Iran's Moment Of Truth: Rafsanjani And Mashaei Wished To Ignore The True Nature Of The Regime
02 June 2013
Is it still interesting? This question concerns the
forthcoming presidential election in Iran. Some
believe that the decision to prevent "heavyweight"
candidates from standing has emptied the exercise of
whatever significance it might have claimed. This is
specially the position of those who argued that former
President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani or presidential
adviser Esfandiar Mashaei would have been able to
implement a set of unspecified reforms.
However, a different analysis is possible.
The candidacy of both Rafsanjani and Mashaei was based
on lies; cynical for the former and lyrical for the
The two men lied to themselves by assuming they could
be grandees of a regime while pretending to be its
How could Rafsanjani, a man who played a key role in
creating the regime that is shutting the door on him,
suddenly be repackaged as champion of reform and
As for Mashaei, he must have been delusional to claim
a mandate from the "Hidden Imam" while seeking
approval from the Guardian Council, a 12-man
star-chamber that vets applications for candidacy.
More than three decades after Khomeini seized power,
it is important for Iranians to acknowledge the truth
of their situation. The planned election provides an
opportunity for doing just that.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a triple lie. It is
not Iranian because its ideology denies the concepts
of nationhood and nation-states. Nor is this regime
Islamic because its ideology excludes anyone who does
not share its slogan of "Allah, Koran, Khomeini".
Those who cannot accept Ali Khamenei as "Leader of the
Muslim Ummah " are also excluded. Here is how
Commander of the Military Forces of the Islamic
Republic, General Ahmadi Muqaddam, puts it: "Anyone
who does not believe in our velayat (leadership) is an
infidel and thus mahdur ad-dam, meaning his blood
could be shed with impunity". According to Ayatollah
Muhammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, unquestioning loyalty to
"Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei is "part of Islam."
Obviously, the regime is not a republic either because
it is the "Supreme Guide" that has the final say on
all issues. This is how, in a recent speech, and with
admirable frankness, Khamenei himself put it:
"Whatever I say on public affairs is an edict of the
The regime created by Khomeini is a peculiar beast.
The ayatollah accepted such concept as constitution,
republic, and elections to hoodwink the middle classes
and seduce leftist and Mussadeqist elements blinded by
their irrational hatred of the Shah. However, it was
obvious that he could not and did not want a
Western-style democracy with a republican system.
The system that Khomeini created, with the help of
such characters as Rafsanjani, could best be described
as an "imamate" a version of which existed in Yemen
until the 1962 coup d'etat. The Khomeinist system is
also comparable to the "Islamic Emirate" created by
the Taliban in Afghanistan where Mullah Muhammad Omar
adopted the title of "Commander of the Faithful" (Emir
To be sure, the Khomeinist model has specific features
reflecting the fact that Iran is neither Yemen nor
Afghanistan. One such feature is the role of the
military-intelligence elite that has acquired immense
economic and social power under the banner of "velayat".
In that sense, the system also resembles Third World
dictatorial regimes dominated by the military.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the three models
have similar ideological roots. In all three, a single
individual claims divine mandate and casts himself as
arbiter of all aspects of public and private life.
In such a model, pretending to have an elected
president is at best a conceit and an insult to
intelligence at worst.
Two years ago, Khamenei addressed that issue, albeit
in an indirect manner, when he suggested that the
position of a directly elected president be replaced
by that of a prime minister appointed by the "Supreme
Rafsanjani and Mashaei wished to ignore the true
nature of the regime while acting within it. Before
them other "children of the revolution" tried a
similar gambit. Mehdi Bazargan deluded himself into
thinking that Khomeinism would be like Christian
Democracy in Europe. Muhammad Khatami toured the world
marketing Khomeinism as an alternative to "the Western
model" inspired by the Enlightenment and Renaissance
while his police crushed the student revolt and
assassinated intellectuals across the country.
Once they have acknowledged the true nature of their
regime, warts and all, Iranians will face three key
Do we want this regime?
Does this regime reflect our culture and existential
reality as a nation?
Can this regime build a society in which we could live
in relative peace and prosperity while enjoying basic
human rights and freedoms?
If the answer to all three questions is in the
affirmative, Iranians should try to help make it work
or work better. If not, they should work for regime
change no matter how long it takes.
Rafsanjani and Mashaei tried to avoid those questions,
thus lying to themselves, to the system, and to the
By highlighting the true nature of the regime, their
elimination by the Guardian Council clears the air.
The decision has created a moment of truth. And, for
that reason alone, the council's decision must be
The caveat here is that the eliminated "heavyweights"
may yet be reinstated thanks to intervention by
Khamenei. But, even if that happens, which seems
unlikely, the move will further underline the true
nature of the regime.
In June, for the first time since Khomeini seized
power, Iranians will know exactly what kind of regime
they are voting for. This exercise is of interest
because we will see how just many actually go to the
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran,
and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. He was
Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for
the Sunday Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of
the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a
contributor to the International Herald Tribune. He
has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York
Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French
magazine Politique Internationale, and the German
weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he was editorial
writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has
published 11 books, some of which have been translated
into 20 languages. He has been a columnist for Asharq
Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and