Reforming the Reform Movement: Recycling Failed Strategies
The reform movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s had new ideas such as empowering civil institutions, non-violent protest, rejecting the arbitrary candidate-qualification process, accepting responsibility, tolerance and flexibility, and Iran for all Iranians. It had also borrowed some ideas such as rule of law and independent judiciary from the constitutional revolution.
Some of these ideas we implemented (like the abolition of the arbitrary selection process for government employment) but the “regime” stopped all those plans. Some social groups in Iran became interested in this game of demand and blockage. This movement started in July of 1999 with the shut-down of Salam newspaper and the attack on Tehran University’s dormitory, and its defeat began with the assassination of Saeed Hajjarian, but it rose up again in June of 2009. In 2009, people who wanted their votes back were sent home by the leaders who were still in love with the idea of Khomeini’s golden era and his regime, rather than staying in the streets. The reformist activists who were not arrested this year, kept silence or quickly became the loyal subjects of the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guard, in order to stay in Iran’s closed political sphere and reap the benefits that follow. They became known as governmental or insider reformists.
During Rouhani’s administration, the insider reformists turned into the supporters of regime’s military interventions in the region, massive collaborators in corruptions and embezzlements and misuse of power and helped the Revolutionary Guard to expand their financial empire. This continued until January 2018 when a massive social uprising in over 100 cities shook them to a degree, not enough of course for them to admit to the regime’s terrible incompetence and the society’s misery. From this point on, they became such hardliner supporters of maintaining God’s regime that they demanded severe suppression of the uprisings (See the Statement of the Association of Combatant Clerics about the January uprisings). In order to keep their scam going and maintaining the illusion of reformism, they started to recycle their failed ideas from two decades ago.
They think that in the Internet era, people will forget about their political history. Here I will mention some of their regime-saving failed ideas that were thrown away and are now recycled, and I will explain their recycling process.
The reason I consider their ideas to have failed is that they were practical ideas of which none were applied. They were not philosophical or theoretical or moral ideas that cannot be measured by the application.
Mehdi Karroubi: Rejection of Arbitrary candidate-qualification process
The upper-level organizations and institutions in Islamic have clearly shown that they support a closed system based on discrimination of Iranians into two groups of insiders and outsiders. Reformists, feeling their pockets getting empty, are now knocking on this giant stone gate. The Guardian Council’s control of elections and qualification process is a vital part of this totalitarian regime, and rejecting it leads to the regime’s downfall.
Those who do not want this arbitrary process, should stop their hesitation and clearly demand the fall of this dark and ugly regime. Members of the Assembly of Experts are not excluded from this process either. With that in mind, what is the point of Karroubi’s message to members of the Majlis asking them to protest the qualification process? Especially when he knows very well that all those “elected” members were handpicked by the Guardian Council and the supreme leader’s office? Does he think that Iranians do not know about the Guardian Council and what it does? Karroubi’s letter does not have anything new to say, even though it shows his courage to still fight against Khamenei’s will.
Mohammad Khatami: A few patches here and there and the regime is fixed
Khatami’s 15 demands are even weaker than his own rejected twin bill in the 1990s, and it is not clear how they are supposed to be achieved. The expectation from this former president is to explain how his demands are going to be met.
How are demands such as “keeping people’s trust alive”, “ending radicalism”, removing arbitrary restrictions”, “creating and enhancing the atmosphere of national unity”, “changing the National Media’s views” (all phrases directly quoted from his list of 15 demands) to be met? He says it is up to the regime to do these things. If by the regime he means the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, does Khatami not know that the supreme leader has been resisting such demands for three decades and does not wish to change anything? In what way asking these (indirectly too) from the supreme leader going to solve people’s problems?
Two members of the Majlis: Ending the house arrests of Mousavi and Karroubi, and sending the military back to the barracks
The problem with all the hype about the speeches of Parvaneh Salahshouri and Gholamreza Heidari in Majlis, and calling them anti-establishment, is that what they have said has already been said in the 1990s and 2000s by thousands of writers and journalists and political activists and it achieved nothing. It is unclear what innovations this recycled package with a supreme leader ribbon going to bring (they have asked the supreme leader to “intervene” and fix these, while he clearly disagrees with them and one of the main problems is, in fact, his interventions) and why it has made burnt up reformists see them as such? Absolving the Islamic Republic of all its corruptions is a purposeful ignorance. Insults hurled at them by Hossein Shariatmadari and other members of Majlis does not buy them any credibility, since even the most loyal soldiers of the supreme leader have received these insults at some point.
A chorus line that just makes noise
It is interesting that after recycling these failed ideas, a group of ten or hundred sign petitions and call them “enlightening and clarifying” solutions as if they just woke up from hibernation and suddenly became aware of a regime that has shut down these ideas for three decades. It is a chorus line that is just mouthing words without making a coherent sound or caring about their meanings. When you know that the armed forces have all the power and the money in the country, what purpose does it serve to ask them to leave everything and go back to the barracks? Why would you ask a powerless majlis to send the military back, when you know it is an exercise in futility?
Putting makeup on a corpse
Insider reformists who would not dare to dream of an Iran without the Islamic Republic, call this recycling “Reforming the Reform movement”. The reason is that a group within these so-called reformists has become aware of its problems (being undemocratic and not caring about the public opinion) and is trying to correct itself, but those who do not want to see the reality, are promoting this demand as a positive aspect of themselves. The reform movement that had a vibrant social body and leaders willing to pay the price is dead. But the power structure in Iran puts makeup on its corpse and tries to use it to its advantage.
Those makeup artists are all among the oligarchy, but they try to play human rights activist or civil society activists. The same people who have passed the Guardian Council’s filter times and times again and have benefitted from the power structure, also want to be credited extra for their pointless and insignificant objections. Competitions within the body of the regime mean nothing as long as it does not translate to solving people’s problems, rule of law, and democracy.