Iran: February 21, 2000

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National elections were an overwhelming victory for reform candidates. This despite strenuous efforts by the clerics to prevent it. Since the 1979 revolution, the clerics have been in charge. The government was reorganized so that there were parallel religious and secular sectors. For example, there is an elected president, but a supreme religious leader who can overrule the president. The parliament can pass laws, but can be vetoed by a council of guardians (all senior clerics) and the civil courts are paralleled by religious courts. A two thirds majority in parliament, which the reformers many now have, can overrule a clerical veto. Candidates for secular office must be approved by clerical panels, although the clerics did not use that power as widely as they could have for the recent elections. Clerics control the security and military forces. But the clerics, long a factor in Iranian politics, do recognize that popular will can weaken, or even destroy, their power. So for the past few years, as the population became more restive under clerical rule, there have been an increasing number of clerics who have also called for reform and change. The cause of the unrest is multifold. First, there is the fact that many Iranians, particularly the better educated and those living in cities, do not care for the strict application of Islamic law. The clerics have not only imposed harsh lifestyle restrictions (no booze, mandatory wearing of the tent like chador by all women, no dancing, no Western movies and music, and so on) but have also placed restrictions on business and commerce. A cleric can ban just about anything they consider "anti-Islamic." Many of the clerics have grown rich in the process. The wealth of the Shah and many of his wealthy supporters was seized by the clerics in the 1980s and the people see themselves growing more poverty stricken while the clerics seem to be doing just fine. Then there is the fact that most of the population was born after the 1979 revolution and have noted that Iran is falling behind many other countries economically. The clerics also urged women to stay home and have more babies, and this led to a population explosion (from 34 million in 1979 to 64 million today.) The minimum voting age is 16, and women have the vote. So the direction of the vote was not surprising. It appears that the more moderate clerics are willing to surrender some power, but not all their power. There is a radical religious group that are not afraid of using force. Civil war is a possibility, but a remote one. Remote, but not out of the question. 


 

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