Monday, July 17, 2006

An Insignificant Symbolic Event

Yesterday Akbar Ganji ended his hunger strike in front of UN in New York. The participants were requesting the release of political prisoners in Iran. Event was initiated by Ganji himself in his tour around the world. Different so-called opposition groups supported the idea and there were similar gatherings in Canada, Germany and Australia. However the event in New York attracted more media attention than others. Attended by a number of activists and former reformer journalists the event was covered by even a larger number of journalists and media members.

In his final speech he said that his inspirations come from Gandhi, Mandela and Howell. He criticized those who wanted to become Chelebi’s of Iran. Emphasizing that “We exist” he added that it would be shameful to sit home and to witness bombarding Iran and then wait for a foreign government to establish a puppet democracy. He insisted that civil disobedience is the single way available to the opposition.

It must be pointed out that except for a small group of students in Tehran the event did not have much following in Iran or in numerous campuses across the country. This leaves no doubt that it was of no practical use and in reality it became an opportunity for publicity[1]. The event became a footnote with limited symbolic significance amidst the ongoing crisis in Lebanon and Iran’s domestic affairs. It is doubtful that it was even successful in pushing up human rights on western agenda.

One can’t help questioning the pragmatism behind such actions. Certainly Mr. Ganji has shown a great deal of courage and stubbornness so far, however he is an individual supported by a close but small number of friends and colleagues. He is neither a leader nor a political organizer. Although he mentions Gandhi and Mandela, he fails to point out that those were genius political leaders, both backed by a nationwide party system.

The truth is unlike Gandhi and Mandela, Mr. Ganji lacks a popular objective. Before Gandhi was a leader of non-violence, he was a freedom-fighter for India. Mandela in his own turn fought for a South Africa free of apartheid. Both goals appealed enormously to simple ordinary people. One feels justified in pointing out that it does seem Mr. Ganji and his followers lack such popular causes. They might be successful in persuading western leaders that there is a democracy movement in Iran. But their achievements end there for time being.

[1] Writer does not suggest that this was primarily intended, but it happens to be the only outcome.

* Photo from BBC

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Personal Note Regarding Current Events

There are millions things one can say there are several reasons to say or not to say but one thing is for sure: This week millions of people woke up to find their lives disrupted. Some did not get to go home, some did not get to work, and some found their beloved ones dead or missing. All discovered how life could change for nations in a few seconds.

May be in the Middle East we should have been used to it. But no… no one gets used to that. No one gets ever used to burning buildings, to missiles, to broken bridges, to bombardments, no matter for how long it has been going on. Even when we shrugged our shoulders and tell each other we survive this too. Then we stand up and dance… after all we must dance most beautifully in front of death angels.

… And there is the tragedy….

There are immature political groups, as well as immature governments. And the chorus of incompetent Arab leaders completes the picture. One thing is for sure, it seems all prepare for war like the holiest of all rituals. I ask myself if aggression is becoming a second nature, if defiance is becoming the pillar of an ideology.
I know one thing for sure: gods are thirsty no more, so please STOP THIS!

…. And I thought our childhood nightmares are over…. Life could be so deceiving.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

End of Childhood

Since introduction of weblog and first Iranian weblog by Salman Jariri and the manual to write weblog in Farsi by Hussein Derakhshan. Many have chosen to write and to use weblogs as tribunes to express their thoughts and ideas, even a larger number of young and old writers have made it their personal online diaries.

While Mohammad Ali Abtahi uses his weblog to keep public posted on the inner circle of reformers and President Khatami, there are many who keep public updated on their shopping habits, dance parties and travels. Reporting one’s life daily events has become such a widespread habit, that even journalists such as Nikahang Kowasr use their weblogs to report on their moving, conversations and dinner plates. After awhile it becomes very boring to read about events that are somehow common in everybody’s life.

The truth is the demand for weblogs in Iran amplified initially by substitution factor. Followed by banning several papers and magazines, weblogs became a substitute to more traditional ways of expression. They provided former journalists with an opportunity to stay in touch with their audience. This somehow acceptable short run solution proved to be very inconvenient in the long run.

Many of bloggers went abroad to pursue their studies, careers or to have a different lifestyle. After losing touch with the realities of Iran’s domestic affairs, their writing became repetition of what they had already said on several occasions. It is interesting to notice that public preserved an interest in those who wrote about their experience within foreign societies or began to specialize on topics such as immigration or social sciences. Those who remained home have been more successful in connecting with their audience and keeping a wider circle informed of what is going in Iran according to Iranians, however one cannot help noticing that some of the topics debated by both domestic and abroad bloggers are of little significance to the public.

Today there is no doubt that weblogs have failed to substitute traditional channels such as daily papers. Their succes is elsewhere. They have opened a new way of communication and keep a larger number of people connected with each other and each other’s intellectual evolution. They also provide them by an easy and inexpensive way of communicating their ideas and experience. It would be wrong to assume that the era of blogging is over but for its childhood.

Those who continue to write out of narcissism will find themselves trapped in a small world very soon. But those who use this medium to talk and to present ideas or to offer solutions are already facing a growing audience. There is no wonder that some Iranian economists believing in sustainable development and choice have recently launched a website of their own.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mosharekat and New Plans

Mosharekat, the main reformist party in Iran, has announced its strategic plan to increase the number of its members to 1’000’000 and to establish 40 student societies in the campuses across the country. If nothing else, the timing of such decisions alone has already doomed this plan.

Mosharekat came to existence almost a year after President Khatami stunning victory. It was set up by some members of his cabinet as well as veterans of leftist organization such as Sazman i Mojahedin i Inghlab i Islami (Organization of Combatants of Islamic Revolution). At the time many speculated that organizing Mosharekat was a reaction to Kargozaran i Sazandegi, the main technocrats party formed by Mr. Rafsanjani’s supporters. While many of reformers had been out of power for 8 years and President Khatam himself had resigned as minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Kargozaran had been members of cabinets and decision making circles for the past eight years. They were considered in charge by the most of population.

Founders of Mosharekat tried to differentiate themselves from Kargozaran. Their goal was to establish a new party for those who believed in main objectives of reform. While some considered Kargozaran a club with a limited membership policy, many expected Mosharekat to be popular and recipient. At the same time a labor party was established by workers Islami unions coordination committee (Khaney i Kargar). The free media, the new parties and the idea of a better society encouraged many to sign up. However nothing was essentially different.

Mosharekat closed its ranks to memberships immediately. There was no plan for expanding its network; there was no plan for new members. Soon Mosharekat became what it had claimed it was not: a social club for job seekers. The fall of Kargozaran increased its role, but it did not help the leadership to expand Party’s network. After winning the Parliamentarian election, Mosharekat members almost forgot their promises. Party leadership went to President’s brother Dr. Khatami and it did very poorly in channeling popular demand.

By 2004, many who had been volunteered to join and to work for party, but had been turned down for various reasons, would be contacted to help Dr. Moeen’s campaign. Stubbornly Mosharekat refused to choose a candidate with whom Kargozaran could have agreed, such as Dr. Najafi former head of Management and Planning Organization. Their persistence on Dr. Moeen and vice presidency of Dr. Khatami also became factors in encouraging Mr. Karrubi to start a campaign of his own.

Mosharekat in 2005 could be credited by having a few congresses and an incomplete infrastructure. Like all other golden opportunities, reformers wasted 7 golden years for recruitment, infrastructure building and forming a real party.

Today hearing their plan causes a bitter smile. Having 1’000’000 members under current circumastances? Forming 40 student unions across country when current administration is sending home, whomever worthy of opposition? The writer does not want to seem pessimistic, but it seems this is an attempt by those have failed and have caused their own failure to follow a much ignored advice. But how could the new legions trust such faulty leadership again?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Iran’s Ralph Nader

A few days ago it was the anniversary of presidential election in Iran resulting in then-unknown Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory. Some bloggers commented on the consequences of that historical event, many have reminded the reformers, members of President Khatami’s cabinet and Mosharekat Party[1] of their faults and errors and some mentioned the fact that how Iran and her global image has changed during last year.

Few have addressed the reasons and causes of that unfortunate defeat. Many have excuses, some considered it a cooked up election, and some an inevitable one and some in their despair have given up any hope. However the writer would like to use this opportunity to remind others, how close was the result of the first round and how much that helps understanding the dynamics and demands of Iran’s diverse society.

When the results of first round were announced, Mr. Rafsanjani was first with 21%, followed by Ahmadinejad with 19.5%. The duet was followed by Karroubi (17.3%), Ghalibaf (13.9%), Moeen (13.8%), Larijani (5.9%) and Mehralizadeh (4.4%). From 7 candidates Ahmadinejad, Ghalibaf and Larijani were undoubtedly from conservative camp; while the other four were on reformers’ ticket. It is interesting to note that reformers had 56.5% of the vote in the first round. But the second round was to happen between two candidates whose characters meant more than their politics to the electorate.

Mr. Rafsanjani well known for his influence and role was not favored by public as a man capable of delivering the promises of reform. He faced then unknown and humble mayor of Tehran. While many failed to understand the complex nature of one’s political life, many felt connected to simple life style and humble appearance of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Mr Abdi a keen observer of Iran’s politics predicted Mr. Rafsanjani’s defeat while many were still optimistic.

The truth was the second round happened between two wrong candidates. While Rafsanjani camp had been preparing to beat Ghalibaf, a conservative appealing to the youth or Larijani a candidate of a mainstream conservative party, reformers were hoping the second round would have happened between Mr. Rafsanjani and Moeen. They did not put much hope on Mr. Karroubi and no one tried to talk out Mr. Mehralizadeh.

The truth was everyone was wrong, tired of 8 years of empty promises and debates and disillusioned by reformers voters chose those who were closer to them. Mr. Karrubi was the second runner until the very last minute and was furious to find out he came in third at the end. A few hundred thousands votes were what missing in either Karrubi or Moeen camps to make them a second runner, here there was the Ralph Nader factor of election. One million vote of Mr. Mehralizadeh became the cavalry, who had never arrived.

The Ralph Nader of reformer camp happened to be one of President Khatami’s deputies Mr. Mehralizadeh, vice president and head of national organization for sports and athletics activities. His campaign was based on nothing else but his appeal to Azeri population in Iran. He asked them to show that they matter. And they did, ironically many who voted for him would have voted for either Moeen or Karrubi given all else equal. Thus his effect was none but to divide a divided camp even more.

It is amazing to notice that no one asked Mr. Mehralizadeh to step down; no one offered him a position of significance in administration to help him meet his election campaign goal, which at most was one of local significance. On the other hand he went on to help the opposition of his boss to win.

Last year election became what it became, not because Guardian Council was there, it happened because some campaigners forgot the political realities. Let us learn about them.

[1] Mosharekat or Jebhey e Mosharekat Iran i Islami (Frontier for Participation for Islamic Iran) is the main reform party in Iran, established during the first term of President Khatami’s administration by his colleagues and family members. Many had belonged to organizations or circles in the left side of political spectrum in Iran. President Khatami’s brother became general secretary of this party. He was nominated as vice president by Mosharekat’s candidate Dr. Moeen in 2005 election.