To resign or not to resign
That moment has arrived for the Iranian reformers
June 14, 2003
That is the question gnawing at the reformers
of Iran, today more than anytime in their six year tenure. Iran's
regional and international isolation and the extreme proximity
of the business
end of the Great Satan have increased the stakes of the resignation
Reformers have warned (most recently in an open letter
signed by 137 MPs) that a semblance of legitimacy is the only prophylactic
against American intervention. And yet, the hardliners continue
to treat the threats of resignation as a game of chicken. They
appear to dare the reform to go ahead and make their day, damn
the resulting American "occuberation" (occupation +
It may be too late for the reformers to extract real
concessions with a credible show of will to resign. But such a
will never existed because the concept of resignation as a moral
and practical act has not been worked out in Iran's emerging political
culture. The reformists feel pinned. Resigning may appear as dereliction
of duty while staying on continues to cast them as the fall guy
in a political charade.
There is no doubt that the hardliners are playing hard ball.
The unrelenting waves of rightwing revenge that have whipped the
ship of reform for the past five years are once more gathering
as a squall of new aggression by the goons of the Hizbullah.
the noose of the rightwing judiciary continues to choke the life
out of the reformist students and intellectuals. The Guardian Council
has once more humiliated President Khatami and the parliament by
rejecting their twin bills aimed at reclaiming a measure of political
authority for the elected institutions of the parliament and the
The bill will be returned to the parliament and a watered
downed version of it will probably pass the Guardian Council just
in time to do next to no good for an outgoing reformist parliament
and president. The strategic merits of mass resignation aside,
the reformers will do well to seriously ponder the legitimacy and
feasibility of political resignation as an integral part of any
democratic social order.
Politics is a bid to participate in the acquisition of power
for the purpose of implementing an ideal. As ideals are not always
attainable in their entirety a responsible politician might have
to compromise in order to gradually approach his or her goal.
might be a dirty word in the parlance of logicians and moralists
but it must not be considered as such in the world of responsible
politics. An uncompromising artist is in all likelihood a good
artist but an uncompromising politician is nothing but a fanatic.
However, compromise is only a means for achieving a political goal.
search for power, compromise is never legitimate in itself or as
means to private ends. Once a politician's axial ideals
have been compromised there remains no room for compromise. Once
hope for attaining or approaching the ideal is lost both compromise
and search for power must cease. Thus, resignation is of the essence
of democratic political ethics.
A political system devoid of resignations
must be viewed with suspicion. Whatever one might think of the
American political system, its last quarter of century displays
an impressive register of politicians who have resigned rather
than sign their name to policies that contradicted their ideals.
list starts with Cyrus Vance the American Secretary of State
who left his post in the wake of the operations to rescue the hostages
from Iran to John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat who resigned
in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. There is a good project
a graduate student who might correlate the number of resignations
in various countries of the Middle East with the maturity of
their democratic culture.
Of course, it will not do to exhort others to abandon their livelihood
on idealistic grounds. One must not start with the assumption
that politicians are or must be tragic heroes or saints. Hence,
discussion of resignation must have a practical component.
In the age of mass democracies politicians are no longer recruited
the ranks of the independently wealthy.
As modern politicians
might face the moral obligation to resign at any time, they
and psychologically prepared for a plan B in their lives.
They must emerge into politics from a suspended profession (in
law, journalism, education etc.) and possess a will to leave
the glories of public office for a humble but honest living.
German sociologist Max Weber argued that politicians must live
and not "off" politics. This means that, although they
rely on their income as politicians while in office, they
must be willing and able to end their political life as soon
as they realize that they can no longer attain or approach their
I believe that with the rejection of the twin bills by
of Guardians that moment arrived for the Iranian reformers.
The ongoing spontaneous combustion of Tehran's streets as
this article goes to press is another sign demonstrating the
hopelessness of the cause of political reform.
* "Occuliberation": Coined by a witty observer of
Middle Eastern politics, Mr. Majid Mohammadi.
Ahmad Sadri, is the Professor and Chairman
of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest
College, IL, USA. See
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