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Старый 04.04.2009, 18:41   #1
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Unforgettable на пути к лучшему
Мои фотоальбомы

По умолчанию Демократия в Иране?

Моя статья об Иране. Написана год назад, но думаю, во многом сохранила актуальность. Интересно, что Обама сейчас пробует именно то, что здесь написано - прямые контакты с Ираном.

A Democratic Iran: It’s More than Just a Dream
Eldar Mamedov*

A multi-storey building in the centre of Tehran. On the wall hangs a poster with the skull-shaped Statue of Liberty accompanied by the slogan Down with USA written in giant letters. Called “the former nest of the American espionage” by the official guidebooks, this building was the American Embassy until 1979, when the Islamic revolution overthrew the pro-western Pahlavi monarchy. Today, it houses the headquarters of the so-called Revolutionary Guards. Next door is a bookshop stocked with books on politics and religion, as well as documents supposedly coming from the formed embassy and proving the Great Satan’s sinister intentions towards Islam and the Iranian people. Inside the bookshop there is a lot of dust and not a living soul – except, that is, for the chador-clad shop assistant. Outside, however, is a park filled with young people relaxing and enjoying a sunny day. Except for the obligatory hijab worn by girls, their looks and dress style are indistinguishable from that of young people in any southern European city.

The apparent lack of revolutionary zeal is just one side of the growing divide between Iran’s religious and political elite and the rest of the society. Iranians are growing tired of the “Islamic revolution”. They long for change and for openness, something that is denied by the current regime. The recent parliamentary elections, where two conservative fractions fought for power, did not reflect the true frame of mind of the Iranians. They were denied the right to choose an assembly that is vested with real power; they were also denied the right to choose their representatives, as all the candidates have to seek the approval of the Guardians’ Council. This institution, not chosen by the people, ensures that only those candidates who support the regime’s ideological principles are allowed to participate. The parliament’s power is largely nominal, while the real power is in the hands of the mullahs and the “supreme leader” they choose in their narrow circle. The Guardians’ Council can annul any law approved by the parliament if it is found “incompatible” with the founding principles of the Islamic Republic.

Yet despite the dictate and manipulation employed by the government, Iran’s civic society is growing stronger, as does the discontent and opposition to the regime. There are some eight thousand NGOs currently active in Iran, while human rights activists are fighting against the abuse of power. There are several independent media outlets While an increasing number of civic associations are dedicated to promoting specific mundane issues, they often develop into political protest. A formidable example was set in 2007 by the teachers’ and transport employees’ trade unions when they organized strike action on an unprecedented scale and emerged as a new and potentially influential opposition force.

Disaffection with the regime is not limited to the narrow circle of dissidents and politically active citizens. There is a quiet revolution going on in Iran, and it has a broad and diverse social base. Massive urban migration, modernization of infrastructures, developing communications and broadening of the educational system – all these factors are driving a profound transformation in Iran, and the change is spearheaded by the young people.

Seven in ten Iranians are below the age of 30, they have not lived under the Shah and have not seen the Islamic revolution. These young people, who come from very diverse social backgrounds, have become fervent devotees of the Western culture despite the attempts by the system to raise them as true “soldiers of the Revolution”. In response to the restrictions on freedom of speech imposed by the regime, they moved to the internet as the main platform for free expression. The Iranians’ passion for blogs is phenomenal: Persian is the third most used blogging language in the world. On the content side, far from focusing on Islamic purity, the majority of Iranian bloggers demand more freedom of expression and a more liberal approach to relations between sexes. They also argue against some ridiculous restrictions, such as bans on music performance by women and on playing chess (the Persian word for chess has a politically “inappropriate” association with the dethroned Shah). Many openly dissociate themselves from religion. As one blogger put it, “the young people who live under the rule of God’s representatives, now deny the very existence of God.”

It is women who are at the frontline of Iran’s civic awakening. The Islamic republic discriminats against women, limiting their civic and political rights and personal freedoms. At the same time, for many years now women have made up about 60 per cent of the university student population. Apparently, the trend scared the clerical elite so much that they have now reserved 50 per cent of places at several departments for men. Better education has led to a higher average marriage age (now 25 years), and a lower birth rate – two indicators of the progress made by Iran’s women despite the system. Active women organize campaigns to educate other women from all walks of life about their rights and to persuade them to that these rights are worth fighting for. In spite of the reprisals by the regime, the campaign networks are growing, attracting not only secular and well-educated, but also religious and conservative women. In a sense, Iran’s women have already got an important victory. Thanks to these efforts, the way the role of women in the Iranian society is seen is changing. According to a Gallup survey, 78 per cent of Iranians agree that women are capable of holding leading government positions. This result is only bested by Lebanon and Turkey, while in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (traditional allies of the West in the region) this attitude is only shared by 54 and 40 per cent respectively.

A new generation of Islamic intellectuals is also on the rise in Iran. They call for a modern and open reading of religion, one that is in line with the ideas of human rights, liberal democracy and secularism. One notable exponent of this thinking is the internationally renowned Iranian intellectual AbdolKarim Soroush, who advocates “Islamic minimalism”. Contrary to the ideas of revolutionary Islam, his vision stresses respect for the autonomy of the state and society vis-à-vis religion, individual freedom and the importance of rule of law. These ideas have inspired Islamic reformers in other Muslim countries; they also undermine the legitimacy of the religious fundamentalists. Paradoxically, Iran has now become an intellectual centre of reformist and secularist thinking within the Islamic world. It is also seeing a growth of alternative, unorthodox religious practices. Many Iranians, especially young people, turn to Sufism which is a non-politicized, mystical and tolerant version of Islam. This trend has been a huge annoyance to the regime, and it has been reacting violently against religious dissidents. Even members of the official religious hierarchy are in for serious trouble if they dare question the founding principles of the Islamic republic.

The society’s resistance against the puritanical theocracy is increasingly demonstrated in everyday behaviour. One only has to stroll the streets of Tehran to see to what degree the Islamic vision of ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, has been defeated. Instead of the idyll of the Islamic society, “western decadence” flourishes. In a country where law imposes obligatory hijab for women and forbids use of makeup, a uncovered lock of hair, lipstick and tight-fitted jeans are a potent – and popular – protest sign. Cafés, tea-houses, parks and other public spaces are arenas for perfecting one’s flirting skills. Breaking the rules of sex segregation is the norm for young people. The exceptional Museum of Modern Art that was inaugurated under the Shah and miraculously survived the revolution, exhibits refined and provocative works by young Iranian artists along with masterpieces by Rodin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Sikeiros and Warhol. Riding the wave of popularity are underground rock groups which follow the noble Persian poetic tradition to laugh at obsession with religious dogmas. There is a revived interest for the Persian pop icons of the Shah period, airing memories of the social freedom and tolerance of the 60’s and 70’s.

Foreign policy is yet another area where Islamist ideology falls on deaf ears with the majority of Iranians. Although many support, for various reasons, the government’s nuclear programme, opinion polls show a consistent and strong majority in favour of improved relations with the United States. The latest survey on the issue dating back to the end of 2006 found that 75 per cent of Iranians wanted a rapprochement with the US (the authors of the survey were later jailed). Also the attitude towards Israel is a lot more moderate than president Ahmadinejad’s disgraceful Holocaust-denying rhetoric and support for Hezbollah and Hamas suggest. Many Iranians do not understand why they have to support Arab terrorist organizations: Iran and Israel are not in direct conflict with each other while the relations between Persians and Jews have a long and often positive history dating back to the times of king Darius.

The regime is increasingly unpopular, yet it does not mean that its days are numbered. Islamic Republic’s leaders are perfectly aware of the public discontent and their answer is more brutal oppression of dissidents, of civic society leaders – of anyone who is “suspicious”. The Islamic government’s paranoia got a boost after the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. It has convinced itself that there is a plan for a foreign-sponsored “colour revolution” in Iran. This is why the government regularly jails NGO activists, bloggers, journalists, and human rights activists and closes down independent media. The regime actively uses terror and torture. In 2003, Zahra Khazemi, a Canadian journalist of Iranian descent, was murdered in prison, and, as might be expected, the perpetrators were never punished. Every year, on March 8th, the police use force to break up women’s demonstrations for equality. In the spirit of witch-hunt, the government has arrested several prominent intellectuals and made them confess that they spied for the United States. Ideologically bankrupt, the regime increasingly relies on its power to oppress. The military and security services – a group also Ahmadinejad comes from – are gaining more influence within the regime.

Can the EU and the US help Iranian society change the situation and embark on the process of democratization? There is very little the West can do. Still, decisions taken in Washington and in the European capitals can have influence on Iran’s politics.

The good news is that all talk of military action against Iran has simmered down. Such action would be illegal from the point of view of international law; just as importantly, it would be disastrously counterproductive. It would undermine the goodwill towards the West in the Iranian society and give the regime a perfect excuse for even more radical repression against the reformists. Tightening sanctions and continuing talks is not likely to be effective either: this approach focuses on arms control while leaving out other important issues, e.g. human rights.

There is a way that has not been tried out yet: a direct negotiations between the US, the EU and Tehran on all contentious issues: Iran’s nuclear programme, its support for terrorist organizations, Iran’s role in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, human rights etc. There are possible moral objections to talks with the Islamic regime, but they would be answered by the demand on the West’s side that the official contacts be followed by broader contacts with Iran’s civil society. This presupposes support for Iran’s integration into the global economy, opening of embassies and culture centres, student and academic exchanges, tourism etc. By getting closer to the Iranian society the West would dispel the regime’s core argument: that the West is inherently hostile to the Iranian people. The well-educated, wealthy, secular and pro-democratic Persian diaspora in the US and in Europe could play a major role in this process. In the long run, such contacts would strengthen the non-governmental activists in Iran and weaken the regime. This is exactly the approach the country’s human rights and democracy activists are advocating. One of them, the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize laureate Akbar Ganji, said that the most effective way to promote regime change is to engage in a dialogue with this regime. Not isolation, but integration in the global community would strengthen the pro-democratic and secular forces inside Iran. The coming presidential elections in the US give a perfect chance to reconsider the relations between the West and Iran. One can hope that the voice of Iran’s civic society will be heard this time.

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