Wing and a prayer

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The Guardian – Leader Article: Conservatives and moderates in the Iranian political system, the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, has said, are like the wings of a bird. Both must beat if the bird is to stay aloft. It is an image with which many outside observers of Iranian politics, who have for years seen the two tendencies as cooperating and sometimes colluding with one another, would concur. But it does not hold at all today, after the victory in the presidential elections of, a victory which means that the hardliners now have power in every branch of Iran’s government. The Guardian

Leader Article

Conservatives and moderates in the Iranian political system, the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, has said, are like the wings of a bird. Both must beat if the bird is to stay aloft. It is an image with which many outside observers of Iranian politics, who have for years seen the two tendencies as cooperating and sometimes colluding with one another, would concur. But it does not hold at all today, after the victory in the presidential elections of, a victory which means that the hardliners now have power in every branch of Iran’s government. It is not so much that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been defeated, for his claims to reformist status were largely bogus, but that the hardliners could not even reconcile themselves to coping with a skilled old political operator of his kind, or face the prospect of him offering some sort of rivalry to Khamenei.

In the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, as well as in the supervisory institutions and offices they have always controlled, the hardliners are on top. This does not mean that a few reformists will not survive nor, Iranian being Iranians, that there will be no divisions among those in power. Quite apart from the impact of personal ambitions, Iran’s dilemmas are so deep that divisions are inevitable, but they will now be between hardline and harder line, rather than between conservatives and reformers.
This is a frightening state of affairs, which has arisen precisely because those who hold most of the power in Iran are very fearful men. They are frightened of the United States, suspicious of Europe, mistrustful of their Middle Eastern neighbours and unready at home to advance even to the halfway house of relative openness and democracy represented by Mohammad Khatami, the outgoing president. The consequences for both Iranians and for the rest of us are likely to be serious, even if the changes may not be as immediately dramatic as some might predict.

Khatami thought, or hoped, that the revolution could be democratised. The new president, by contrast, says that the revolution was not made to bring democracy. It may be that the heirs of Khomeini’s revolution are right in believing that the pursuit of democracy would ultimately have unseated them. In any case, they have made it clear they are determined to dominate. The new president will have some initial impetus because of his promises to attack corruption and divide wealth more fairly, but, if he fails in that, as he is likely to, the frayed political connection between government and people in Iran could give way completely.

A state based on the security institutions of the revolutionary guard, the militia, the police, the intelligence services and the regular amed forces will have the allegiance of those in such bodies and of other beneficiaries in the civil service and the judiciary, and the means to suppress the opposition of others.

But it could lose even the acquiescence of the rest of the population and particularly of the educated and skilled classes. It is all very well to speak, as some Iranians do, of a Chinese model in which economic and social freedoms are combined with an authoritarian politics. It is far from clear whether the hardliners in Iran have the capacity to maintain even that tawdry balance.

Externally, one test will be when the Iranians return to the table to talk about nuclear matters with the European Union. The negotiators the EU has been dealing with are, most of them, liberals. If they are replaced or have clearly been rebriefed that would be a clear signal. They may not be. for the Iranian system still has some suppleness and sense, but the chances of an ultimate collision with the United States must have increased with the vote this weekend.

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