Iran’s “Green Wave” received much international interest and support, both with the Iranian diasporas and the international community. Even certain foreign politicians, like the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the head of European foreign policy Javier Solana, showed their support to the Iranian people and condemned their oppressive regime.
The interesting and different characteristic of this green movement is that it is not limited to a certain political group or a part of the population. It consists of Iranian people from different social, economic, educational, religious and political backgrounds. This characteristic could imply that it is a national movement that has a broad legitimacy within the population of the country.
Activists of the green movement in general demand respect for their civil rights. This demand is mainly the immediate demand of the middle class. In Iran, this demand is a struggle for individual and social rights and freedoms and civil equality. This struggle is one that has been carried out in most countries by the modern middle class.
The driving force of the Green Wave too mainly consists of the modern urban middle class. But the heavy price of this civil struggle, is being paid by the various layers of the middle class. Implicitly, the demand of the Green Wave expresses the need for a more democratic regime in which the basic human rights of the people are protected, in which there is a rule of law, in which their voice can be heard and their relation with the international community can improve. In the core of their call one can hear a call for democracy.
As we move further in the timeline after the rigged presidential elections and consider the demonstrations of the Green Wave we can even see that the people on the street demand more change than their “leaders” would be willing to provide. This gap of political ideals between the “leaders” of the Green Wave and the people on the streets is widening further and further.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi, the presidential candidates that lost the battle, would never have accepted the demands of the people once they would have been elected. These two ex-presidential candidates would have wanted to return the internal state of the country back to the basic principles of the Islamic revolution as it was in the time of ayatollah Khomeini. According to Mehdi Khalaji in “Foreign Policy” “If you want to know the unconventional nature of this movement -- and what the people who have bravely taken to the streets really want - don't listen to Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami.”
One of the interesting aspects in the development of this green movement in Iran is the question which kind of democracy would eventually best fit the need and desire of the Iranian people. In this question concepts as culture and political attitude should be considered. A democratic regime would only be possible after a regime change, since the system of the current regime does not allow processes of democratization. With a Guardian Council that can veto any bill of the majlis (parliament), the representation of the people has no true power or ability to change law in a reformatory manner. The system in which the highest religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the leader of the country and can veto any decision that politician institutions make is called the ‘velayate faqih’ and is undemocratic and unable to alter.
A new democratic regime in Iran would have to answer to the call for freedom of the Iranian people, but should also fit the political culture and receptiveness of the country in order to be able endure. Examples of “imported” models of democracy have not shown much success in the past. Especially in the Middle East region, like the case of Iraq.
Iranian identity and national cultureWhen considering Iran’s political history, one has to include notions of a self image and its cultural values. However difficult to enhance general presumption about a nation, it is necessary to be able to define a national character in order to design a democratic model that fits its character.To begin with, there is a constant tension visible in Iran between its Persian and Islamic identity.
Another dimension to this conflicting self-image is the present tension between its national superiority and subjugation. The Iranian identity projects a certain superiority towards the Arab neighbors and a pride about its Islamic imperial past. There is a sense of pride towards their ‘Aryan’ race, while at the same time there is a sense of humiliation of one being conquered, and humiliated by external forces. Keeping this in mind, one has to consider a model of democracy that provides a special place within civil society in which they can enhance their Islamic beliefs and both allow growing space for their national pride and imperial past.
Secondly, there is a particular relation Iranians have with the West. On the one hand they have a deep respect and admiration for the development in the West in the field of science and art, but on the other hand they have a sense of being victimized or sidelined by that same culture. Their liking of Western culture has even triggered certain nationalist Iranian intellectuals to revolt against the “Westoxication” of Iranian culture. Therefore, a democratic model that would best fit Iranian political culture should be one that is based on best practices in non-Western countries, allowing the Iranians to feel that it is one they designed themselves, using symbols and attributes of their of culture.
Thirdly, there is also a tendency to enhance conspiracy theories in which they imagine devious coalitions of enemies and foreign powers against them. Therefore, any external influence in Iran’s new democratic model should be prevented.
Additionally Iranian modern culture can be characterized by its individualism. This however does not mean that they are socially detached. Aside by individualistic, Iranians are known to have institutions outside their family which they trust and feel connected to. Within this ‘circle’ there is a case of ‘party-bazi’ (protectionism) and ravabet (connections). In society this has resulted in corruption and nepotism. Knowing this, it becomes extremely important to introduce a model of democracy that would not create opportunities in which people would be tempted to act corruptly. This could for example have its implications in voting procedures.
Political and social occurrences and their effect on Iran’s political attitudeIran has a vast history one could study in order to have a notion of its political attitude. But since this paper’s research question is focused on current and future Iran, only the post-Islamic revolution period will be considered; the period 1990 until now, to be exact. Over 30 percent of Iranians are between the ages of 15 and 29, and 60 percent are under the age of 30. They are predominantly the ones whose political attitude has to be considered in this research, since they are the ones who will have to be able to give their support to a new democratic regime.
Studying Iran’s timeline of political history, one notices certain highlights that have been decisive in shaping its national identity and attitude towards politics, government and civil society. The first occurrence that shaped Iran’s current political attitude that could have effect on its attitude towards a democratic regime is Mohammad Khatami’s landslide victory in the 1997 presidential election. He won with 70% of the vote, beating the conservative ruling elite. Khatami won the election thanks to his campaign in which he promised to implement social reforms, giving more individual freedom, which charmed the young generation; promote the rule of law; create a civil society and promote a dialogue of civilizations.
In 2001, however 60 reformist parliamentarians were brought to court for their views. The president was unable to defend them, in contrast to what he had promised the people. In 2002, another 17 parliamentarians were brought to court on charges of liberalism. One of the parliamentarians was sentenced to 40 lashes, one was arrested, and another was fired. This was the end of Khatami's credibility inside Iran. His supporters began accusing him of having deceived them. This course of events proved two things: firstly, that the parliament is not able to answer to the will of the people, since any form of reform that could even mildly endanger the core values of the Islamic republic, will not be tolerated.
Secondly, it proved that the role of the president was overestimated when considering change. However, the fact that the young generation was willing to go out and vote for Khatami in the first place, proves a major sense of political responsibility and participation. A democratic system, in which the political participation of the people is taken seriously is suitable in today’s Iran. Another lesson of Khatami’s disappointing political outcome is that a democratic system in Iran should have an embedded mechanisms of accountability.
The second aspect that influenced Iran’s current political attitude is the continuation of major censorship in all layers of political and social life in Iran. An example is the closing down of numerous newspapers after publishing news that authorities considered dangerous to national safety or an insult or threat to the values of the Islamic Republic. A more extreme example is the imprisonment of thousands of political activists who in any way promote a different political ideology than that of the Islamic Republic. Despite the massive censorship, Iranians find creative ways to express their own idea’s.
Iranians are vastly represented on the internet, making Persian the 28th most used language online and the second most used language in the blogsphere. Through weblogs Iranians express their idea’s anonymously. Through online forums and news websites they share information on political occurrences, which otherwise would not be reported through official channels of communication. The fact that Iranians, in reaction to censorship, go ‘underground’ and use various (online) platforms massively shows a strong sense of participation and political and social awareness. Their will to express their individual voice proves a need for plurality and having something to choose. Therefore a multiparty model of democracy would best fit the Iranian political and social awareness.
This awareness and participation is also visible in the civil society, like the women’s, students and human rights movement. Therefore Iran’s ideal model of democracy should also be able to give an active participatory role to groups in civil society. This model of democracy should of course also protect all the human rights, basic civil, social and political rights all its citizens.
The Green Wave
As a response to the rigged presidential elections in Iran, thousands of Iranians from all walks of life went into the streets and a spontaneous demonstration took place. Entire streets were filled with people carrying the color green, being the symbolic color of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. These demonstrations continued for days and was brutally struck down by the authorities, which lead to many protests around the world. The live murder of a young girl, Neda, in front of the camera of a mobile phone, became the symbol of the uprising and the inhuman way the authorities handled this.
At first the demonstrators chanted “where’s my vote?” in protest to their stolen vote. But when days went by and violence against the protestors, initiated by the Basij and riot police, the tone of the chants altered. They then chanted “marg bar dictator!” meaning “death to dictator!” Before this change of chants, the supreme leader Khamenei had threatened the protestors in one of his speeches and chose the side of the new president, Mahmood Ahmadinejad. This enraged the demonstrators even more and was made them turn their disappointment to him and the entire system of the current regime.
As a response to the demonstrations the guardian council marked the president candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi and their greatest supporter, ex-president Khatami as traitors and demanded treason trials. Since the Green Wave is a popular movement without a strong leader figure to define their concrete demands and wishes, it is difficult to make a clear analysis of the direction of their political and social interests. Only their chants can be taken into account. As mentioned earlier, these chants have changed along its timeline.
What began as a protest movement against the rigged presidential elections became a general protests against the supreme leader and his regime. After the June demonstrations the protests were silenced, many protesters were imprisoned without a fair trial; many were tortured and raped in Kahrizak prison, among other prisons. And yet the Green Wave has not given up its protest. During the 2009 Shi’ite commemoration of Ashura, the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet, in 680 CE. Each year there is a government organized event in all cities in which everyone is welcomed to participate in order to mourn the death of Hussein.
This year, authorities had forbidden the large gatherings for the commemoration, out of fear of another protest of the people. On 26 and 27 December people again went into the streets, at first in order to commemorate, not only the martyrdom of Hussein, but also of all those who had died in this year’s demonstrations. When the Basij started attacking the protestors, people hit back and started chanting even more extreme chants compared to last June, like: “death to Khamenei and his regime!” The violence against the protestors grew and again many were injured and killed, including the nephew of Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
Listening to the chants of the people supporting the Green Wave, one can hear an increase of dismay against the dictatorial character of the current regime. A revolt against a dictatorial regime implies a need and interest in a democratic regime that allows the people to have a say in the way the country is governed. A deeper lying need is that of a rule of law, which make remove all kind of arbitrary law that is characteristic of the current Islamic law that is in power.
The apartheid regime that the current regime holds against the women is as well one side of the Islamic law and its interpretations that causes much protest among the Green Wave women who stand at the frontlines of the movement and want equal rights, respect of their human and social rights. In this plea for equal rights, within the context of a model of democracy, there should be a protection of the people against the governors and protection against each other in order to “ensure that those who govern pursue policies that are commensurate with citizens’ interests as a whole”.
A fitting model of democracy When we take the chants of the Green Wave as a representation of the needs and wishes of the majority of the Iranian people, we see that there is a strong need for another regime, a respect of social and human rights and equality of all Iranians. A rule of law should be the base on which this is founded. The ideal model of democracy for Iran should consist of the following aspects, considering the political attitude and cultural acceptance of the Iranian people:
- Within civil society there should be room for both Islamic beliefs and national pride and respect of Iran’s imperial past;
- Best practices of democratization in non-Western countries should be applied, allowing a cultural acceptance by the Iranians by using symbols and attributes of the Iranian culture;
- Any external influence in Iran’s new democratic model should be prevented;
- The model should prevent any opportunity in which people would be tempted to act corruptly. This could for example have its implications in voting procedures;
- Political participation of the people should be taken seriously;-There should be an embedded mechanisms of accountability in the system;- The model should also be able to give an active participatory role to groups in civil society;
- The model should guarantee all human rights, basic civil rights, social and political rights of all the citizens;
- The model should be based on the rule of law, which will remove all kind of arbitrary law that is characteristic of the current Islamic law;
- Equality of all citizens should be guaranteed;
- The model should protect people against the governors and against each other in order to “ensure that those who govern pursue policies that are commensurate with citizens’ interests as a whole”.
All these “ingredients” for a fitting model of democracy for Iran can be found in different existing classic models, but the model which fits best is that of a protective democracy. The key features of a protective democracy is that
a) There is a sovereignty of the people: this is vested in representatives who can exercise state functions;
b) In electoral procedures there is a secret ballot, a clear and independent competition between factions. Majority rule is the basis for achieving accountability;
c) State power is not related to persons and is divided between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
d) A constitution is in a central position in order to prevent arbitrary treatment in law. This could be guaranteed by implementing law based on the protection of human rights, civil rights, including rights in the field of freedom of speech, expression, association, voting and belief.
e) In a protective democracy there is a separation between civil society and state;f) Citizens are protected from risks of violence, anti-social behavior or unwanted political interference.
This model of protective democracy fits the social needs and political and cultural acceptance of the Iranian people. When implementing this model, it is important to have a constitution that allows all above mentioned features, like the separation of persons of state power and the separation of civil society and state.
This classic model of protective democracy is one which does not have a recognizable “Western” character. It is one which allows a balanced and lawful society to be created in which all citizens know what they can expect from their authorities and to which extent they can act as citizens in order to influence the governing of their state. This is a characteristic which is very much needed in today’s Iran. The matter of equality and protection of human, civil and political rights too is a characteristic of this model that fits the need of Iran’s people.
The fact that there is a separation between civil society and the state allows the existing groups in civil society, including religious and cultural groups to exist as another group within civil society as an advisory group to the representation of the people in the parliament. This characteristic of the protective democracy will cause a clear separation between religion and state, which until now were intertwined in Iran. This in itself will solve a major problem of the people, namely the inequality in law, censorship and discrimination of other religious groups.
In a nutshell this classic model is an ideal model to implement in today’s Iran and it would offer the kind of state system that the current Green Wave demands.
To conclude, the classic model of protective democracy would best fit the need of the people of Iran when listening to the demands of the current Green Wave, which has initiated an uprising in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The theocracy which currency exists in Iran, with Ali Khamenei as the supreme leader is a system that no longer answers to the needs of its people. Iran’s people are calling for a democracy.
According to their political history, their social needs and cultural acceptance the model of a protective democracy is one which best fits the Iranian society as an alternative to its current regime. The characteristics of a protective democracy are those that allow a separation of religion of the state, provide a rule of law based on human, civil and political rights, which is demanded by a large amount of Iran’s population.
And finally, the model of a protective democracy demands a constitution on which all the above mentioned characteristics could be based on. When such a model of democracy could be implemented in Iran, its civil society could have an advisory role to the parliament, through which existing groups could continue their lobby for the improvement of the position and a protection of their interests. This would answer to the call of Iran’s people who ask for equality in law protection against other citizens.
The most important aspect of such a model of democracy is, however, its acceptance by the people. Looking at today’s Iran, the vast demonstrations of the Green Wave and the active women rights and human rights movement from within the country, one has to conclude that there should be a major basis for acceptance of this model of protective democracy.
Afshari, A. & Underwood, H.G.,2009. Iran in Ferment: The Green Wave. Journal of Democracy, 20 (4), pp.6-10.
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- Rabble. Ca. 2009. Iran’s Political System. (Accessed 29 December 2009)
- Open Democracy. 2009. Democracy for Export: Principles, practicesand lessons. (Accessed 29 December 2009)
- Bar, S. 2004. Iran: CulturalValues, Self images and Negotiation Behavior. In IPS (Institute for Policy andStrategy) 5th Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security. Tel Aviv, Israel13-16 December 2004.
- BBC. 2009. Timeline: Iran. (Accessed 29 December 2009)
- Times. 2005. Too early for a Tehran Spring. (Accessed 29 December 2009)
- The Huffington Post. 2009. Iranian Girl Shot: NedaBecomes Symbol of Rebellion in Iran. (Accessed 30 December 2009)
- Afshari, A. & Underwood,H.G., 2009. Iran in Ferment: The Green Wave. Journal of Democracy, 20 (4), pp.6-10
- The Huffington Post. 2009. Kahrizak Prison,Holding Iranian Protestors, Ordered Closed After Abuses. (Accessed 30 December 2009)
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