01 August 2009

Bani-Sadr on events in Iran

There is a very important opinion piece on events in Iran in the 31 July 2009 edition of the New York Times, written by Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, first President of Iran after the 1979 Revolution.

By way of background it is important to understand that, notwithstanding his role in the post-revolutionary regime, Bani-Sadr is not a narrow-minded exponent of Islamist rule. Rather, he is an Iranian- and French-educated modernist who before the revolution wrote a number of distinguished articles which sought to develop modern social, economic and political principles from the Quran. His high standing in the regime reflected the breadth of the coalition of forces that brought about the original revolution.

Writing about him in her seminal work Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution (Yale University Press, 2006), Iran scholar Nikki R. Keddie has this to say about him:

Abolhassan Bani Sadr is one of the more original political ideologists and theoreticians of the Iranian Islamic movement. After having been close to Ayatollah Khomeini at Neauphle-le-Ch√Ęteau, he became a rising figure in the new regime, and in November 1979 became acting foreign minister. In January 1980 he was elected first president of the Islamic Republic. His works are less popular than those of [radical interpreter of Shi’ism and challenger of Westernization Ali] Shariati; they are also much clearer. He analyses problems and uses economic arguments.

Born in 1933-34 into a family of Ayatollahs originating in Hamadan, Bani Sadr studied at the university first theology and then sociology. In this period he met the French Marxist sociologist Paul Vieille, whose collaborator he became. Bani Sadr was already a known opponent of the shah’s regime and participated in meetings organized by the National Front and by political groups at Tehran University, when he was forced into exile in France, where he pursued studies in economics and sociology. Much influenced by the 1968 student movement, he became a leader of students abroad opposed to the shah’s regime. From 1972 he was in direct contact with Ayatollah Khomeini in Najaf.

Bani-Sadr’s opinion piece, datelined Paris, is very clear and self-explanatory. He starts:

In the weeks since the Iranian election, the government of the Islamic Republic has been publicly divided, delegitimatized and grown increasingly more weak. The current situation offers parallels with the political unrest leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ended the rule of the shah.

Historically, the Iranian government has enjoyed four sources of legitimacy: its competence in managing state affairs, its official religious authority, its commitment to Iran’s independence, and its ability to provide a stable base of social support. All of these have now been irretrievably undone.

He goes on to describe the events that have destroyed the sources of the regime’s legitimacy, and states that for either side in the current political contest to change its position would be suicidal. He concludes:

Several outcomes are possible. Historically, the regime’s top tactic for maintaining control has been to divide the country’s elites into two competing groups and eliminate one. Now, as this process has reached into the heart of the regime, that has become lethal. The regime’s own cadres oppose Mr. Ahmadinejad, and the deepening economic crisis has deprived the regime of resources and spurred further public discontent. This has provided an opening in which the Iranian people can determine the outcome of the struggle.

If the people cease resisting, times will become even harder; if they continue, their uprising will be transformed into a full-fledged revolution. This would make the establishment of democracy a real possibility. And all indications point to the determination of the Iranian people to see this uprising through.

Read Bani-Sadr’s full article here.

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