Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Wilson Center Hosts Event on Iranian Politics, Reform and Repression

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Wilson Center Hosts Event on Iranian Politics, Reform and Repression

Article excerpt

The Islamic Republic of Iran-relatively quiet amid the revolts of the Arab Spring-was discussed at length at a June 16 panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. The event, titled "Iran: Will Repression Succeed?", covered such topics as Iranian domestic politics, the strength of and challenges faced by the Green Movement, and the prospects for political transformation in Iran. The event was presided over by Prof. Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University.

Robert Toscano, public policy scholar at the Wilson Center and former Italian ambassador to Iran and India, opened the conversation with an analysis of the Iranian regime's claims to authority and the government's inherent weaknesses. Speaking on the country's theocratic foundations, Toscano noted that while the government claims to uphold Islam, "clericalism is no religion...You can be clerical and go against the principles that you're preaching." Corruption and clerical involvement in political matters are facilitating the deterioration of the regime's religious and moral authority, Toscano stated.

Alireza Nader, policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, pointed out that the decline of the Islamic authority of Ayatollah Khamenei is attributable to the abandonment of his traditional role as national arbitrator in favor of increased involvement in Iranian politics. The decreasing relevance of theocratic institutions in Iran has given way to the rising importance of nationalism, spearheaded in part by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and diverting attention away from the political supremacy of Islam.

As Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei bump heads, the Green Movement is gaining influence and now boasts roughly three million Iranian supporters. This impressive following, however, may not produce specific legislative gains or reforms anytime soon, Toscano cautioned, since the movement's strength is largely due to its unspecified and broadly defined goals. …

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