01 January 2010

Roger Cohen on the need for a change in Iranian leadership

For anyone interested in following the unfolding events in Iran there is an op-ed piece in the 30 December New York Times, by columnist Roger Cohen, which is well worth reading. Cohen is well informed on Iranian matters, and follows them closely. He covered the June election from Tehran, after a previous visit in February, so has contemporary on-the-ground experience.

Cohen introduces his subject thus:

It has come to this: The Islamic Republic of Iran killing the sons and daughters of the revolution during Ashura, adding martyrdom to martyrdom at one of the holiest moments in the Shiite calendar.

Nothing could better symbolize Iran’s 30-year-old regime at the limit of its contradictions. A supreme leader imagined as the Prophet’s representative on earth — Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s central revolutionary idea — now heads a militarized coterie bent, in the name of money and power, on the bludgeoning of the Iranian people. A false theocracy confronts a society that has seen through it.

He gives the theocratic regime credit for some things it has done – things which themselves lie behind some of the contradictions the regime is wrestling with:

It has brought high levels of education to a broad swathe of Iranians, including the women it has repressed. In a Middle East of static authoritarianism, it has dabbled at times in liberalization and representative governance. It has never quite been able to extinguish from its conscience Khomeini’s rallying of the masses against the shah with calls for freedom.

Nowhere else today in the Middle East does anything resembling the people power of Iran’s Green movement exist. This is at once a tribute to the revolution and the death knell of an ossified post-revolutionary order.

He gives us some quotable quotes from the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri:

His anger came to a head after the June 12 election, hijacked by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Montazeri then declared: “Such election results were declared that no wise person in their right mind could believe, results that based on credible evidence and witnesses had been altered extensively.” He lambasted what he called “astonishing violence against defenseless men and women.”

Cohen argues that it is time for a change in the leadership model for Iran, and suggests that Iran cast its eyes westward to Iraq where the most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, exercises precisely the kind of moral authority and suasion — without direct executive authority — that Montazeri favored for Iran.

Without such a change, he argues, it is difficult to see the current unrest abating.

Read Cohen’s entire post here.

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