by Morteza Kazemian
The closed and dysfunctional cycle of power in the Islamic Republic reveals new symptoms each day and progressively engages in threatening “outsiders” and trying to distance them from the political power structure.
With the passage of a bill last Tuesday in Parliament, there is a new, sobering catalogue of “ineligibles” — groups deemed unfit for appointment to sensitive posts and jobs in the country.
“Individuals with dual citizenship”, “Individuals lacking faith and commitment in the absolute power of Velayat Faqih (leadership of the clergy) and the constitution”, “parties affiliated with hostile and illegal parties, organizations and groups and promoters of deviatory beliefs and ideologies and cults and those convicted of domestic foreign security and Sharia violations” and “anti-regime activists and anyone linked to them”; these are only a sampling of the curious and lengthy list.
The bill, passed by the majority conservative Parliament, indicates that the sensitive posts will be identified according to the executive regulations developed for said bill by the head of each organization and will be approved by a committee that also includes Ministry of Intelligence representatives.
According to the new bill, the designated positions encompass a wide range of jobs from “presidential and ministerial deputies and advisers to managers and coordinators in ministries”. It also includes directors of “non-governmental public organizations such as the National Oil Company of Iran, the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization of Iran, the Central Bank, public banks and insurance companies and all political and judicial heads including ambassadors, governors, attachés, advisers, prefects, mayors, and the heads of universities and higher education institutes”.
This is all despite Article 20 of the Islamic Republic constitution, which declares that all citizens, including all men and women, have equal right to the protection of the law as well as human, political, economic, social and cultural rights in compliance with Islamic criteria. That article has been ignored and access to power has been discriminately restricted from the very development of the political structure that rose from the ashes of the 1979 Revolution. For instance, Article 64 of the constitution held that “Zoroastrians and Jews can have each have one representative and Assyrian and Chaldean Christians can have one representative in total; and Armenian Christians in the north and the south could each have one representative in Parliament.”
In other words, from the very beginning a cap was put on the number of non-Muslim representatives that could get into Parliament.
An additional clause allowed for revisiting the numbers every 10 years in order to add an extra representative in each category for every additional 150,000 people added to that community. This clause, however, was omitted during the constitutional reforms of 1990.
Therefore, while denying the possibility of a non-Muslim being elected by a Muslim riding, the system also eliminated the potential for the number of non-Muslim MPs to increase by virtue of a growing population of non-Muslims in the country.
The specific situation of the presidential post is another topic highlighting the restrictions that contradict Article 20 of the constitution.
Article 115 of the constitution states that the president is required to believe in the official religion of the country, and according to Article 12, Iran’s official religion is Shia Islam. This disqualifies Iran’s Sunni citizens from seeking the presidency. How can the discrimination evident in Article 115 of the constitution be reconciled with the purported equality of all citizens in Article 20? That is a complex question.
At the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, a consolidated list of “outsiders” included not just militant groups taking arms against the regime but also peaceful opposition. The more established the system became, the more it increased the oligarchy, which translated into a list of “insiders” approved to run in parliamentary or presidential elections, while a growing list of “outsiders” was given to intelligence, judicial and police organizations. The so-called outsiders were not only denied the right to run in elections, their family and relatives were also systematically denied entry into universities, teaching positions and government jobs.
New Restrictions and Entrenchment of Discrimination
The criterion of “faith and commitment in the absolute power of the Supreme Leadership” for all election candidates basically means the elected bodies are only there to reinforce and reproduce the political leadership. It excludes a vital part of society from entering the political structure and administration. It forces a major proportion of citizens to resort to hypocrisy and lying in order to get a job or promotion. It is also a legal pretext to exclude minorities from the political structure.
The new parliamentary bill also excludes members of “illegal”, “deviatory” and “anti-regime” groups without defining those terms.
Authorities fear the expansion of political space
An increase in civil action in anticipation of the two approaching elections (for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts) in March and the control of the government’s executive branch by a moderate member of the clergy were some of the triggers for the passage of the parliamentary bill and the threatening reactions and oppressive projects of the Islamic Republic establishment.
The establishment is using all available levers from security and military bodies to the judiciary, Parliament, the Guardian Council and the National Broadcaster to prevent the rejuvenation of civil society and any change in the power structure. From this perspective, the law against “outsiders” is in effect another aspect of controlling the election outcome, along with the violent oppression of civic resistance, threats to civil and political activists, heavy prison terms for dissidents, the quashing of independent labour organizations, the denial of education to dissidents and other such oppressive actions. In other words, laws are being enacted as a tool for a minority group to violate the rights of the majority.
Breaking out of the vicious and corrupt oligarchic cycle
Oligarchy is the political and economic rule by small, powerful and influential groups tied in with aristocratic corruption, whereby this handful of groups is only concerned about their own interests and ignores the public and national good. A minority is equipped with the power of the government to oppress and marginalize dissidents and critics while assuming no public accountability.
The logic of oligarchy is a drive to persist and reproduce itself in a vicious cycle. The method of governance in the Islamic Republic through the groups linked to the Supreme Leader’s House, enforced through laws such as the latest reform bill regarding the eligibility criteria of election candidates, very blatantly lines up with the definition of oligarchy and its discriminatory approach to power and lack of accountability to the average citizen; and after 37 years, it continues to deepen the rift between the government and the people.
Emerging from this vicious cycle will take time and a coordinated collective action, which is where cooperation and interconnection through social media and civil society will play a major role. Practice and experience in collaborative actions, tolerance for different opinions, dialogue, refraining from opportunism and authoritarianism have to prepare the ground for the formation of social movements and organizations that could have an effective presence in society to boost a move toward an inclusive political and power structure.