The Islamic Republic of Iran has been put on Death Row, not by the hawks on the Bush administration or what its rulers call their ‘Zionist enemies,’ but by the dint of its own internal contradictions. These fatal contradictions were outlined by the prominent Iranian economist and dissident, Dr. Shaheen Fatemi in a lecture delivered recently at The Iranian Society for Modernity and Development in Paris.
As the forces of fanaticism and repression tighten their grip on the country, becoming less and less tolerant of dissent, the exiled Iranian community is assuming a bigger role in speaking up for the stifled voices of freedom and democracy. The Iranian Society for Development and Modernity that is based in Paris is an important venue where such an expression can find an outlet. Comprised of dissident artists, novelists, political experts and intellectuals, it organizes monthly lectures with the aim of looking at the economic and political situation in Iran in a balanced and non-partisan manner.
In the Society's latest lecture, entitled "Iran at the Threshold of Transformation," professor Fatemi explored two sets of opposing factors that detract from, and contribute to, the survival of the Islamic state.
Shaheen Fatemi, in addition to his impressive academic credentials, enjoys extensive connections with key political figures inside and outside Iran. Accordingly, his analysis has the advantage of being up to speed, while remaining down to earth and abreast of everyday political developments in the country.
First and foremost, Fatemi said, the clerical regime has kept itself in power by brute force using the most inhumane measures against the population. However, in spite of suffering excruciating hardship, Iranians are not willing to overthrow their rulers through violent means. They have learned from the frenetic turmoil unleashed by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 that the human thirst for justice and liberty cannot be quenched in the bloodstained waters of carnage and revolution.
The relentless violence perpetrated against legitimate demands of peaceful Iranian citizens has turned the force of international public opinion against the mullahs and has moved the most hesitant governments to speak up against the clerical regime’s breach of democratic principles. The European Union’s recent criticism of the parliamentary elections in Iran as "a setback for democracy" is bound to have a powerful effect on exposing and further isolating the clerical government. One cannot forget the importance of mobilized international opinion in bringing down ruthless political systems such as apartheid in South Africa.
A possible increase in the price of oil could contribute to the longevity of the Islamic Republic by providing the mullahs with the extra cash to prop up a prostrate economy, which is kept alive through artificial means. Not only the whole machinery of the clerical regime operates on oil revenue, but also thanks to the Ayatollahs, for the past quarter of a century the wealth of Iranian petroleum has kept the network of Middle Eastern terrorism in business; sponsoring death, instability and destruction. To sign an agreement with the mullahs to develop the oil industry as the Japanese have done in an estimated $2 billion deal to exploit Iran's Azadegan oil field, is therefore nothing short of contributing to this evil endeavor. It is about time that world governments realize that to make short-term gains in dealing with criminal regimes will cost humanity long-term suffering that no amount of cash can undo or repair.
Any gesture such as the ill-advised visit of Prince Charles to Iran, and his meeting with Mohammad Khatami that might be construed as a nod in the direction of the regime can only contribute to purchasing time for the mullahs and further postpone the fulfillment of the democratic dream of the Iranian people.
Now the unreserved support of the global community should be given to the Iranian opposition that is calling for a free and democratic national referendum to determine the future of the country. Mainly owing to the lack of democratic experience during the past two decades, the political opposition inside the country and abroad has suffered from fraction and disorganization. The painful mistakes that have contributed to the survival of the totalitarian government have taught us the necessity of patience and tolerance. We have come to recognize that agreeing to disagree is the cornerstone of a healthy pluralistic society.
Whether our people choose a republic, or a constitutional monarchy in the national referendum does not really matter that much. The difference between these two systems will only entail slight variations in a few articles of the future constitution. What matters is enacting laws and provisions that guarantee the democratic rights of each and every citizen.
A democratic constitution while guaranteeing freedom of belief for all citizens should at the same time ensure the separation of government from religion. In Shiite faith, religion has traditionally been in opposition to the temporal power. Its religious hierarchy has acted as a spiritual government within the state exerting enormous moral power. Its involvement in the day-to-day business of the country has undermined its spiritual authority and has eroded its moral credibility. This anomaly in the Islamic Republic that has plucked the Shiite faith from its traditional role in society and has stymied the performance of the government will inevitably unhinge the current system.
Lastly, the Islamic Republic is doomed to destruction by its hostility to progress and its inability to adapt to modern administrative and economic paradigms. In the dynamic world of the 21st century, freezing in the mental framework of the 6th century A.D. and deriving guidelines for a banking system and fiscal policy from what was practiced a millennium-and-a-half ago in Arabia is nothing short of suicide bombing one's way into the future. All these concerns must be taken care of before Iran can take its place among the great nations of the world – where it belongs.