Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Co-Opted Candidate

While watching and reading coverage of the extraordinary events in Iran, I've been wondering just how reformist a candidate Mousavi could possibly be, figuring the answer is something like "not terribly much." That's why I found this post by Matt Steinglass of interest (all emphasis mine):
Iran has an electoral system that is similar in some respects to China’s or Vietnam’s. Elections are held periodically, but the lists of candidates are carefully vetted by the real controlling power structure — in Vietnam or China’s case, the Communist Party; in Iran’s case, the clergy — to ensure ideological compliance and loyalty. Mousavi passed through this system of ideological control; he’s no radical reformer. But what’s happened is that simply by representing an alternative, Mousavi became a vehicle for the expression of the hopes of people who are far more radical in their reformist hopes than anyone in the dominant power structure. Even though the players in the Iranian elections were all screened for their personal views, the simple fact of an election became a forum in which radical and unacceptable political views could express themselves and ultimately co-opt one of the candidates.
This is what makes me think the situation is as revolutionary as it appears -- it's not that the people are fighting so hard only because of a specific candidate; some significant portion seem to be fighting hard for themselves, with the candidate as an excuse.

On the New Yorker's web site, Laura Secor addresses a possible Mousavi reign:
Who knows what sort of president Mousavi would have been, or could yet be? He is an entirely different kind of animal from reformist politicians of the past; he is identified not with students and intellectuals but with the hardscrabble war years and the defense of the poor. But as one analyst explained to me, the problem he faces is that he is perhaps the only person on the Iranian political scene whose public stature is equal to Khamenei’s. He was a favorite son of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the nineteen-eighties. Many Khomeinists in the power structure respect and support him; within the Revolutionary Guards, as well as within the upper clergy, he has a constituency. Traditional, religious people are among his supporters, too. On the morning of June 12th, he may have been the uncharismatic compromise candidate for the anyone-but-Ahmadinejad crowd. But to other voters he was then, and he has increasingly become, something else: the vehicle both for the memory of the utopia that never came, and for the hopes of a younger generation that imagines he shares its vision of the future.
Again, that sounds like what the people are calling for and what Mousavi represents are only partially aligned. But as Secor writes earlier in the same piece:
Many of the protesters of recent days are not calling for an end to the Islamic Republic. They are calling for their votes to be counted. More nights like last night, however, when some seven protesters were allegedly shot, could swiftly change that.
(Both posts via, who else?)

2 Comments:

Blogger John Gray jgsheffield@hotmail.com said...

an interesting blog!

5:21 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I don't know if you are already reading it, but I highly recommend Juan Cole's blog, Informed Comment (http://www.juancole.com/). His own reading of the situation is interesting enough, but he is also posting news and blog round-ups, as well as eyewitness account. He is a very rich source of news and analysis coming from the Middle East.

8:43 AM  

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