Revolution in the Air
While the world holds its breath awaiting America’s promised onslaught on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, neighboring Iran seethes with internal discontent.
“No less a figure than the Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri, the imam of the major city of Isfahan, its Friday prayers speaker for the past 30 years and the official representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, resigned his posts on July 9 and released a stinging five-page letter denouncing the Islamic Republic’s regime of conservative clerics. ‘I am embarrassed and ashamed,’ he wrote. ‘You cannot blame [the United States] for the failures and corruption of our country [which] have all resulted in our people turning away from Islam, rising unemployment, inflation, high cost of living and a satanic gap between the rich and the poor’” (Asia Times, July 17).
Powerful words! Words not designed to win friends within the incumbent Iranian administration. Describing the ruling regime as a giant Mafiosi, Taheri railed against “a failing foreign policy, corruption, bribery, brain drain and the harassment and jailing of journalists and writers” (ibid.).
It was no coincidence that Ayatollah Taheri resigned his post on the third anniversary of the violent student rally against the regime that took place at the University of Tehran on July 9, 1999. The symbolism will not be lost on the large reform-minded population that forms the majority vote in Iran. Over half of this group is under the age of 25. Though endorsing their timid reform-minded president, Mohammed Khatami, their patience could really be stretched as they wait for this non-aggressive leader to instigate the reforms for which they voted him into office.
In the absence of such reform, it could well be that the boiling cauldron of discontent in Iran could erupt into a popular uprising to purge the autocratic mullahs from their perch.
Khatami himself, recognizing the roiling discontent within his citizenry, stated in May, “Our society is on the threshold of disorder,” and added that “Iran did not vote for me but voted for justice and freedom in the framework of the constitution” (ibid.).
His words were endorsed by the deputy head of Iran’s conservative Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, later that month when he declared that “Iran is on the verge of a social explosion.”
Iranian politics are not easy to read, but it does seem that Khatami is treading on eggshells at this point. Although he needs the support of the reformist movement to continue pressure for change within Iran, he knows that the real power within this country resides with the ultra-conservative Muslims.
Under pressure from these hard-liners, he lashed out against the U.S. in a well-publicized speech from the Islamic stronghold of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia last month.
Highly condemnatory of Washington, he declared, “We live in a frightening situation today. … In the course of history of the world … we have never witnessed war being promoted so much in the United States” (Associated Press, July 23).
In another speech, while visiting Malaysia, Khatami maintained, “The most suppressive and cruel government in the world is Israel. … It is being supported by the United States, which is alone in supporting Israel” (ibid.). He used the occasion also to condemn the Bush administration’s intended attack on Iraq.
Will Khatami last the distance, or will the hard-line mullahs oust him in the face of reformist support? Time will tell. One thing is guaranteed, Iran will remain the most powerful voice within the Middle East for some time to come and may yet prove to be the singular influence able to unite radical Islam into a potent force to be reckoned with by those global powers that survive the present volatile restructuring of the world order.