First and foremost, it is worth clarifying that in Iran the division between “reformists” and “liberals” on one side and “conservatives” or even “fundamentalists” on the other makes no sense whatsoever.
Both political camps are linked to the memory and teaching of Imam Khomeini, who was a political leader because he was an innovator in the field of Twelver Shia Islam.
For the Imam of the 1979 revolution who, immediately after rising to power, dismissed Iran’s nuclear power inherited from the Shah as “a sign of the devil” – albeit he later changed his mind – the aim of the Prophecy, which for him is equal to human reason, “is to guide mankind towards the establishment of a just society through the implementation of divine laws”.
Hence, unlike what happened in the old Quietist tradition of both strands of Islam, namely Sunni and Shia, for the Imam of the Shia revolution “Islam is a political religion, and every aspect of this religion is political, even its worship”.
Therefore, during the current period of ”concealment of the Last Imam”, the faqih, namely the “experts of Islamic Shia law”, must set up an Islamic State.
In short, the political power is the faqih’s religious duty: this is the basis of the famous velayat-e faqih, namely the “guardianship of the jurist”.
For Imam Khomeini, the whole community of faqih represents the concealed Imam on the earth until his appearance-revelation.
Hence the “experts of Islamic Shia law” have, jointly and collectively, the same authority and responsibility as those that Prophet Muhammad and the first “well-directed” Caliphs had on the earth.
Again to quote Khomeini, “Islamic government is neither tyrannical nor absolute, but constitutional. It is constitutional in the current sense of the word, i.e. based on the approval of laws in accordance with the opinion of the majority. It is constitutional in the sense that the rulers are subject to a certain set of conditions in governing and administering the country, conditions that are set forth in the Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Most Noble Messenger (s). It is the laws and ordinances of Islam comprising this set of conditions that must be observed and practiced. Islamic government may therefore be defined as the rule of divine law over men”.
All the members of the Iranian Parliament and of the other elected or non-elected institutions act within this set of values, principles, as well as legal and Qur’an practices. Needless to think of a Westernization through liberalization, as some Western analysts imagine.
Or to think of a Shia regime rift between pro-Westerners and “reactionaries” because, for the Iranian ruling classes, the core of the issue is how to use the West and not be used by it.
Hence thinking of a specific theocracy “of waiting” – as the one of the Iranian Shia State, a unique case in political theology – as a system divided between “liberals” and “conservatives” (regardless of what both words may mean in the West) is a sign of utmost naivety for those who have to interpret the results of Iran’s 2016 elections.
The Pervasive Coalition of Reformists: the Second Step, named the List of Hope, led by Mohammed Khatami, is the only coalition which openly supports the so-called “reformists”. It is an assemblage of parties or lists such as the Council for Coordinating the Reforms Front, Mehdi Kharroubi’s National Trust Party, the Union of Islamic Iran People Party, which is the Hassan Rowhani’s newly-established political arm, and finally, the Followers of Velayat, led by Ali Larijani, former chief nuclear negotiators (considered a “conservative”) and current Speaker of Parliament.
The political groups allied to the List of Hope, which has great significance in two-round elections such as Iran’s, are the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers, the Combatant Clergy Society and the Association of Followers of the Imam’s Line.
It is worth recalling that the List of Hope also includes 24 other smaller groups, such as the Islamic Association of Women and the Islamic Labour Party of Iran.
In the elections this party-coalition obtained 28.62% of votes and got 83 Parliamentary seats out of a total of 239.
The Principlists Coalition that the West (gazing, as Narcissus, at its own reflection) passes off as “conservative” is made up of a fraction of the Combatant Clergy Society and the Islamic Coalition Party, as well as four other smaller groups.
It got 64 seats in the Majlis with 22.06% of votes.
Ali Motahari’s People’s Voice Coalition was created to criticize the “conservative” Ahmadinedjad.
A cousin of Ali Larijani, who is now leading his own party within the winning coalition, Motahari is the son of a faqih and is regarded as a liberal-conservative politician.
Motahari’s List obtained 3.44% of votes and got ten seats, but it is difficult to place it in the traditional Downs’ left-right axis we use for the systems derived from the American and French revolutions.
There are many true independent candidates – as many as 55 members of Parliament, who can safely support either camps, which appear to us progressive or conservative.
The religious minorities accepted in the country, namely Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians, obtained their five constitutional seats and garnered 1.75% of votes.
The results are even more complex to analyze in the case of the Assembly of Experts, the Council entrusted with the task of supervising the Parliament in accordance with the velayat-e-faqih. It is the 88-member Council that will elect the next Rahbar, the Supreme Leader.
As many as 27 seats were obtained by the Principlists Coalition, while the Second Step reformists gained 20 seats.
As many as 35 candidates, however, were supported by both coalitions which we like to ascribe to our camp.
The results reached by the various coalitions show that, in the Assembly of Experts, 19 mujtahid were elected directly by the Second Step coalition, while 27 were elected with the votes of other lists not allied to the “progressives”, for a total of 46 “experts” who, I assume, will be answerable to both political traditions – if any.
The Combatant Clergy Society has 5 Experts directly elected, but as many as 51 voted also by other groups, including many of the camp we define as progressive.
The Combatant Clergy was created in 1977, before the Islamic revolution, to topple the Shah. Its first leaders were Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who is the current leader of other progressive lists, and Morteza Mohtahari, the father of the current leader of the People’s Voice Coalition.
The group now counts 56 members in the Assembly of Experts, accounting for 64%. This rebalances much of the progressive shift in the Majlis.
The Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom elected 3 Experts directly and 51 ones jointly with other lists that sponsored them.
It is the group at the origin of the 1979 revolution, founded by Ayatollah Khomeini’ students as early as 1961, when the Shah seemed unassailable and indeed, according to his Iranian name, “King of Kings”.
As can be easily imagined, in the city and province of Tehran, the People’s Experts list received a landslide victory.
But, as in other countries, including Western ones, here the divide is between urban and rural areas – the same rift which gave rise to capitalism in the West and destroyed centralist socialism in the USSR and, in other respects, in China.
Nevertheless many Rowhani’s personal opponents and competitors were excluded from Parliament or from the Assembly of Experts. Hence, for the President in office, the issue lies in using this power surplus.
The focus of Rowhani’s policy is the economy and, above all, the geopolitical impact of the planned Iranian economic expansion after the agreement with the P5+1.
Iran needs it. It needs a booming economy to tackle the problems and uneasiness of young people (leading to their “Westernization”) and update its obsolete production system, which has grown lazy and idle as a result of an almost completely nationalized economy.
The President will privatize, at first, the automotive industry, but he has also bought a fleet of 118 Airbus airplanes for a total sum of 25 billion US dollars.
Nevertheless the political debate in Iran does not concern reforms, but their pace and their shape.
And especially their political impact on the relations with the United States and some other Western countries. Nobody, within the Majlis or the Council of Experts, wants the United States to monitor Iran’s industrial transformation and its very recent opening onto the “market-world”.
Currently Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) amounts to 4.88 billion US dollars, but Iran has designed a Development Plan for the period 2016-2021. An amount of 361 billion US dollars needs to be invested, 204 of which can be found in Iran, but the rest has to come from foreign countries or private investors.
Hence, if Iran uses the JCPOA to become the largest population and economy to be globalized after the USSR collapse, the geopolitical effects are likely to be the following: it will increase its engagement in the Greater Middle East, but only in connection with the Russian Federation and China; it will counteract the low oil price policy led by Saudi Arabia to “punish” the United States and Russia; it will create its own Shia area of influence, which will not lead to a war against the Sunnis, but to an ongoing attrition with Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia will be particularly fierce in attracting the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which is coming to Iran after the signing of the JCPOA and after Saudi Arabia opening for the first time to FDI in June 2015.
The above stated plan envisages a yearly GDP growth exceeding 8%, a Chinese-style growth rate, but it is very likely that – once temporarily put an end to the nuclear power for military purposes (but is it really so?) – Iran will manage a military build- up, funded by economic growth, which will follow the traditional criteria: the primacy of guerrilla warfare and “hybrid strategies”, managed by the Pasdaran, and the ICBM missile system.
The strategic goals will be to strengthen its own regional role and the political management of the many Shia minorities scattered throughout the Sunni universe.
Moreover, the link between economic growth and Iranian remilitarization will be used to revive the relations with Russia and to enable China’s peaceful expansion into the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, finally as guardians of the future new “Silk Road” planned by Xi Jinping as early as 2013.
Turkish Strengthened Parliamentary System
“Corrected” or “enhanced” system of parliamentary debate, thoroughly sat on Turkey’s agenda in recent days. There are two reasons for this. First, it is unclear what, all from a single source power is collected, brought Turkey no balance-point of the current regime where there is no monitoring mechanism. Of democracy, of freedom, which abolished the rule of law, both inside and outside the war which, as all institutions of workers pouring connected to a single person, the economy of bottoming out, which is a record level of unemployment, inequality of well increase as a Turkey. Undoubtedly, the first step to get out of this darkness and tidy up the wreckage is to get rid of the one-man regime called the “Presidential Government System”. The question then arises of what kind of management system to replace. The second reason is the increasing signs that the MHP-backed AKP government is about to end. A transition period will begin after the end of AKP rule. But where is the transition? This question should be discussed and an answer should be sought.
The parliamentary system has led to the domination of the majority over the minority in Turkey. Since there are no mechanisms to prevent the executive from dominating the legislature, the power is meeting in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the ruling majority party. The end of the independence of the judiciary, the silencing of the press, the pressure on the opposition, the arbitrary administration all took place in the parliamentary system.
Such a new democracy changes the focus of politics. The subject of politics, political parties cease to be party heads, but become the people themselves. However, in order to create a grassroots popular movement, people need to unite within the framework of a project and not be a “mass”, but turn into a “people” that decide their future. Such “people” make decisions about their own problems and demand that governments implement these decisions. Such a people does not leave their future to the rulers, they take control of their future. Such a people becomes the engine of change in society, creates a libertarian, egalitarian, new society.
One of the most important features of participatory democracy is that it is based on equality. Equality in income distribution as well as in participation can be achieved in this way. We have seen the concrete application of this in the example of Porto Allegre in Brazil.
There are many different models of participatory democracy. These models cover a wide spectrum, from the budgeting powers of local units to different decision-making platforms. It is necessary to discuss these and, according to the results, the construction of local democratic institutions.
However, no matter what model is adopted, participatory democracy has some unchangeable basic principles:
Participation is open to all who live in that place.
Participatory democracy institutions are independent from the state. The aim of the system is to realize a power sharing between representative democracy institutions and local democracy institutions. Representative democracy institutions will lose their power as they will transfer some of their powers to local institutions.
But considering that representative democracy is not working well anyway, this weakening is not a loss for democracy.
Informing the public correctly. For this, there is a need for effective use of social media as well as the prevalence of freedom of expression and press in the country.
Participatory democracy leads to deepening democracy and creating a culture of participation. However, the main problem here is that the people adopt this culture with an active citizenship awareness. Successful pilot project implementations are required for this.
Let’s not forget that my imagination of the future determines what we will do now.
The Battle for Jerusalem: Turkey’s Erdogan stakes his claim
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t mince his words at this month’s opening of parliament. In his first assertion of a claim to a lost non-Turkic part of the Ottoman empire, Mr. Erdogan declared that Jerusalem is Turkish.
“In this city, which we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” Mr. Erdogan said.
He went on to say that “the current appearance of the Old City, which is the heart of Jerusalem, was built by Suleiman the Magnificent, with its walls, bazaar, and many buildings. Our ancestors showed their respect for centuries by keeping this city in high esteem.”
Mr. Erdogan was referring to the 16th century Ottoman sultan, a sponsor of monumental architectural development, who is widely viewed as having protected his Jewish subjects.
In July, Mr. Erdogan described that month’s return of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a sixth century Orthodox-church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, to the status of a Muslim house of worship as paving the way for the “liberation” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
Mr. Erdogan’s office released a month later a four-minute video clip suggesting that Turkey’s quest for leadership of the Islamic world was as much a military and nationalist endeavor as it was a religious drive. Laced with martial music, the clip meshed religious and Ottoman symbolism. Entitled Golden Apple, the clip ended with a panorama view of Al-Aqsa.
The president, who embeds his often raw nationalism in a religious mantle, can have no illusion that Jerusalem would return to Turkish rule.
Yet, by putting forward his claim, Mr. Erdogan hopes to put his quest for leadership of the Muslim world on par with that of one Turkey’s staunchest rivals, Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to Islam’s two most sacred cities, Mecca and Medina.
Rather than seeking to regain lost Ottoman territory, Mr. Erdogan is staking a claim to custodianship of Jerusalem’s Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount and Al Aqsa mosque compound that currently rests with a Jordanian-controlled religious endowment known as the Waqf.
The president escalated his rhetoric at a moment that the Palestine Authority has reached out to Turkey as well as Qatar in the wake of the normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and a series of statements by prominent Saudi and other Gulf leaders taking President Mahmoud Abbas’ administration to task for squandering opportunities for peace with the Jewish state.
Mr. Erdogan’s claim adds to Jordan’s worries that Israel, in the wake of the formalization of its ties to Gulf states, could support Saudi ambitions to join the Hashemite kingdom, if not replace it, as the holy site’s administrator.
Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely read newspaper that is supportive of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, quoted an unidentified Arab diplomat as saying that Saudi funds were needed to counter Turkish influence in Jerusalem.
“If the Jordanians allow the Turks to operate unhindered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, within a matter of years their special status in charge of the Waqf and Muslim holy sites would be relegated to being strictly ‘on paper,’” the diplomat was quoted as saying in June.
Raed Daana, a former director of preaching and guidance at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Directorate, said in 2018, in the wake of US President Donald J. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that Saudi Arabia had secretly invited Palestinian Muslim dignitaries in a bid to garner support for a Saudi role in the Waqf.
Mr. Daana attributed the secrecy in part to a refusal to accept the invitation by a number of Palestinian religious figures.
Jordan last year increased the number of members of the Waqf from 11 to 18 in a bid to give it a more a more Muslim rather than exclusively Jordanian flavour and to fend off attempts by regional powers to muscle their way into the body.
The new members included officials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority as well as figures with links to Turkey and Gulf states like Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem and Holocaust denier who has defended Mr. Erdogan’s militancy regarding Jerusalem; and Mr. Sabri’s successor, Muhammad Hussein, who had close ties to the United Arab Emirates until he last month barred Emiratis from visiting Al Aqsa in protest against the UAE’s recognition of Israel.
Mr. Erdogan has in recent years been laying the groundwork for his claim with millions of dollars in donations to local Islamic organizations as well as Turkish religious activists and pilgrims in Jerusalem whom Israel has accused of instigating Palestinian protests.
Turkey’s Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), that is part of Mr. Erdogan’s office, lists Al-Aqsa as a site for the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage.
Israeli sources say Turkey’s cultural center in Jerusalem as well as a Turkish renovated coffeeshop two minutes from the city’s Western Wall that is adorned with Turkish and Palestinians flags as well as portraits of Mr. Erdogan and Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II serve as a meeting point for activists and pilgrims.
“Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. It is encouraging welfare-religious (dawa) activities…aimed at drawing the Palestinian public toward the Turkish-Islamic heritage and at weakening Israel’s hold on the Old City and east Jerusalem,” said conservative Israeli journalist and analyst Nadav Shragai.
Kingdom’s journey from ultra-conservatism to ultra-modernism
Saudi Arabia, currently, is undergoing a phenomenal metamorphosis; a country widely known for its ultra-conservative posture is now gradually moving towards liberalism. It is witnessing a remarkable transformation in its socio-economic-cultural contours. The kingdom, once influenced and controlled by orthodox clergy, did not let women come out of their domestic confines but, now, the situation has diametrically changed. It has allowed the womenfolk incredible latitude to not only come out of home but also to travel abroad independently. They are, thus, supposed to contribute to country’s socio-economic development by working shoulder to shoulder with men. Economy, too, is being diversified; the kingdom is jettisoning its chronic dependence on oil revenues and is moving towards rapid Industrialization. Acculturation, once regarded as taboo by Saudi society is now, being appreciated bit by bit.
The man, who masterminded this movement of colossal change, is none other than Crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS); He is the real catalyst that is working devotedly and diligently to improve his country’s image nationally and internationally. His ideology is described as nationalist and populist, with conservative attitude towards politics and a liberal stance on economic and social issues.
However, His style of governance came under severe stricture by journalistic community. He has been dubbed as “extremely brutal” by journalist Rula Jabrael and “authoritarian” by Late Jamal khashoggi. On contrary, his move to reform the country has been widely lauded and supported by Saudi populace.
Prince Mohammad is of opinion that his country has been severely harmed by traditional clergy that considered any reformative move as a sin and hence, has kept the country stagnant economically and socially. He emphatically stated at one occasion: “we are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.” He later added that Saudi Arabia “will remain committed to the principles “of Islam, “the religion of tolerance and moderation”. The kingdom “will keep on fighting against extremism and terrorism”—a message directly meant to counter the outrageous edicts released by leading clerics against anything they perceived a threat to Saudi society.
The crown Prince took the clergy as a great hurdle in the way of kingdom’s socio-economic development. He, therefore, trimmed its wings of power by stripping it of its policing powers. Instead, the government took the reins into its hands to guide the society. Now, with the passive and emaciated clergy, Prince is aggressively pursuing his agenda of reforms.
“Vision 2030” is the bedrock of Prince Mohammad’s scheme of socio-economic change. Under this vision, he is going to transform country’s economic physiognomy. Vision 2030 aims at steering Saudi’s economy towards more diversified and privatized structure. It expounds goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenue and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.
To this end, Bin Salman, in October 2017, at the inaugural conference of Future investment initiative in Riyadh, announced the plan for the creation of NEOM, a $ 500 billion economic zone to cover an area of 26000 sq km on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea cost, extending into Japan and Egypt. NEOM aims at attracting investment in sectors of renewable energy, biotechnology, robotics and advanced manufacturing.
A project to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor was also announced by Prince Mohammad in November 2018. The kingdom aspires to build 16 nuclear facilities over the next 20 years. Efforts to diversify Saudi energy sector also include wind and solar energy.
Apart from this, a much awaited high-speed railway line connecting two holiest cities of Islam Mecca and Medina was inaugurated by Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in last week of September 2018. The Harmain Express is 450 km line travelling up to 300 km/h that can transport around 60 million passengers annually.
In addition, before the outbreak of corona virus, in order to boost tourism industry, the kingdom started issuing e-visas to tourists. It opened up its borders to fans of live sport, music and culture for the first time with the launch of a new online visa process dedicated to welcoming international tourists.
Moreover, in 2016, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) shared the idea for “Green cards” for non-Saudi foreigners with Al-Arabia Journalist Turki Al-Dakhil. In 2019, Saudi cabinet approved a new residency scheme “Premium Residency” for foreigners. The scheme will enable expatriates to permanently reside, own property and invest in the kingdom.
Prince MBS is staunch proponent of women emancipation. He contends that dream of progress and sustainable development cannot be realized unless women become part and parcel of workforce. He, therefore, has brought about many reforms pertaining to the status of women in Saudi society.
For this very purpose, he allowed women to drive in the kingdom. Driving licenses are, therefore, being issued to women at a very fast pace; the number of women drivers on the road, according to Saudi officials, is expected to grow to 3 million by 2020. Further, Saudi women may now attend soccer matches and sporting events. Gyms and fitness centers for women are being established. They can also join the military and intelligence services. They are allowed to open their own business without male’s permission and to travel abroad independently without male guardian. In this very spirit, Saudi Arabia appointed its first woman to head Saudi stock exchange.
On entertainment side, Saudi government has established an entertainment authority that began hosting comedy shows, professional wrestling, live music concerts and monster truck rallies.
In April 2017, Prince MBS announced a project to build one of worlds largest cultural, sports and entertainment cities in AL-Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh. The plan includes a safari and a six flags theme park.
Additionally, cultural transformation of the kingdom is also underway. It held its first public concert by female singer in December 2017. And in January 2018, a sport stadium in Jeddah became the first in the kingdom to admit women. In April 2018, the first public cinema opened in Saudi Arabia after a ban of 35 years, with plans to have more than 2000 screens running by 2030.
This all became possible, when clerical hold over the kingdom was eviscerated. The orthodox clergy with its antiquated and rigid doctrines was the biggest obstacle in the way of progress and development of the kingdom. Addressing this issue, Prince MBS said that he aimed to have Saudi Arabia start “Returning to what we were before—a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” He told the country’s clerics that the deal the royal family struck with them after the 1979 siege of Grand Mosque in Mecca was to be re-negotiated.
The crown prince believes that industrialization and wahhabism are mutually exclusive. The wahhabies are committed to fixed social and gender relationships. These are consistent with an economy built on oil sales, but industrialization requires a dynamic culture with social relations constantly shifting.
Inter alia, Ayaan Haris Ali, a celebrated author and human rights activist claimed that if MBS “succeeds in his modernization efforts, Saudis will benefit from new opportunities and freedoms, and the world will benefit from curtailing Wahhabi radicalization agenda. A decade from now, the kingdom could look more like the UAE, its prosperous and relatively forward looking neighbor”.
In the end, I would like to quote Prince Mohammad bin Salman who while addressing to packed audience at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh said that Middle East can be the “New Europe” and that he would like to see the economic transformation of the region happen within his life time. He said: “his ‘war’ was restoring the Middle East to its past glory. “I believe that the new Europe is the Middle East”. “Saudi Arabia in five years, he added,” will be completely different”.
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