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Shades of Gray: An Interview with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari as told by Arun Pillai-Essex

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Shades of Gray

An Interview with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari as told by Arun Pillai-Essex

Syria, as recently described by Don Belt of National Geographic, is an evolving photograph, an image rendered to a thousand shades of gray “developing slowly before our eyes.”a The analogy is particularly apt. Once shunned as an international pariah for its support of militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria has built bridges with some of the unlikeliest of characters, from regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia, to its former colonial master, France. A centrally planned economy previously marred by inefficiency and corruption is now making room for robust capitalist competition in important sectors like transportation, manufacturing, and telecommunications. New banking regulations have encouraged the development of a modern financial industry, and the easing of state intervention has tipped the economic equilibrium toward market forces.

Though the international financial crisis slowed growth temporarily, Syria’s economy is projected to grow at a stable 4.1% in 2010 whilst foreign direct investment and other broad economic agreements are expected to increase. The ongoing deliberations over the European Union’s Economic Association Agreement, a pact aimed at reducing protectionist barriers between Syria and the EU, offer a clear indication of this trend. The agreement will phase out tariffs and quotas on imports and exports between Syria and the EU, while providing Syria with financial aid to strengthen its indigenous industries and modernize its economy.b The negotiations reached an impasse this year after a five year delay by the EU over Syria’s foreign policy was dropped. While the Europeans moved hastily to sign off on a final deal, the Syrian government felt it had not been given enough time to fully analyze the agreement.  As one Syrian official explained to The Economist: “the Europeans were arrogant and patronizing towards us for five years and then they generously gave us 17 days to decide.”c Nevertheless, the agreement is expected to pass. It is but one example of Syria’s increasingly outward-oriented economic policy.

Another example of this change can be found in the burgeoning ties between Turkey and Syria, which have expanded past their traditional import-export relationship into a full-fledged strategic partnership.  During a recent meeting in Aleppo, Syrian ministers of foreign affairs, defense, economy and trade, oil electricity, and agriculture met their Turkish counterparts to discuss bilateral plans in their respective fields. They issued a joint statement explaining that the two parties had agreed to form a “long-term strategic partnership to bolster and expand their cooperation on a wide spectrum of issues of mutual benefit and interest.” Relations have strengthened in recent years since disputes concerning water resources and Syria’s support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have subsided, and Turkey and Syria have moved towards bolstering their military and political linkages.d The two militaries carried out joint maneuvers outside Ankara, and Turkey continues to play an active role in the mediation of regional issues concerning Syria, particularly in the indirect talks with Israel over the Golan Heights.

In spite of the above developments, the timeless adage, ‘old habits die hard’, applies. Despite positive signs of increasing economic integration and political aperture, the Assad family’s iron grip on the country for nearly 40 years was not achieved by being soft. Syria has grown up in – and survived – a tough neighborhood. Bordered by Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, Syria has maneuvered its way through this treacherous geopolitical terrain by ruthless guile and by attaching itself to more powerful countries, from the Soviet Union during the Cold War to Khamini’i-controlled Iran today. Though the flurry of diplomatic exchanges with Arab neighbors and with the West raised the hopes of many international observers that a disciplined and flexible Syrian leadership would lead the way towards a stabilized region, the recent series of crises – from Israel’s assault on Gaza to post-election instability in Iran – has exposed the deep fissures which preclude complete rapprochement between the “beating heart” of the Arab world and the West. President Barack Obama has continued his predecessor’s policy of economic sanctions, and Syria’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran’s nuclear program remains unabated. The economy, while in the process of progressively liberalising, is still wrought with high unemployment, and in a country where the majority of the population is under the age of 25, the government’s inability to expand job opportunities raises the spectre of looming domestic instability. Syria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) still lies in the bottom tier of the region, behind places states such as Iraq, Libya, and Sudan.

Thus, Syria is stepping forward with one foot while the other remains stuck in the old political and economic paradigms of the 20th century. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad perhaps best encapsulated the character of his country when he remarked to National Geographic that ruling Syria was “never pure black or pure white, all bad or all good,” but “only shades of gray.”e

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari, the leading architect behind Syria’s economic reform efforts was generous enough to grant MFAR some of his time to discuss the progress, hindrances, and implications of Syria’s program of liberalization, as well as the contemporary political issues facing his country.

MFAR: What have been some of the immediate positive effects of the reform process?

DARDARI: The most important thing that has happened in Syria over the past few years is the change in mindset and a change of framework for the Syrian economy. First of all, the mindset is moving away from a very strong statist, centrally-planned economy into a more open, integrated, and market-driven economy. It has not been an easy process, but I think we can see that it is already happening and that the economic sectors in Syria such as transportation, manufacturing, electricity, telecommunications, and energy are, in general, opening up to competition. Almost 1,000 laws and new regulations have been passed in the past four years to ensure that the Syrian economy is functioning on economic common sense. There is greater diversification, a stronger private sector, and a different role for the state. It is moving away from an interventionist to a regulatory role while at the same time preserving certain aspects of the social equilibrium through the provision of free health and education to all citizens.

What have been some of the obstacles to reform?

First, we should remember that such changes in mindset always face resistance from people who are not aware or familiar with the needs of the new economy, and of course there are vested interests in the old ways of doing things. However, I can see now that these vested interests are also adapting to the new economy. The second hindrance is a lack of human resources capable of managing the new economy since it requires different sets of skills and capabilities. The third hindrance has been a lack of institutions that can understand and manage our new economy, especially institutions related to the civil service. Therefore, the focus in the next few years will be on institutional reform.

Critics have described the lack of a modern financial sector as a factor curtailing the potential for economic growth. What action has the government actions taken to stimulate such a sector?

You are right in the sense that when we started this reform process it was clear that Syria lacked a financial sector that could be a driver of reform and a driver of growth. Therefore, a few years ago we started instituting new banking regulations that allowed private banks to open up. There is also now a much stronger independent central bank, and the Damascus stock exchange reopened after 50 years, at the height of the international financial crisis in February 2009. It has been growing in numbers and in volume; slowly but steadily we can finally see the intermediary role of the financial sector beginning to function as it should, so that access to finance in 2009 is better than it ever was before. There is tremendous growth in deposits and lending, but we still have a very long way to go before we reach the effective intermediary role that we want in our financial sector. So the focus now is on ensuring that access to finance, investment, and trade finance is easily available but well-regulated at the same time.

What is the status of the EU Economic Association Agreement and the overall trend of increasing economic ties between Syria and the EU?

Let me separate two things. There is cooperation with Europe, as Europe remains the largest trading partner for Syria and will continue to be so. And then there is the EU Association Agreement, the negotiations for which have been frozen for five years for  political reasons by the EU, who now say we should sign it.  But we are telling the EU we need some time to assess and evaluate the impact of the Association Agreement for different sectors of the Syrian economy, especially since the text that was initiated in 2004 reflected very different economic realities in Syria and in Europe compared to what we have today. In fact, the Syrian economy today has implemented over 95 percent of the reforms that were stipulated in the 2004 Association Agreement. The structure of the Syrian economy has changed dramatically since then.  So we are looking at the text now, and we have asked the EU to give us some time to review the actual impact of this agreement. Now, however, one should ever underestimate the importance of Syrian-European economic relations; the EU remains one of our major export markets and a major source of technology and investment in Syria.

On October 13th 2009, the first meeting of the Turkish Syrian Cooperation Council was held in Aleppo. What can we expect to see from this Council and how close is Syria to Turkey?

I think the relations between Syria and Turkey reflect the new dynamic of the region. Syria and Turkey are now moving to create what we call a single economic sphere where there is a lot of complementarity.  Both countries together represent an open corridor of trade, investment and energy sources between east and west. They represent together a center of gravity, stability, and economic growth in the region. For us this is very important; I don’t want to use the word axis, but I want to see this center of gravity, this corridor, expanding to other countries in the region. We think this would be extremely useful for stability and prosperity. We have already seen an increase in trade and tourism between the two countries as well as an increase in joint ventures and investment.

There have been some concrete signs of rapprochement between the United States and Syria since the inauguration of President Obama and his administration’s policy of re-engagement. Do you see this trend continuing at all?

Now, I can’t deny that there has been a very different approach by the Obama administration, an approach of engagement rather than confrontation. A language of dialogue, rather than a language of ‘if you are not my friend then you are my enemy,’ which had totally disastrous consequences for everybody. We no longer see any attempt by the administration to impose its will on Syria and others in the region. However, dialogue is the only change so far, we have not yet seen dramatic or even major changes in substance either on the question of the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate, or on the Golan Heights, or on other issues in the region. So yes it is a positive change, but I wouldn’t hold very high hopes at the moment until we see substantive changes in the administration’s policy vis-a-vis issues that concern Syria, especially full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

In recent years, Syria’s oil production has declined substantially.  How has your government managed this decline?

The decline in crude oil production from the peak in 1996 of 600,000 barrels a day to almost 370,000 barrels a day now was one of the major drivers behind the reforms. The realization that we can no longer depend on crude oil as both the major source of our budget and the major source of the currency in the country provided the impetus for our efforts focused on economic diversification, finding diverse sources of budget revenue, and changing our GDP growth structure. Seventy percent of our exports are now manufactured and agricultural goods rather than crude oil. However, I must emphasize that the energy sector remains an important one in Syria, and in the past year we have managed to stabilize the decline in crude oil production. It is now stable at 380,000 barrels a dat and we project that this output will remain steady for the next 20 to 30 years. Natural gas production, on the other hand, has been increasing at a rate of almost ten percent annually and is projected to continue to grow like this in the next few years.  At the same time we are opening up new areas for exploration and development, offshore and onshore, for natural gas and crude oil. We are trying to develop Syria as a hub in the region for a gas pipeline and crude oil pipeline linking the Mediterranean to energy sources in the Gulf and in Iran.

How has the Syrian public reacted to the continued easing of fuel subsidies?

You have to understand the public is naturally not very happy about this. However, in Syria the reduction in subsidies in 2008 coincided with tremendous growth in worldwide inflation because of the food and energy crisis of 2007 and 2008. Today, we can see that inflation in Syria went down from 15 percent in 2008 to an average of 3.5 percent in 2009, so there has been an easing of price increases for the population. The other point is that people can see that there is now a new system of subsidies rather than a complete elimination of subsidies. We are providing cash transfers to vulnerable groups in society and, for the first time, we are providing support for expanded exports. Also, we see that in the 2010 budget there was a 19 percent increase in public investment, which will create more growth and more jobs for the Syrian people.  People have finally started to realize that this bleeding we have been suffering as a result of the old subsidy system has stopped and a new system of targeted support to different segments of the economy has been set up in its place. I hope that in 2010 the positive results of these developments will be seen and appreciated by ordinary people, which is the most difficult aspect in any reform process. n

This interview has been edited and consolidated.

Works Cited

a Belt, Don. “Shadowland,” National Geographic, November 2009. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/syria/belt-text

b Country Report: Syria, Economist Intelligence Unit. November 2009. http://store.eiu.com/product/50000205SY-sample.html

c Ibid.

d News, Syria and Turkey Deepen Ties,” Syria Today, November 2009. http://www.syria-today.com/index.php/november-2009/450-news/4265-syria-and-turkey-deepen-ties

e Belt, Don.

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Written by mcgillfar

February 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Is it Time for Political Change in Iran? Looking for Indicators in Society’s Activism

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Is it Time for Political Change in Iran? Looking for Indicators in Society’s Activism

By Dr. Imad Mansour

Iran is currently experiencing a period of protracted domestic turmoil – which since the summer of 2009 has fluctuated in intensity, but has not ceased. Societal mobility underpins the ongoing political contestation, and it has the potential to have long-lasting implications for the Iranian political system.

There are two questions in particular that we can examine in order to help us understand these unfolding events: What is significant in the current struggle for power in Iran? And what does it mean for the political system as a whole? Given the current state of flux in Iranian domestic politics, I provide tentative observations on these questions, and conclude with a glimpse on where Iran might be heading.

In-House Voices of Discontent

The significance of the current wave of events in Iran rests on two interrelated developments. First, much of the discourse accompanying public activism seems to be critical only of the behaviour of government. This line mainly attacking alleged electoral fraud. However, more serious challenges are surfacing. An important distinction must be made here: critics among the elites have not (at least not yet) contested the legitimacy of the clerical-based political order. Nevertheless, public demonstrations have been using notable anti establishment slogans such as “death to the dictator.” Regardless of who is targeted as the “dictator” – Ahmadinejad or Khamini’i – the use of such terminology against the regime is symbolic. This is the first time the givernment has been the target of such attacks from inside Iran since the mass protests against the Shah more than three decades ago. While protest leaders are still relatively reserved in their discourse, the rhetoric on the street is escalating.

The second development is that prominent Shiite Jurists (Ulama or clerics), especially Ayatollah Montazeri,* a cleric revered for his intellectual and moral authority, are voicing strong critiques of the regime. Since the current regime relies on clerical interpretations of the Shiite theory of Wilayat al-Faqih that gives jurists unprecedented governing powers. While most clerics have avoided direct confrontations with the current Governing Jurist Ayatollah Khamini’i thus far, or attacks on the position itself, that does not undermine their staunch opposition and challenge to regime legitimacy.

Jurists, especially the higher-ranking ones (such as the al-Maraji‘ and the Ayatollahs) carry important political and religious weight in Shiism – and thus in the structure of the Islamic Republic. In the Shiite doctrinal creed, any government  not ruled by the Infallible Imam is illegitimate by definition. This does not mean, however, that Shiite doctrine advocates revolutionary opposition, or withdrawal from the state. Iran’s political system gives the Governing Jurist the right to establish government in the name of the Infallible Imam when he is not present. Furthermore, many classical jurists have also advocated cooperating with illegitimate governments for pragmatic reasons. For this reason the Wilayat al-Faqih theory, which underpins the Iranian political system, is seen by some as diverging from Shiite doctrinal creed.

Moreover, twelver Shiism is based on a hierarchic ordering principle amongst clerics. The status of a cleric reflects his learned abilities, academic accomplishments, and the evaluation of his peers. Therefore, the higher the status of the cleric, the more significant the message of protest. Nevertheless, according to this theory the governing jurist is still, at least officially, considered the community’s political and religious compass and leader.

Debates among high-ranking jurists in Qom (a holy city in Shia Islam) seminaries on the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih are not a recent development. The Ayatollah Montazeri has contested the theory before. His position is particularly important because he wrote what could be considered the most detailed jurisprudential account of Wilayat al-Faqih, after which he became critical of certain aspects of this theory and specifically of the practices of the post-1979 regime. When he was appointed the successor of the first post-Revolution Governing Jurist, Imam Khomeini, Montazeri was put under house arrest, and replaced by Khamini’i.

The process of evaluating the status of a cleric is not well documented, nor is it disclosed by peers. What is frequently referenced, however, is that high ranking clerics have voiced dissatisfaction with Imam Khamini’i’s ascendence to the position of al-Wali al-Faqih. His academic achievements and status have been viewed by many amongst his peers as insufficient to warrant him filling such a high office. Imam Khamini’i’s politically motivated appointment dissatisfied many high-ranking jurists. The fact that Montazeri has continued to voice opposition reflects the seriousness of the pressures on the ruling regime.

The changes in the discourse of prominent jurists is one measure of the domestic position, durability, and legitimacy of the ruling regime. Put simply, the more resistance and challenges are coming from Iranian religious heavyweights both inside and outside the seminaries in Qom, the more likely regime legitimacy will be compromised. Another measure of the regime’s position can be obtained by mapping the positions of the incumbents and their challengers in the domestic power configuration. In other words, we need to trace where their bases of support are, and what mechanisms allow these power configurations to shift. I elaborate on the second measure below.

The Societal Bases of Political Power

Iran’s current political system rests on the integral role of the Shiite Ulama. Since at least the Tobacco Revolt of 1891, the role of the clerical establishment has been critical in shaping national political processes. The power of the Ulama today is derived from the centrality of religion in Iranian society, as well as from the increasing influence clerics have accumulated over the years.

Under the monarchy of the 20th century, the Shiite Ulama tried to maintain and expand the political privileges they had gained in the aftermath of 1891. Effectively, the Shah’s blanket repression and the targeting of various national leaders assisted the clerical establishment to augment its relative power over other domestic societal actors. This establishment then used its independent political and economic institutions (especially control over the khums, a religious tax levied on all households) to evade many of the regime’s exclusionary practices. The non-clerical leadership lost significant resources and the ability to mobilize supporters, but more importantly its position was weakened relative to that of the Ulama.

Then came the 1979 Revolution. While the Ulama were at its core, the Revolution would not have been possible without support from a large cross-section of activists and societal actors, made up oforganized interest groups that pool resources and support to advance certain agendas. Not all of these actors had an ideological commitment to an Islamic state; and some did not share the religious zeal of the Ulama. But to overpower the Shah’s security apparatus and exclusion, a gathering of resources was necessary in order to counter his efforts to isolate oponents. The counter-Shah coalition consisted of the Ulama, economic elites (mostly from the Bazaar), and independent civic groups (comprising women organizations, students, and leftist groups). Non-clerical coalition members made significant contributions, particularly in mobilizing human and financial resources, and by organizing public demonstrations and work interruptions. Therefore, the ability of Iran’s Ulama to end the Shah’s rule derived largely from coalitions they formed with key societal actors – not from their own power per se.  In the few months after monarchic rule was ended, the Ulama embarked on a sustained effort to consolidate power at the expense of their co-revolutionaries. Imam Khomeini led these efforts.

The war with Iraq necessitated national unity, and Imam Khomeini capitalized on this event to systematically purge or marginalize, dissenting voices. Furthermore, since 1979 constitutional manipulations, such as creating a multiplicity of institutional veto centers and oversight mechanisms, have concentrated power in the hands of a select group of clerics and ideologues loyal to Khomeini.  This group tightened control over republican institutions, especially in security and foreign policy, and has since dominated the Iranian political system.

Parallel to sidelining fellow revolutionaries, the Khomeini-loyal elites created and incubated a plethora of new societal actors to take over the functions of the excluded ones. New actors helped to mobilize citizens and resources while operating with regime-friendly agendas. Through these actors the regime infiltrated the universities as well as the industrial and non-governmental sectors. Despite its penetration of society, the Khomeini-loyal elite could not completely undermine opposing voices – especially amongst jurists. The intensity of the activism of the opposition has been a function of two interrelated factors: first, the perceptions of the severity of violations by those in power; second, the availability of organized societal actors to back up dissenting elites.

The volume and organization of independent societal actors has flourished since the early 1990s. Their resurgence has been fed by a demographic change favouring youth and an increased role for women. Such actors have demonstrated a desire to see fewer restrictions on freedom of expression, and a better investment by those in power of Iran’s resources. During President Khatami’s tenure, these actors became increasingly visible, a trend which continues to this day and has the potential to play a prominent role in redefining the contours of the political game.

Regime legitimacy and durability, then, rests to a significant degree on a specific configuration of societal actors’ support. Against this backdrop, a rough image of current events becomes discernible. In order to allow me to highlight these interrelated dynamics, I will draw a simplified sketch of Iran as having two main power poles: a regime, and an opposition.

The regime pole is centered around the Governing Jurist, who acts as the constitutionally defined final arbiter in Iranian politics, and President Ahmadinejad. They are supported by key security and military institutions, especially the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), the Basij (paramilitary groups), and various Bonyads (economic organizations which finance many regime operations and are not transparent in their bookkeeping). As a result of these support bases, the regime does not seem to be weak in a military or security sense. However, the centre’s heavy reliance on force to sustain itself is reminiscent of the Shah’s exclusionary practices.

In the midst of street demonstrations of the summer and fall of 2009, Imam Khamini’i sent a variety of messages articulating the insurmountable interests of the Islamic Republic. These signals are hard to read, especially when they are delivered concurrently with the regime’s violent crackdown on opposition protests. Perhaps the purpose of these messages is to keep the options of the Governing Jurist open, thus allowing him to maintain dialogue with opposition figures in case the intensity of violence intensifies, or to strike a political compromise to end a stand-off. Khamini’i’s messages could also be read as a warning to the protestors, as the regime threw around many allegations of treason against demonstrators.

Nevertheless, in the game of domestic balancing and coalition-building, these signals say something about Khamini’i’s position. He seems reluctant to put regime survival fully in the hands of his supporters, and adverse to unduly empowering them. Khamini’i’s role as a figurehead, and with it this balancing role, has taken a serious blow due to his support for the use of force on the streets. In sum, the Governing Jurist has lost important symbolic and moral ground – especially amongst a significant stratum of urban actors. Politically, this might have cost Khamini’i a large degree of flexibility.

The opposition pole is harder to describe as it is still developing. It is not yet fully united, and its members have somewhat incompatible preferences. This pole comprises former President Rafsanjani, who has ties to the trade elite which flourished under his presidency, and former Speaker Karroubi, who has significant links to grassroots and popular organizations. Neither of these groupings appears to have much influence in shaping the political scene today. The more intriguing dynamic, however, is that involving other members: former President Khatami and former Prime Minister Mousawi, due to two notable developments. Firstly, there appears to be a leadership transfer from Khatami, who led a broad reformist societal-clerical coalition in the 1990s and had since remained a prominent opposition voice, and to Mousawi,  who is trying to make a comeback into political life through his leadership of anti-government protests. Secondly, Mousawi is not a cleric, and his premiership in the 1980s catered to the then leftist-leaning majority in the Iranian Parliament. This came at a time when many of the leftist independent elites had been driven out of the political sphere during Imam Khomeini’s consolidation years. By rallying behind Mousawi now, it is perhaps reflective of a symbolic shift in the undertones of Iranian society towards one that favours leadership by non-clerics. This seems to be especially the case amongst a youth cohort that is not intimately tied to the Islamic principles of the Revolution. The dynamics of the opposition pole will be interesting to trace in the coming months, as the concrete implications of the “reformist” momentum will depend the key members’ abilities to unite its ranks.

Where To From Here?

After the dust settles, we should monitor the rise of a new equilibrium, paying particular attention to which groups gain status, and what kind of coalitions they choose to strike. Many Ulama and societal actors are not going to go back on the positions they took during the demonstrations, especially after they publicly called for reforms to the political system. While they might have overlapping interests in countering the regime, opposition groups still need to overcome divergant preferences.

An instructive example is the broad coalition that converged in order to elect President Khatami in 1997. Nevertheless after their election, the coalition faced obstacles to collective action, and Khatami, its center of gravity, was not able to satisfy the preferences of all its members. Meanwhile, the Khomeini-loyal clerical elite weathered two tenures, and resurfaced under President Ahmadinejad with a rejuvenated nationalist discourse.

Today, non-clerical groups and critical Ulama do not seem to have enough power, especially in terms of societal momentum, to be able to seriously pressure the regime if they act independently. As such, we have to look for the formation of potential coalitions between clerical and non-clerical opposing factions in the oppostion, particularly between the groups led by Mousawi and Montazeri. Nevertheless, even if they do not form a united and robust front, opposition parties can still use a pressure tactics to draw concessions from the Governing Jurist.

If Khameini’i continues to exclude the significant constellation of opposition voices by not allowing them to have meaningful input into issues of national concern, he will be forced to rely increasingly on the Pasdaran, Basij, and loyal Bonyads. Such a configuration of allies will limit both the space he will have to manoeuvre domestically. More importantly, continued exclusion of the opposition will narrow the regime’s support base and estrange it from a wide cross-section of society. Iranian youth have always been politically active, and their resistance to the regime is a gap which Khamini’i has done little to fill. Therefore, it might be politically unsustainable for the Governing Jurist not to engage the opposition. Imam Khamini’i has a lot of fences to mend if the position of the Governing Jurist as an institution is to retain to its centrality in Iran’s political life.

An interesting move by President Ahmadinejad was his peculiar choice of cabinet members, the majority of whom are non-clerics and fairly young. Counterintuitively, it is the conservatives, the rural sectors and the poor who make up the President’s power base; as a result, these are the social groups which have benefited the most from the regime’s support and subsidies.  It is therefore difficult to gauge exactly why such a move was orchestrated by Ahmadinejad loyalists – beyond symbolism. It might also be a move by the President to stack the cards in his favour and to dilute the influence of other regime figures.

Iran’s independent societal actors, particularly the urban youth are important factors to consider in order to maintain a stable regime – but they could play an equally pivotal role in toppling it. The governing pole, therefore, seems to be facing an uphill challenge. Even if no radical regime change occurs in the immediate future, the mobilization of youth, students, women, leftists, and various schools of non-clerics and intellectuals underlines the very real potential in Iranian society to force an opening in the regime’s exclusionary practices.

Calculated political inclusion, in the form of minimal concessions to opposing groups and elites, might allow the Governing Jurist to fine-tune government behaviour in the immediate future, and thus to delay a rethinking of Wilayet al-Faqih. Such band-aid measures risk morphing domestic politics into a protracted and debilitating confrontation that has potential for violence. If the Governing Jurist is to salvage the Islamic Republic, he must concede more power to the opposition. However, as a result, he will have incurred the displeasure of his current allies. Either way, a smooth transition does not seem to be in the cards for Iran in the near future.

An important dimension that has not been addressed in this paper is the external one. Iran’s regional and international relations are currently more precarious than its internal struggle for power. Iran’s regime can “rally round the flag” in the face of external threats. It might tactically concede on the nuclear file, and use it to exalt the adroitness of its governance in order to contend with claims put forward by the opposition. The fact remains, however, that the opposition is not going to go away.  Domestic management will demand a serious investment of resources and attention, all of which will have to be diverted from Iran’s foreign policy engagements.  In the end, Iran’s options could be drastically reduced. n

*This article was written before the death of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri on December 10, 2009.

Written by mcgillfar

February 2, 2010 at 6:46 pm

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New MFAR

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Here is the .pdf of the latest issue of the McGill Foreign Affairs Review:

MFAR Vol. II, Issue 1

Written by mcgillfar

February 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm

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ISSUE 3 DROPS VERY SOON

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MFAR Volume II, Issue 1 drops sometime next week. We will be posting the articles on the blog for your viewing pleasure.

Written by mcgillfar

January 31, 2010 at 7:09 pm

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