It depends which way you look at it. The Iranians themselves, the mullahs who run the country, maintain that there was nothing wrong with the election in December 1999. They maintain that the revolutions in the rest of the Middle East & North Africa are in favour of the sort of society they run. They maintain that the uprisings are against the Americans, Britain & the West & that the people taking part in the revolutions want an Islamic type society. Up to a point they are right.
In all of these countries, the leaders (if there were leaders at all – maybe they were just unofficial spokesmen) claimed they could do it all by themselves without the help of the West. In fact none of this, as it turned out, was possible. In Egypt, women have been sidelined since Mubarak was sidelined. Mubarak is apparently being put on trial but it is hard to see this as a sea change in the direction society is taking. In the other countries in the region, either there has not been any fundamental change or there has been severe repression & many protestors have been killed.
I have heard on the radio this morning on the Today programme about the exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder, which pre-dates Islam in Iran. It has been on show in Tehran for 7 months. For some reason it is owned by the British Museum, presumably plundered during the days of empire. The Shah too, harked back to the period before the Shah to claim his legitimacy & his credibility. The welcome that Khomeini received on his return to Iran, the subsequent horrors & the recent street protests just show that revolutions aren’t forever nor should they be. In both China & Russia, the prevailing ideology of communism of Marxism has been abandoned in favour of something else – capitalism – without entirely abandoning the idea of state control & an authoritarian approach to society, not as authoritarian as before but still the rulers endeavour to keep a tight grip on society & the freedom of its citizens.
The Cyrus Cylinder exhibition seems to have been a great success. More than a million people are reported to have looked at it although, it was reported on the Today programme, that the middle classes were unhappy because they felt the idea of the exhibition had been to allow Ahmadinejad to bolster his reputation & nothing else. It is hard to know what is going on in Iran. I have read on the Open Democracy website
about how the 2009 election was rigged but the comments at the bottom were mainly pouring scorn on the idea. They might have been from people in the pay of the government. There were some ridiculous anomalies which lead to the conclusion that it was rigged. It is hard to know what level of popularity Ahmadinejad has in fact. There certainly have been occasions in history when tyrants have enjoyed loads of popularity. But they are usually demagogues. Ahmadinejad, whatever he may be is not a demagogue. So why did they (him & the establishment) decide to rig the election, if that is what they did? After all, his opponent, his rival for the office of president, Moussavi, was not much different from Ahmadinejad. He was Islamic. As far as one knows he would not have much to say about women’s right or Sharia law. The truth, as is obvious, but nobody has, as far as I am aware, pointed out, is that the establishment were trying to pre-empt a change of direction, towards the West that is & to pre-empt Iran’s nuclear programme being derailed. It does seem that in all probability Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb in order to sort out Israel. But developing a nuclear bomb is probably beyond the capability of Iran, at least in the foreseeable future. It does seem that most young people in Iran don’t care about the issue. The film No-one knows about Persian Cats portrays young people as being impatient with the strictures of Islam. At least some, maybe lots of young people.
At the moment the mullahs are resorting to tear gas & the most severe repression, hundreds of people have been hanged this year alone, many of them, including Zahra Bahrami, for taking part in the December 2009 demonstrations. Demonstrations are put down with voluminous amounts of tear gas. The revolution or counter revolution, depending on how you look at it is running out of steam or at least that is what it looks like.
But the Cyrus Cylinder exhibition is a sign that the ideology is changing, moderating somewhat. Cyrus favoured religious toleration, this is what the writing on the cylinder advocates. It couldn’t go on forever like this. Issues like women’s rights, freedom to congregate, drink alcohol, practise other religions or none, freedom of speech will change, methinks, as time goes by. As for Western style democracy, I doubt it. Take the case of China. In fact the citizens of the People’s Republic of China can say whatever they like, just so long as they don’t criticize the government.
I envisage Iran becoming a more tolerant country, where the present organs of state wither away & people can live more free lives, probably without so many restrictions on how they think & for example worship & with women having some rights. In the UK, the Queen is technically head of state but she has no power nor influence. The royal family is a soap opera. The country is technically Church of England but technically is all that it is. In fact the Catholic church is in better shape these days here in the UK, mainly due to the many Polish people living in the country, many, possible most of whom go to church on Sundays. Most British people do not believe in anything to do with the religion any more. And I envisage the mullahs’ power dissipating in Iran in a similar way.
I believe in the inevitability of gradualness.