Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hardliners and Reformers Both Want to Keep Iran a Theocracy

While the post-election protests and beatings continue in Iran, the reality for now is that both camps, the hardliners and the reformers have one main thing in common. They are both are committed to Islam.

Under the Islamic umbrella: Hardliners and reformers both want to keep Iran a theocracy
Thursday, June 25th 2009

Nearing the two-week mark, Iran's postelection drama continues to unfold as the government seeks to restore national stability in the wake of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed victory. A standoff continues between the main political factions: hard-line conservatives against reformists.

The two camps differ over the future ideological vision for the Islamic Republic - with reformists seeking greater social, political and economic liberalization, while hard-liners hope to stay true to the revolutionary principles proffered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini 30 years ago.

It is a profound struggle. But rather than focusing only on these differences, Americans must also understand what both camps have in common. The common ground is not insignificant.

Most importantly, both camps remain committed to the Islamic umbrella holding the theocratic republic together
. As a result, whatever the outcome, it is clear that for now, the Islamic Republic will stay intact.

Promises in defense of Islamic ideals rain down as both factions compete to be the defenders of the Iranian faithful. Night after night in Tehran, cries of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," have resonated throughout the city, emulating similar calls heard during the 1979 revolution. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his Friday prayer sermon, invoked the help of the Hidden Imam to assist in resolving this conflict.

On the other side, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist hopeful, has also been careful not to cross the threshold in criticizing the Islamic foundations of the Islamic Republic, stating in his manifesto, "With trust in God and hope for the future . . . we are not up against our sacred regime and its legal structures; this structure guards our independence, freedom and Islamic Republic. We are up against the deviations and deceptions, and we want to reform them, a reformation that returns us to the pure principles of the Islamic revolution."

Mohammad Khatami too, the former reformist president, has stated, "In resolving this problem why not look to the approach and methods of our dear Imam \[Khomeini\], who was faced with similar situations. The primary objective should be to denounce violence and to replace the current environment of animosity, spite and accusations in favor of a new atmosphere based on truth and honesty with kindness, friendship and cooperation. It is then that no matter what the price, the Islamic Republic and all its values will be safe and immune."

The world has witnessed days of intense protesting, violence and death, in which demonstrations have been muted with the help of the government's heavy hand and in which journalists, activists and politicians have been arrested and detained. From abroad, interpreting the actions and events surrounding this political unrest has become more of a challenge as the regime has restricted Internet, cell phone and satellite access while also barring international reporting.

But beneath the bloodshed, this inconvenient - for the West - truth remains: Despite the hardened divide between the two factions, both sides remain united in their loyalty to the theocratic system. Held together by the fusion of Islamic justice and independence, the factions have both invoked the banner of Islam as a rallying cry and unifying umbrella in defense of their political cause.

The use of Islamic imagery coupled with calls to resurrect the lost ideals of Khomeini's revolution suggest that there will be no dramatic revision to the Iranian political system. Indeed, by respecting the integrity of the Islamic system, hard-liners and reformists alike have adeptly navigated through these tense political waters, allowing room for compromise between them.

What remains uncertain, though, is how these two camps, composed of one-time allies and revolutionary contemporaries, will reconcile their countering ideological visions. This is the true conflict that lies under the banner of Islam and poses the greatest challenge for the future of Iran.

Vakil is a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and Bologna, Italy. She is writing a book on female and civil society activism in Iran.

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