Morphing a Theocracy

An alternative to those disillusioned by the breadth of poor political choices available


Morphing a Theocracy
by LalehGillani

There is election fever in the air, not in Iran but on The mounting excitement transmitted through a number of consecutive articles and a barrage of favorable comments has been contagious. Iran’s reform movement has been mobilized to silence the critics and downplay the significance of daunting issues.

The showdown, however, doesn’t appear to be between the opposing candidates from the conservative camp and the Reforms Front. Here, on, the face-off is between those seeking to rehabilitate the Islamic Republic of Iran and the political activists in quest of overthrowing the regime. After all, the prevalent fear amongst the reformists isn’t losing an election by large or small margins. Quite to the contrary! What keeps the reformists awake at night is the forfeiture of the underlying premise that a theocracy can be morphed into a democracy by gradual reforms imposed through theatrical elections.

The missing ingredients as advocated by the reform movement are patience and perseverance, but an ironclad commitment to the unconditional survival of the Islamic Republic of Iran is also evident. The benefits of such approach are explained to be multifaceted, the least of which is the peaceful transition of power from one camp to another.

Accordingly, after every election cycle, the fate of our nation is placed either in the hands of the hardliners or the reformists, resulting in revolving periods of death and destruction followed by relative redress and recovery. This solution, we are reminded, is preferable to the alternative: total death and destruction without periods of relief or, God forbid, contemplating a secular democracy without the mullahs.

Since the former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, in an article published on, pledged to safeguard and protect human life and dignity, his ability to uphold such a commitment based on past performances has been scrutinized. As a result, the reform movement is hampered by those disheartening bygone years as it struggles to thread its way through the current election. Amongst the controversial subjects brushed under the rug is a pair of inconvenient reminders that refuse to fade away: The leaders of the reform movement are not dissidents but rather government insiders whose career trail leads to the massacres of political prisoners in 1980’s while their financial interests are traceable to the daily looting of our national wealth.

Unable to address such issues, the reform movement has either downplayed the enormity of such crimes or simply asked the critics to comprehend the circumstances under which such crimes have occurred. Nonetheless, whether out of sheer incompetence, absolute helplessness, or blatant criminality, the reformist leaders have become a material liability for the movement.

To revitalize the public persona of its leaders, the reform movement has capitalized on Iran’s current state of affairs only to remind the nation that last time one of their own held the Office of the Presidency, the conditions were more tolerable and prosperous. Not surprisingly, after hailing Ayatollah Khatami’s era, the reformists are dumbfounded by any attempt to spoil his accomplishments or dispute his effectiveness. Although the historical conditions that necessitated the emergence of the reform movement in Iran are often overlooked, in the light of the current election, a rudimentary understanding of those years is long overdue.

In essence, there were two political and social circumstances that attributed to the rise of the reform movement in Iran: First, the mounting opposition and discontent with the regime amongst the upper and middle class Iranians became apparent to Shi'a intellectuals who feared for the future of Islam in Iran. Second, the brutality of the regime after the massacres of 1980’s and the chain killings of 1990’s left absolutely no room whatsoever for possible expressions of political dissent.

Consequently, any twinkle of opposition had to emerge from within the establishment to withstand mullahs’ wrath, to boast of any likelihood of survival, and finally to live to tell the tale. Once this phenomenon was born, political activists seized the opportunity to form NGOs and human rights organizations to combat the regime. As a result, the successful election of Mohammad Khatami to become the fifth president of Iran was not the cause but rather the effect of the reformists’ mobilization.

Another controversy plaguing the reform movement is the vetting process through which presidential candidates are permitted to enter the race. Deriving the selection criteria from Article 115 of Iran’s constitution, the Guardian Council hand-selects only candidates with “religious and political personalities” who have demonstrated their belief in “the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official religion of the country.” Simply put, with a single stroke of their pen, the members of Guardian Council eliminate all opposition candidates but retain “the faithful.” Believe it or not, even the reform movement is struggling to legitimize this mockery as an election but stops short of withdrawing from it.

Regardless of the upcoming election’s outcome on June 12, 2009, the reform movement remains to be a decisive force in reining the masses on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran and in shaping the regime’s chances of survival. As hardliners eye the Office of the Supreme Leader and consolidate the Faqih’s hold on the armed forces, Iran’s moderate Shi'a clergy is pushing the limits to test our nation’s resolve and thirst for fundamental, meaningful changes in economic, social, and political arenas. At the same time, the reformist leaders are assessing the tolerance of the hardliners with cautious overtures to share the levers of authority before it is too late. In other words, the reformist candidates are asking our nation to place one of them at the helms of power out of sheer desperation and utter apprehension of the alternatives.

Today, running on a reform agenda but hand in hand with the hardliners, the leaders of the reform movement, having benefited from the imprisonment and murder of political activists throughout the country, have apparently emerged as the only viable alternative to the merciless inquisitors of Tehran. Simultaneously, in league with their blood brethren, the reformist leaders have also looted the country lock, stock and barrel and pocketed the fruits of our labor while the populace is destitute and distraught.

Once again, Iranian political activists are outwitted to follow the mullahs’ lead. Once again, the nation is bamboozled into placing their fate and future in the hands of the Shi'a clergy. Once again, Iranians are told to choose between the bad and the ugly. Once again, we are gambling with our future and blindly settling for a change, any change.

Meanwhile, the temporary, lax and jubilant election environment has been seized by few political activists to form a coalition encompassing grassroots organizations that represent pro-democracy groups from all walks of life. The Solidarity for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran (SDHRI) has brought together organizations dedicated to the causes of women and workers while unifying secular movements such as the United Students Front, the Association of Liberal and Nationalist University Students, and Democratic Front of Iran. Additionally, our nation’s best and brightest legal scholars, human rights advocates, and seasoned patriots have joined forces to offer an alternative to those disillusioned by the breadth of poor political choices available.

The seed for this solidarity was planted by Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh in 1944, but the sapling was axed down long before it poked through the darkness. There, in obscurity, it lay dormant, spreading its roots silently but determinedly. Sixty five years later, after the failure of all flavors of Islam in Iran and after the collapse of all communist organizations, our path has taken us full circle to that seed, to that sapling, to that dream.

It is due time to nurture this sapling with light and guard it with our blood…

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Dr. Masoud Kazemzadeh for his informative and timely article: "Prospects and Obstacles: Solidarity for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran"


more from LalehGillani

Fish Here

by Sassan (not verified) on

Nice trick, buddy! First you level a cosmetic attack against the mullahs ("ruthless IRI"), then you go on and embrace their cause by advocating the sham "elections" which will only further the policies of the "ruthless IRI."

Something stinks here and it ain't the little gold fish! You try to make it look like you're not one of them ("ruthless IRI"), and yet, you promote their twisted agenda (=sham "elections").


And by the way, there is no "growing rift between Iranians inside and outside Iran." Are you really sure you're not one of the aforementioned loyal employees of the state of IRI?

If anything, there is a UNIVERSAL DISDAIN for the akhund establishment amongst Iranians in-and-out of Iran (if you don't include the fringe leftist parasites and the super minority hezbollahi crowd).

Again, well done, Ms. Gillani!

مسعود از امریکا

لاله جان

مسعود از امریکا

انتخابـات ازاد یا خیمـه شـب بـازی - سوال واقعا همین است ... مرسی!



Fish Here

Out of touch

by Fish Here on

Sorry to burst your bubble just as you seem to be settling in to enjoy your mutual admiration society with Massoud Kazemzadeh.

You are so naive to think that it makes no difference who wins the elections in Iran--an indication of the type of mentality so many Iranians outside Iran have developed in their vacuum of hate and disdain for IRI.

As much as they hold contempt for Iranian rulers and the ruthless IRI, Iranians inside Iran know the difference between their standards of life when Hashemi, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad were presidents of Iran respectively.  They will vote because they are serious about the elections. 

Mocking them and ridiculing their choices and hardships are precisely what has created and maintained a growing rift between Iranians inside and outside Iran.  It seems being out of touch is a continuing dilemma with so many people.  I can understand the aging and almost decrepit organization Massoud Kazemzadeh supports and represents.  What's your excuse Ms. Gillani? 

Masoud Kazemzadeh

ghiyas-e maal-faregh [false analogy]

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on


The 2000 election in the U.S. is a false analogy for the pseudo-election in Iran. First and foremost, the U.S. Constitution is widely regarded as legitimate.  In Iran, a small fanatic fascistic minority has all the power and is brutalizing the majority of the Iranian people. There is no freedom of expression, no free and democratic election in Iran.

Therefore, we Iranians are engaged in the more urgent task of establishing a democratic system in Iran. OUR first priority is the establishment of a system that is free and democratic. Thus, the various members of the fascistic fanatic terrorist regime that is oppressing and repressing and brutalizing the Iranian people is of little significant to us.

BOTH Ahmadinejad and Moussavi want to prolong the nezam valayat faghih. Therefore, they BOTH are opposed to the goal of those Iranians who want freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law democratically promulgated. Moussavi’s goal is to prolong the nezam velayat faghih. Our goal is to replace the nezam velayat faghih with democracy. 

In the U.S. election in 2000, they were not concerned with fundamental questions. The American people could vote for a conservative or a liberal. Voting for the leftist harmed the liberal. In the pseudo-election in Iran, our primacy goal is ending the ruling dictatorship and instead establishing a democratic republic whereby the Iranian people would be able to vote for whomever they so desired while the rights of those in minority would be protected. Because we are involved in a politics that is struggling over basic rights, our primary concern is different and opposed to those who are oppressing and brutalizing us. The question among nezam candidates is "how best to protect the interest of the nezam velayat faghih?" Moussavi thinks that his method is better in prolonging the rule of nezam velayat faghih than the policies of Ahmadinejad.

OUR concern is NOT whether this fundamentalist dictator or that fundamentalist dictator should be supported. We do NOT support either fundamentalist dictator. We want democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law democratically promulgated.




Mr. Kazemzadeh

by Sassan (not verified) on

Well said, sir!

And I also want to thank you for the recent superb article you wrote regarding the formation of the Solidarity coalition. It was a very well written and hopeful piece! And you are right, a lot of the "resident" IRI apologists on seem to be on the the IRI payroll -- in that, no one, no one other than a loyal employee of the state could submit favorable posts vis-a-vis the brutal mullacracy.

Only those with a vested economic interest (or an absolute case of ignorance or moral depravity or both) could actually side with the massively corrupt and violent theocracy. And every time one of these jokers gets cornered on the issues, they reflexively turn their hollow fury to America or Israel as their pre-programmed targets for ultimate blame.

It's almost as if the IRI apologists have been trained, i.e., if you have no leg to stand on, play the Israel or America card, that's sure to fabricate an emotional response amongst the historically aggrieved Iranian community.

Again, well done!


Dear Laleh


I would like to share with you a thought or two, that perhaps would serve as a source of encouragement, yet not in a close and immediate future.

I do not see the fate of our Beloved Iran that much different from what happened to the Soviet Union. As you may remember, from the birth of the Soviet Union in 1917, to its demise in the late 80's, there was one critical thing that enabled its disintegration: The dying away of the revolutionry generation.

Let me elaborate to you what I  mean: The leaders of the Soviet Union, from Lenin, to Stalin, to Khrushchev, to Brezhnev, and finally to Andropov and Chernenko , were all born prior to the 1917 Revolution. As a matter of fact, they were all in their late teens, twenties, and older when the revolution occurred.

However, Mikhail Gorbachev was born a dozen or so years after the 1917 Revolution. He had absolutely no memory of the Tsarist Russia, and had only seen life under Communism.

What I am trying to say to you is this: In Soviet Union, change only came about after the Revolutionary Leaders died away. Mikhail Gorbached was detached from all the nonsense of the Pre-Revolutionary Russia, and attempted to bring about serious and real reform, which ultimately led to the collapse of Communism.

In Iran, things are very similar in many ways to the Soviet Union prior to its collapse: Massive Discontent of the People; Political Repression; etc., etc. There is also one other factor which plays a significant role here; almost 2/3 of the Iranian people are under 30 years old. That means, they have absolutely no memory of the Shah, or Savak.

I believe that once this revolutionary generation dies away, just as it happened with the Soviet Union, and the new generation of Iranians, born after the 1979 revolution, come to power, then that will ultimately lead to the Collapse of the Islamic Republic (Its Implosion), just as it happened in the Soviet Union.

You have to understand one thing: If you travel to Iran right now, you would see that this young generation, born after the 1979 revolution, by and large are sick and tired of all the Political Repression, and the interference of the Islamic Regime in all areas of their lives. Furthermore, both from the Internet and by other means, this young generation is fully aware of the freedoms that exist in all other parts of the world, especially in secular countries.

As I have indicated before, there is no question in my mind that this Islamic Regime will ultimately IMPLODE FROM WITHIN, just as Communism did in the Soviet Union. Neveretheless, this may take another 20 to 25 years.

Thank you for a well written article - Best Of Luck To You :)



Masoud Kazemzadeh

Wow. This is an excellent article.

by Masoud Kazemzadeh on

Dear Ms. Gillani,

Wow. This is an excellent article. Thank YOU so very much.

This is one of the best analyses I have seen on the situation in Iran and by far the best analysis on the debates on

Your observation is correct that on the two opposing camps are between those supporting the reformist faction of the fundamentalist oligarchy (what I call fundamentalist lite, same taste less calories) and the opposition (especially the democratic opposition). We do not see this in Iran because of repression. Only brave activists are willing to place their lives, liberties and jobs on the line. And they have no access to mass media. Mass media is the monopoly of various factions of the fundamentalists.

Several years ago, there was a poll among Amir Kabir University students. The result was that 6% supported hard-liners, 4% supported the reformists, 5% supported monarchy, and 85% supported democratic secular republic. It was after that poll that Daftari Tahkim Vahdat began moving away from the regime in a discernable and major way.

In his study of the 1st Majles after the revolution, Ervand Abrahamian noticed that the total vote of the fundamentalists was 35%; while the other votes went for Bani Sadr’s supporters, Mehdi Bazaragan’s NA, JM, and those votes that went to PMOI and others. 1980 was the HIGHEST point of the popularity of Khomeini and the fundamentalist regime. In other words, fundamentalist have never had the support of the majority.

According to Mehdi Bazargan the support of Khomeini and fundamentalist declined to about 5% of the population by late 1980s.

Rafsanjani said a few years ago, that if the regime could get up to 15% of the population, then they could remain in power.

In sum, the regime support base constitute a small minority. This is the reason why they can ONLY remain in power by using massive violent and repression. This is the reason they fear free and democratic elections. This is why they provide free food and products during marches and events to bring in people. Reformists now complain about free potatoes and money although they never complain that the regimes does the same to bring in crowds with free food and stuff for its events. Because there is no freedom of expression and free elections in Iran, the regime tries to project an image of popular support via mobilization in rallies and the votes in pseudo-elections.

Because of the rentier nature of the Iranian state (the state can get billions and billions of dollars from oil and natural gas sales, thus it could rule dictatorially without the consent of the people), the fundamentalists who are clearly in a minority can continue to rule.

Lets say for the sake of argument that only 15% of the population voted. Would the regime dare to tell the TRUTH??????? Of course not. They would lie on this as they lie on sooooooooo many other things.

In conclusion, your observation in this brilliant article on the main lines of debate on is correct. It is also instructive: if there were freedom of expression and freedom of the press inside Iran, we would have observed inside Iran what we observe on The primary difference being freedom of expression that exists on and its lack inside Iran.



Your analysis also points to the fragility of the fundamentalist regime. After 30 brutal bloody years, the fundamentalist regime has not succeeded in stabilizing its rule. It continues to suffer from lack of legitimacy. The reformist charade has failed totally. The debates on this site have clearly demonstrated this utter and complete political, ideological and ethical collapse of the regime. No one could present an argument that this regime is good and wonderful for the Iranian people. The absolute political and ideological collapse of a regime is on display when its supporters could not with a straight face say that nezam velayat faghih is the best system for the people of Iran. Instead, they argue that Moussavi is bad, but not as terrible as Ahmadinejad. In other words, no one, even using a fake name, is making the argument that this regime or any of the 4 candidates is good for Iran. Considering the fact that the regime is extremely sensitive about its image and engages in propaganda, it would be safe to assume that they have paid agents of the regime post here. Not even these agents could make the case for that the regime is good without being so ridiculous that others would laugh at them. One or two posters began saying positive remarks on Ahmadinejad; it is most interesting that they are now almost completely silent.

The debates on in the past month have amply demonstrated the complete collapse of the side promoting the fundamentalist regime. We owe this to so many wonderful posters who have contributed their precious time here countering the arguments which supports the regime.

Again, thank you so very much for your superb contribution.

Highest regards,




Wonderful Article!

by Sassan (not verified) on

You hit the nail SQUARELY on the head, Laleh Gillani!!! Don't listen to the resident IRI stooges, who, from sheer desperation and immorality, pretend that this "election" matters.


And, Q, DEEP DOWN, you KNOW that this "election" is a sham show, and you KNOW there is no "real" and "tangible" difference between Khatami and Ahmadinejad, lest we forget the defenseless students being thrown off 3rd floor balconies in 1999 (UNDER MULLAH KHATAMI'S WATCH), lest we forget the string of intellectuals that were murdered in their beds (UNDER MULLAH KHATAMI'S WATCH), lest we forget that the nuclear race toward deterence accelerated UNDER MULLAH KHATAMI'S WATCH (until the mullahs got super scared of Bush in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's destruction in 2003 and suspended enrichement), etc, etc.

There is absolutely no "real" difference who gets "elected" in the Islamic Republic, because at the end of the day, we will still have a morally bankrupt theorcracy in Iran with corrupt mullahs in charge. Oh, I forgot, Mullah Khatami did allow women to roll back their head scarfs a few inches, so there is "some" difference between "bad and ugly" under the system of Velayat-e-Faghigh.



What a joke of an article.

by Arash78 (not verified) on

What a joke of an article.

ps: Khatami is not an "ayatollah"


You know, I didn't believe Ralph Nader either

by Q on

when he said "there's no difference between George Bush and Al Gore, it's all the same system."

Those who believed that were fooled. Those who kept saying "Khatami is not different" were proven wrong after 8 years of Ahmadinejad. Finally, those whose only criteria for change is a new revolution are completely indifferent to the will and stuggles of people living in Iran.

Interesting how you say this:

There is election fever in the air, not in Iran but on

Because all your pictures are from Iran, not "".