This is perhaps the first time since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, in which the protesters razed the image of the head of state like that of the former King Reza Shah, the founder of modern Iran.
Although the demands of the demonstrators focused on social and economic issues, the current uprising in Iranian cities and villages is in fact an uprising against the political and societal system developed by the Khomeinist experience about 40 years ago.
The fundamental difference between the Green movement that erupted in 2009 and the current uprising is that it is not a situational crisis related to electoral events and the political entitlements that have centered on the conflict between the conservative and reformist wings of the same authority, despite their differences in rhetoric and strategies.
What is to be seen here is that the regime of the Vilayat al-Faqih, which was established by the Khomeinist regime after the fall of the Shah, was the result of a sharp struggle against legitimacy and authority among the wings that participated in the revolution.
The most important of these were the liberal currents that took over the transition (Mahdi Bazargan and Bani Sadr), the Leftists (Touda and Mujahideen Khalq), who was executed and the traditional religious Hawza whose leadership rejected the current of political Islam (Montazeri's trend).
Since the mid-nineties it has become clear that the revolutionary movement has lost its momentum in the Iranian streetDr. Adballah Seyid Ould Abah
Iran’s ‘Islamization’ losing steam
With the beginning of the 1990s, after the departure of Khomeini and the end of the long war with Iraq, the political conflict focused on the religious field itself, which became the center of social mobility, so that the strategy of ‘Islamization’ of the public sphere, rather than leading to the formation of a comprehensive society, led to the transformation of various social stakes into the religious sphere.
As the Iranian anthropologist Friba Abdul Khaleq has pointed out, the system of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists ought to give utilitarian, bureaucratic and rational characteristics to the religious field to control and dominate society. The result was counterproductive, since this approach removed its transcendent sacred character, making it symbolic capitalism employed in political and class conflicts.
Hence, we understand how the opposition of the political system was carried out within the framework of religious legitimacy, with the emergence of a large protest movement that stems from the idea of ‘Islamic civil society’ in exchange for the authoritarian and oppressive state.
Since the mid-nineties it has become clear that the revolutionary movement has lost its momentum in the Iranian street, and a growing trend has emerged within the same decision-making center by adopting a realistic pragmatic line to adapt to the pressures of the internal situation and the international situation.
This trend is represented by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and is represented today by current president, Rouhani. It is not about a real reform process, but rather a process that calls for the synthesis of the great national constants on which modern Iran (the central state, the Persian identity, the regional role based on the sectarian factor) and the "Islamic Republic" is modelled.
It is in this context that Rouhani was elected in 2013 and once again in the past year in anticipation of positive gains in living standards to emerge from an escalating social crisis.
Failure of Rouhani’s policies
However, Rouhani's limited internal and external opening policies failed to bring the desired transformation. It was clear that the composition of the political system was untenable to reform and change, as a result of two fundamental obstacles: the dualism of the political system itself between the absolute authority of the Guardianship and the growing schism between the state and civil society, on which the reformist movement no longer has much influence.
The first factor is the enlargement of the organizational apparatus of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist in that it includes the most powerful military arm of the state (the Revolutionary Guard) and the religious associations that control half of the country's economy and the public media, while the performance and efficiency of the administrative apparatus is incapable of solving problems and fighting rampant corruption in the country.
The second factor is expressed by the sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar as a break up from the “Islamic state”, the ruling regime in the name of religious legitimacy and “post-Islamic society” , which is driven by the values of individualism, independence and recreational consumption instead of the values of austerity, altruism and sacrifice on which the political system built its tactical strategy in the years of the first revolution and in the period of its long regional wars that continue today in its crazy adventures in the Arab countries.
The next protests are unlikely to lead to the destruction of Iran’s political system, but they undoubtedly reflect a moment of violent crackdown on its existing structures and foundations.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Dr. Adballah Seyid Ould Abah is a University Professor in Mauritania. He has a PhD in philosophy and is a professor at the University of Nouakchott since 1988. He teaches the history of philosophy, general philosophy, ethics, politics, as well as modern and contemporary philosophy. He is also a visiting professor at several Arab universities. He has valuable books and articles on a variety of ethical topics, ranging from political to historical to philosophical. He participated in specialized seminars and he is a member of the Arabic Philosophical Society, a member of the Arab Sociological Association, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Arab Organization for Translation, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Arab Unity Studies. He was also in charge of the Arab cultural programs in ALECSO (2001 – 2006). He tweets @seyidbah.