Robert Fisk: Ahmadinejad’s successor is supposed to be chosen by the people, not guardians

This is not a real election for Iran but a competition between clerical favourites


Hand-picked to a man. That’s what you can say about the “candidates” for Iran’s presidential election this week. The Guardian Council have ensured that the eight men – all are indeed men, of course – have the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Power remains with the clique of clergymen, which was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s intention. Supreme Leader. I’ve always been troubled by that word. The supreme leader is a guide. And the German for guide is “führer”.

No, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a Nazi state. Most Iranians appear to believe that they have the right to nuclear facilities. Saeed Jalili, the country’s nuclear negotiator, may well be elected president. Or possibly his predecessor Hassan Rowhani. But how can Iranians call this an election when Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been disqualified. The people are supposed to choose their candidates – not “guardians”.

I called up an old Iranian friend at the weekend to ask him what he felt. He is an academic – and a very wise one – and his first words were simple. “I will not be voting in the election because none of the candidates could be representative of those values which are important to me. They know they are not following democracy.”

Professor Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University said more or less the same thing. But he added that many people in Spain, Italy and Greece (or the Gaza Palestinians who voted for Hamas and were put under siege by us for it) didn’t think they lived in much of a democracy. Good point.

Yes, there is a kind of “ghost” democracy in this election. It’s not difficult, for example, to see why the ex-mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, might be a favourite. He comes from that familiar lineage, a “humble” background, and many will admire the fact that his father is a baker. Ghalibaf rose through the senior ranks of the military during the titanic Iran-Iraq war. And unlike the awful Ahmadinejad, Ghalibaf fought in some of the most ferocious battles – and thus today has considerable influence within the Revolutionary Guards. If the US-EU-Israeli threats against Iran over its nuclear plans continue, then Ghalibaf might be the man to stand up to this Western campaign – and avoid the crackpot rhetoric of Ahmadinejad who spent his time enraging Iran’s enemies for the sake of enraging them.

The Iranian election remains not an election but a competition between clerical favourites. And there is a wider question here. Let us remember the 1979 Iranian revolution. Wasn’t there supposed to have been “democracy” then? And didn’t we then watch Khomeini turn Iran into a theocracy – or rather a necrocracy, government for the dead, by the dead? Doesn’t that say something very important about this vast swathe of mountains and rivers and sand called the Middle East? There are revolutions – out goes King Farouk, King Idris, the Iraqi monarchy, the Shah, and then in come more dictators; the Nassers and the Sadats and the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis. And the clergy. Or you have a “corrective revolution” like Hafez al-Assad’s in Syria.

Then you have another revolution and out go the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis and – well, Syria may turn out to be very different and Bahrain is safe for the moment (thanks to us) and Qatar and the Emirates and the Saudis are too busy cooking up the Syrian revolution to worry about their own revolutions. And so it goes on. We sneak some military hardware into Syria and worry that chemical weapons will get into “the wrong hands”. We express outrage when Hezbollah crosses into Syria to help Assad, but blithely talk about how the rebellion against Assad is now “the centre of world jihadism”.

History suggests that democracy is not a word that rings happily in the ears of Middle Eastern people. After all, for them, the “democracies” were the Western nations which supported the Sadats and the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis, and the Shahs, and the revolving-door fortunes of the Blair-kissed nincompoop Gaddafi – all of whom came from their countries’ security apparatus. As for the Shah, he was Iran’s “security apparatus”!

Freedom and dignity is what the people asked for. And human rights. Not democracy. Are they going to get these vital commodities? Yet under the elected dullard Morsi, Cairo is now going through a series of mini-revolutions. Police go on strike, there are revolts in the agriculture ministry, the education ministry, the judiciary, the press – even the Cairo Opera House management. No Aida this year, folks. No ballet either.

Little Tunisia has one of the best chances of survival. Libya is divided up by the mafia who staged the revolution – including one pro-government militia which didn’t mind slaughtering more than 20 largely unarmed protesters this weekend. Do not speak of Syria, where the government is accused by the French of using sarin gas and where a rebel – and we are supporting the “rebels” are we not? – is seen eating part of an Alawite body while others execute captured Syrian soldiers on video.

But there was an intriguing clue to the future in a rare statement from the Syrian army after they captured Qusayr last week. The Syrian military command – not Bashar or the Baath Party – said that “we will not hesitate to crush with an iron fist those who attack us… Their fate is surrender or death.” The Egyptian army rattles its swords (American-made). The army remains supreme in Algeria (with full support from us). The Revolutionary Guard Corps  will continue to run Iran for the  ayatollahs. Are the men in khaki coming back?

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