKaram faction). This group, supported by other hard-line factions, i.e. Askar Oladi Group inc., indeed would like to see further crackdown on the freedoms achieved under Khatami; the long list of issues that the vigilante hard liners would like to see restored to pre-23 May 1997 include: scaling up censorship on artistic endeavors in filmmaking and theatre, authorship and journalism, as well as private engagements such as mixed male-female wedding celebrations. The list also includes scaling up screening the process of selection of professionals for any position in governmental organizations. A new pattern of migration of the intellectuals, technocrats, artists, and educated youth is naturally expected to develop.
Viewed from such a perspective, the hope for a sustainable development scheme for Iran under the conservatives does not offer a picture that would be very different from the one they already presented in the pre-Khatami era. Now, the question is whether those who are committed to the realization of political freedoms, a transparent and accountable system of government for all Iranians (an inclusive concept as per all Iranians inside and outside Iran regardless of their political orientation), can form a united front for the salvation of the Iranian state.
The question now, is not just courage, which is necessary; the question is the existence of resolve for collective action.