The Iranian Elections

June 18, 2009

 I have always been amazed at how starry eyed idealism has replaced hard nosed realism in our times. Any international event should be analyzed objectively and we should be prepared to accept the fact that sometimes the truth might be what we don’t want to it to be.

There is no revolution going on in Iran. There is not going to be a revolution in the foreseeable future. Ahmadinejad has won. And Mousavi is not going to lead an army of liberalists into Tehran and free the country from the corrupt theocracy. Let us accept it.

 And let us gird our loins to prepare for the inevitable: the rise of Iran as a significant player on the international stage. The Persian resurgence is significantly going to impact Indian strategy and we must ensure that our interests are safeguarded.  

After the decline of the Safavid Empire, this is the first time that the Iranian nation is following an independent and consistent foreign policy. This is also the first time that a strong central government exists in Iran. And contrary to all that we read in the western papers, this government is going to stay. 

Why? Why don’t the people just rise up and throw the corrupt Mullahs out? How can they continue to live in the 21st century in a theocracy? Why do they not get hooked to democracy, the real one as practiced in Washington and London, as they are hooked to twitter, blogging and IPods? 

Because, my friends, this world is infinitely more complex than a continuous black and white struggle between democracy and anti-democracy, western style liberalism and despotism. It is complex. 

Iran is neither Libya nor Iraq nor Afghanistan. It is an ancient culture with a deep sense of its place in the world. Its people are proud. And more than subscribing and confirming to the ideals of the western world, the things that matters most to them are religion, good governance and national honor. 

Iranian Shiaism is actually a part of Iranian identity. It has replaced, and in many cases almost immaculately, Zoroastrianism as the binding force of the Iranian people. The Shia clergy even now commands much respect. And for most part, Iranian population still lives in rural areas. For these people piety and religion virtue are cornerstones of life. They feel threatened by the talk of modernization. Here Ahmadinejad delivers, Mousavi doesn’t. The vast majority of Iranians will make do with the shabby economic growth that the present regime provides but would not accept a modernist Mousavi regime, which howsoever efficient in providing growth, would be seen as lax in Islamic virtue. 

The second most important consideration for Iranians is corruption in governance. Corruption in the Shia clergy and upper echelons of government has become commonplace and most Iranians resent this. On this count too, Ahmadinejad delivers. He has a proven track record of raising corruption issues and is unafraid to even indict some of high ranking mullahs. 

Third, Ahmadinejad is a spokesman for Iranian national security, a tremendously popular stance. By arguing that Iran become a great power and pursue all means by which it can do so, Ahmadinejad has successfully positioned himself as a champion of Iranian pride. Mousavi, on the other hand is seen as more accommodating to western interests. Many Iranians would rather have a president who is willing to fight than one who is willing to compromise. 

What we witness as the huge protests are actually  groups of young, vocal, articulate and most importantly, English speaking, elite of Iranian society. For these people the current regime of Ayatollahs is stifling. Mousavi definitely has their support. But they are definitely not the majority. Being photogenic and the ability to give a quick sound bite in English to some touring journalist doesn’t actually translate into actual political power. The silent God fearing masses of the Iranian countryside are the one whose support is most crucial and it seems Ahmadinejad has that support.

What amazes me is not that Ahmadinejad won, what amazes me is that how the western media ,and some sections of Indian media too,  keep on misreading Iran. They were wrong in 1979 when they were expecting the public to support the reformist Shah and not the theocratic venom spitting Ayatollah’s. They are wrong today also.


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