Reform or Rebirth for Iran?

Authored by Mihandoust

For the abridged version of this article click here

Where will Iran be five years from now?
A milder version of the Islamic Republic?
A secular democracy?

Regardless of the outcome, one thing is certain. Fundamentalist Iran has failed at the one fundamental task that any form of society must fulfill if it is to endure: producing a subsequent generation willing to continue it. As a result the political fault line in Iran is actually between two schools of thought.

In one hand there is the 40 and 50 plus generation of Islamic reformists and fundamentalists and former secular revolutionaries. In the other hand there are the supporters of a clean democratic rupture who have no attachment to the 1979 revolution and want to start afresh.

Despite their disagreements the first group have two important points in common. First they have a vested interest in defending the legacy of the revolution and second in one form or another they all have a direct responsibility for Iran’s current predicament. They had their chance to test their ideas in Iran and they miserably failed.

Numerically, supporters of the democratic rupture mainly consist of the educated and restless youth inside and outside Iran whose level of frustration is increasing at an exponential rate. They do not believe in the revolution or reforms. They rally around a National Referendum under International Observation to determine the future form of government of Iran, be it a Republic, Constitutional Monarchy or some new invention. They insist the future government should be Democratic and Secular.

Since Reza Pahlavi has emerged as the most vocal and popular supporter of a democratic rupture, the former revolutionaries main defense is questioning the historical validity of the institution of Iranian Monarchy rather than discussing his program.

They claim a democratic movement led by a Monarch or anyone associated with Monarchy is not a viable alternative. That Monarchy is socially based on an oligarchic model of wealth distribution and will ultimately result in an unstable monopoly of power. They further claim that the 1979 Revolution settled the score of the 2500 hundred years Monarchy for Iranians once and for all, in favor of a Republican system. That the Islamic Republic is preferable to Monarchy since it is more egalitarian. That the transfer of power in the Islamic Republic has been peaceful evidenced by the last three presidential elections while Iran’s last 4 monarchs were exiled or dethroned. That another regime change might result in turmoil and temporary regression for the country.

They therefore propose working within the current system and allow liberal interpretations of Islam, which they claim have begun in the seminaries, pave the way for pluralism of thoughts.

As convincing and internally consistent this theory sounds, one might ask why so many stable and prosperous democracies around the world did not opt for a Republic? Or if a Constitutional Monarchy is against human rights then by implication are Scandinavians, British and Japanese human right offenders and Syria, Nigeria and North Korea heavens for freedom of expression and assembly?

The classical answers seem to be a variation of one might call “Cultural Particularism” such as Monarchy might have worked well for some countries but not Iran.

Since critics of Iranian Monarchy seem to agree on the shortcomings of the institution specifically for Iran, it seems logical to ask what exactly are the particulars of Iranian style Monarchy? Was Monarchy constant and unchanging throughout Iran’s history? Or were the Pre Islamic, Post Islamic and Modern Monarchy distinctly different?
I think everyone would agree that any system of governance, ancient or modern, republic or otherwise can more easily be described as composing three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial.

Who has traditionally been in charge of these 3 branches in post Islamic Iran?
1. The law was the law of Islam, understood, interpreted, modified and implemented solely by the clergy.
2. The Judiciary has always been and is today the private domain of the clergy.
3. The Executive can be divided into 4 components: Education, Public works, Army and Administration (such as foreign affairs).
Two of the above: Education and Public Works (In the classical Iranian sense such as public endowments, Awqaff) have been one hundred percent controlled by the Clergy.
As a result, the Iranian rulers such as Safavids or Qajars have been no more than glorified police chiefs or administrative staff for the de facto rulers.

The Absolute Monarchy, the locus of the unquestioned monopolistic power was hidden under the robes of the clergy. Exactly like today!

Every political institution is based on an economic order. What was the economic hierarchy behind the Iranian Oriental Monarchy?
The continuous control of the sources of wealth in Iran such as ownership of agricultural estates has neither resided in the hands of the Monarchs nor the so-called landed gentry. In the European system the King was the owner of all lands and would grant gifts of land to his conquering generals or courtiers in return for their allegiance. This was for example the whole basis of private property in common law jurisprudence. This is why you have seven hundred year old estates in England or a landed aristocracy in Europe.

One does not have to look too far. Castles and estates of old aristocratic families mark the whole rural landscape of Europe and Far-Eastern civilizations. These residences signify the past and present sites of accumulation of wealth. The Iranian post Islamic architectural heritage with the exception of the Safavid castles (The founders of Shiism in Iran) is almost solely composed of Mosques. Iran’s largest landlords with an uninterrupted one thousand-year-old record of ownership are clerical organizations such as the Astan Ghods Razavi (Imam Reza’s Shrine), Shah Abdolazzim or numerous Imamzadehs in every province and village.

These organizations are called “Religious Endowments” but surprisingly the proceeds have never been put to any public use. Unlike the Christian clergy, the Iranian Shiite clergy has no record of social service. Throughout the course of the last 1400 years despite their massive resources, the clergy has rarely established or financed hospitals, orphanages, charities or scientific institutions.
Iran’s historical monopolists of property are not imaginary European style aristocrats under a Monarchy but doyens of a religious state: the clerical caste. Exactly like today!

This raises however other questions.
· Has not the so-called “Islamic Republic” which is in every way a recreation of the “Oriental Caliphate ” shown signs of moderation?
· Do the consecutive presidential and Majlis elections signify a peaceful transfer of power mechanism?
The issue with the Islamic Republic is: ”Where is the Power?”
The Institution of Presidency or the Parliament in the Islamic Republic has absolutely no power or say in any matter dealing with national security, foreign affairs, cultural policy or economic planning. The transfer of presidency is therefore a non-event as far as power is concerned.

During the tenure of the Mullahs, real “Power” was only transferred once. That was from the household of Rouhollah Khomeini to Ali Khamenei. That transfer of power was bloody and still unsettled as evidenced by:
The public disgrace and house arrest of the heir apparent, Hosseinali Montazeri. The torture, televised confession and execution of Monatzeri’s chief lieutenant and close relative (Mehdi Hashemi). And according to the Reformists, the quiet liquidation through poisoning of Khomeini’s son Ahmad. (See Emaddedin Baghi’s story). The Islamic Republic’s power sharing mechanism is therefore far from stable.

Other proponents of the “change from within” theory claim that real change can only come if the clerical caste itself changes and cite the writings of Sorush or Kadivar as evidence.

One is free to believe that the debates currently taking place in the seminaries of Qom are actually the dawn of a new era or the repetition of ancient intramural discussions that the Shiite clergy has had for at least 700 years without reforming itself.
It is however illogical to state that Iranians should delay integrating with the rest of humanity and improving their economic position because the Shiite clergy is only half a millennium late in reforming itself and meaningful change must only start in the religious sphere.

Did the Japanese wait for the Shinto priests to reform? Did not Spain modernize despite a non-reformed Catholic church? Why should not Iranians like so many other nations benefit from the experiences of the rest of humanity and insist on reinventing a homegrown native wheel?

Whether Shiite Protestantism succeeds or fails, the issue still remains that even a reformed clergy is neither representative of the entirety of Iranian culture nor are they the most qualified citizens to conduct the affairs of the state.
In a world of exhaustive economic competition where functional differentiation and modern technocratic expertise are the only keys to solve a nation’s underdevelopment problem; the clergy, reformed or archaic belong to the Mosque.

In the case of Iran, men who spend two entire semesters of their “education” mastering the fine etiquettes of moving their bowels without offending god ( Mottaharat), and preach their congregations on their nocturnal visits with the “Jins”, have no business running the economy or formulate foreign and defense policy.

With the fate of the so-called Islamic Reformism sealed, the question that many ask is what should be the form of government for a secular democratic Iran?
Why should not Iranians opt for a secular republic rather than a Constitutional Monarchy?
Did not Constitutional Monarchy fail under the Pahlavis?
Has Iran ever been a democratic Constitutional Monarchy?
Can the Constitutional Monarchy revert to an Oriental Caliphate once again?

The idea of a Constitutional Monarchy was first formulated in the active imagination of the Iranian liberal intellectuals of the late nineteenth century as an Iranian response to the challenge of the “Enlightenment”. From its very beginning, the objective was to embed the Cartesian and Renaissance notion of the Modern Utilitarian man within Iranian folk culture.

The traditional aspect of the formulae was devised after the pre Islamic notion of the Iranian tradition of Kingship rather than the Caliphate model. The form and not the content of the government chosen by Iranian intellectuals for their modern state was not derived from the Safavid model where the ruler called himself “Morshed e Kamel” (the complete guide) or “Kalb e Astan e Ali”(The Dog at Ali’s door). Monarchy was rather reinvented along the “Iranshahri Shahnameh” blueprint.

The subtle but crucial difference is legendary kings such as Fereydoun or real kings such as Cyrus drew their legitimacy and source of power from the people with god as arbiter (Davar). They were raised amongst the people and were not infallible.

In the Oriental Caliphate model, metaphysical approval was the only source of legitimacy and people were simply subjects. On the practical side, the Iranian Constitutional Monarchy’s most enduring legacy was to gradually incorporate elements of economic and social progress within the ancient fabric of a lethargic and underdeveloped society through the creation of a new entity: The professional middle class.
The dominant characteristics of the late nineteenth century Iranian society were a steep social gradient, lack of vertical mobility, limitation of intellectual horizons through the prevalence of sacred vs. secular.
The system concentrated wealth in the hands of the small elite, weakened forces of growth and thereby perpetuated a society with a non-productive minority resting uneasily atop a poverty-stricken majority. Just as it is today.
Rather than attempting any bloody reprisals, the Constitutional Monarchists simply redefined status in terms of new values and thereby unleashed forces of change from within the society itself.

Education and particularly specialized knowledge, professional accomplishment and a disdain for religious fanaticism became the new paradigm. Individualism and competitive spirit superseded the intense concern with piety or family status and paved the way for the middle class’s social and economic advancement.

As a result, the men who rose to the pinnacle of power were neither aristocrats nor influential Mullahs but the educated sons of the middle class. Men such as Davar or Foroughi or Hoveyda neither had the wealth nor the extended family roots of Qajar Shazdehs or their reincarnation the current Aqazadeh class.
There should not be any mistake, the institution of Constitutional Monarchy like its founding elements and accompanying results: a modern middle class, a secular cosmopolitan intelligentsia, critical rationality, economic progress and social tolerance was not native to the soil of a country which for hundreds of years had been mired in a cycle of ignorance, poverty, repression and religious fanaticism

As a result, what transpired in Iran during the tenure of Reza Shah and Mohammed Reza Shah was not Constitutional Monarchy but can best be called “Executive Monarchy.”
The Executive Monarch was not simply the head of state or the symbol of national sovereignty. He was the “Managing Director” of Iran’s economic and social renovation.
During his first visit to the United States in 1949, Harry Truman asked Mohammed Reza Shah of his vision for Iran.
The Shah answered: “I want to build a society where my people do not have to lie or steal to live.”
Harry Truman replied: “ Then Rule. That is what your people need and want.”
Both Reza Shah and Mohamed Reza Shah had no illusions that their style of government was merely a transitory stage to prepare the country for a democratic Constitutional Monarchy through economic development and education.

In other words, the “Executive” part of Monarchy in the Pahlavi state was not about “Divine Right” versus democratization. It was about a pragmatic attempt to preserve Iran’s territorial integrity and build a modern infrastructure by adopting a pattern of leadership that the country needed.

Despite its brief tenure, the Executive Monarchy’s accomplishments are unsurpassed within the context of Iranian history. It managed to create a modern state, secularize the judiciary and the educational system, preserve Iran’s territorial integrity in two World Wars, save Iran from British colonialism and Russian communism, transform Iran’s near dead economy to the most vibrant in the middle east.
The 1925 Iran was far behind Turkey, Egypt, India and even Afghanistan in every respect as evidenced by the massive migration of Iranians to those countries.
The 1979 Iran was not only the envy of the entire Middle East but was far ahead of Malaysia, Thailand, Chile and even Spain.

Most Iranians agree the experience of the “Executive Monarchy “ and lessons learned from the Islamic Republic have finally prepared Iranians for a real democracy.
A Constitutional Monarchy and a secular Republic are identical in terms of their democratic content i.e. secularism, separation of powers, citizenship rights etc.
The real question facing Iranians is which one serves the purpose of a social consensus amongst various social groups, which is a precondition of democracy.

Historically, monarchies have worked well in multi ethnic European societies such as Belgium or Spain because the institution has a national and supra ethnic character, which serves well the purpose of unity.

In the case of Iran, Constitutional Monarchy has another important function.
The fault line in today’s Iran is not between ethnic or religious minorities but between tradition and modernity.
The main obstacle to social consensus in Iran is the friction caused between a cosmopolitan, rationalist mindset and a nativist, transcendental worldview. As a result, contemporary Iranian history can almost be described as wide swings of the social pendulum between these two seemingly repelling poles.
One is free to call it the war of Mini Jupe and Chador or Mowlavi and Newton, the fact remains that Iranians have no choice but find a balance between the two.
While twenty-five years ago, Iranians were revolting against the modern world and dreaming of tradition, the intellectual discourse of today’s Iran is dominated by a thirst for modernity and condemnation of tradition in all its aspects.

The problem is detraditionalisation does not necessarily have to mean the end of tradition. On the contrary, there are very strong grounds for maintaining historical continuities. We live in a society obsessed with the present, whose dominant culture is transient and whose collective memory seems to grow ever shorter. Perhaps more than ever we need connections to our past to root our sense of identity, to provide stability amid rapid social change. But traditions now must be rationally chosen and defended.
The role of the institution of Constitutional Monarchy is crucial in smoothing this social revolution. In one hand the Monarch is the leading engine for rebuilding the country and on the other hand by virtue of representing a traditional office, it counterbalances the excesses.

The best example of this dual role is demonstrated in the conduct of the one man who is the current symbol of Monarchy: Reza Pahlavi.

Unlike all leaders of opposition to Mullahs, Reza Pahlavi has never excluded any group from the future of Iran or called for a predestined arrangement of the society from above. Reza Pahlavi's attempts at deidologizing the political discourse in Iran have ushered a new era of openness and honest dialogue amongst Iranians.

The Pahlavi state tried hard to eradicate superstitions such as:
· The practice of legalized pedophilia and "child brides" (Marrying nine year old girls)
· The practice of temporary marriage (Sigheh) and polygamy.
· The practice of the forced garb of the women. (Hijab).
At the same time, the modern Iranian monarchy did not have an ideological cultural policy in the Turkish, Chinese or the Islamic Republic sense of the word. There was neither state induced mass celebration of NowRuz nor marginalization of Shiite rituals such as Tazyeh.

As a result of an open stance towards culture, for the first time since men such as Avicenna or Farabi, Iran produced world-class scholars at the level of Forouzanfar, Kasravi, Zarinkoub, Ehsan Yarshater or Parviz Khanlari.
In the popular context of Iranian and middle eastern history, it is rather a monumental feat that in the period of 1926-1979 Iranians were free to party at home or engage in self flagellation (Sineh Zani) without answering to anyone and the law of the land did in fact vehemently protect their privacy.

Critics of the Iranian Constitutional Monarchy claim that the institution is unstable by virtue of the fate of Iran’s last 4 Monarchs who were either overthrown or exiled. To begin with, the assassination of Nasseredin Shah and the overthrow of Mohammad Ali Shah indicated the Iranian’s rejection of the power monopoly of the mosque and not the modern monarchy.
The same men who opposed these two and forced Mozafareddin Shah to sign the constitution decree later founded and staffed the Pahlavi State. It is not accidental that Mohammad Ali Shah’s (The most tyrannical, vile and lecherous of all Qajar rulers) strongest and closest ally, Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri is one of Khomeini’s and the Islamic Republic’s foremost heroes and role models.

The denouncers of Monarchy are right in one respect. The overthrow of the Qajar-Mosque oligarchy was an attempt to spell the end of the Oriental Monarchy in Iran. What they miss is that the establishment of the Pahlavi state was the victory of modernity in Iran. Reza Shah was not exiled by Iranians but by an occupying army of foreign forces. A reactionary regressive revolution not a modernist one, overthrew Mohamad Reza Shah.
The Iranian intellectuals did in fact defend their artifact, the Constitutional Monarchy in several historical instances. The first time was in 1909 when the constitutionalists conquered Tehran, dethroned Mohammed Ali Shah and opted for a Constitutional Monarchy. The second time was in 1925 when they convinced Reza Shah to become a Monarch rather than establish a republic. The third time was in 1941, when Forughi the then prime minister resisted the pressures of the British and Russians to declare Iran a Republic with himself as the President. The fourth time was in 1953; at a time of uncertainty and a feared Soviet takeover the majority of Iranian intellectuals sided with Mohammed Reza Shah. And last at the height of the Islamic Revolution when men such as Gholam Hossein Seddiqui and Abdollah Entezam rallied around Constitutional Monarchy.

The intellectual offspring of these same men believe today that the priority of every Iranian is to first and foremost condemn and fight the fanatic degenerate minority who is murdering our people and looting our country. Fighting the IR is not however an excuse for not criticizing the enemies of the IR.
We are not looking for "Unity" through homogeneity of thoughts and ideas. As constitutionalists, we believe in and encourage dissent, discussion and diversity. We believe in unity through consensus where every constituent of Iranian national polity has his own distinct voice and preserves his own identity. We do not believe in a monophonic, homogeneous political culture. We are not proposing a utopian ideology of governance.
All we ask is an open, civic, substance oriented discourse free of mudslinging and threats.
As such we consider anyone who believes in secularism, human rights and the territorial integrity of Iran as our friend. Having said that, we believe a Constitutional Monarchy as proposed as early as 1906 provides a uniquely Iranian solution for democracy.
I rest my case and let the founder of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the founder of the Iranian Monarchy in 539 BC speak. Let the public decide whose vision suits Iran best at the brink of the twenty first century.

Rouhollah Khomeini:
A man can have sexual pleasure from a child as young as a baby. However he should not penetrate, sodomising the child is OK. If the man penetrates and damages the child then he should be responsible for her subsistence all her life. This girl, however does not count as one of his four permanent wives.
The man will not be eligible to marry the girl’s sist
From Khomeini's book, "Tahrirolvasyleh", fourth volume, Darol Elm, Gom,

Cyrus the Great:

I am Kourosh (Cyrus), great king,… Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head with the help of (Ahura) Mazda, I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them until I am alive. From now on, till (Ahura) Mazda grants me the kingdom favor, I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never resolve on war to reign. Until I am the king of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions, I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor.
And until I am the monarch, I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. To day, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other's rights.
No one could be penalized for his or her relatives' faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such a traditions should be exterminated the world over.

The charter of Cyrus the Great, a baked-clay Aryan language (Old Persian) cuneiform cylinder, written on the occasion of his crowning on the Nowruz of 539 BC. (Discovered in 1878 in excavation of the site of Babylon)

For the abridged version of this article click here