The dynamic are more and more interesting as days go on. Even though the streets have settled quite a bit, things are still boiling.
Meanwhile, I wonder about the state dynamics, and how we got to this point. To do this I separated myself from the incredibly fluid news coming out of Iran to think of a theoretical framework and historical genealogy to this sharp re-directioning that the neoconservative (not to be confused with US neoconservative) elites in Iran have decided to take this country. It helps to disconnect from the massive information to think about what has happened too.
Anyway, here are my musings:
The factional crevices within the revolutionary system have now turned into major fault lines. As years of, to use Max Weber’s terminology, “rationalization”, a sociological term describing the overtaking of traditional social behaviors for more calculated and efficient means, has taken place since Khomeini’s charismatic leadership ended in ‘89. Especially leaders of the pragmatic right, such as Rafsanjani and Mousavi, along with those of the more liberal reformists like Khatami and Karroubi (frankly, all of those who have been in power of the republican institutions from ’89-’05), the state had been ‘de-revolutionizing’ its approaches and its functioning ideology. Sure there was still heavy zeal on the skin of the system, often ideological columns that hold up the revolutionary ideology, and of course zealots were still well entrenched in many places, like the judiciary for instance, but the republican institutions were awakening from the days of being a rubber stamp for Khomeini’s initiatives.
During the ‘90’s and early part of next decade there was essentially a dampening of religious rhetoric, and a turn away from traditional governance through revolutionary institutions and charismatic authority. The customary methods were exchanged for governance through the republican institutions and a moderation of extremist discourse that was heavy during the years the revolution consolidated.
As Rafsanjani took the reins of the state he took the lead in recreating Iran after years of chaos and war, giving him his title of the “Commander of Constructiveness” (sardar-e sazandeghi). The then-weakness of Khamenei, who Rafsanjani had basically made the supreme leader, allowed Rafsanjani to take on Khomeini’s legacy (khatt-e Imam) and set the direction and principles of the Islamic Republic.
During these imperative days for the continuation of the revolution after Khomeini’s death, Rafsanjani was able to combine support from the economic conservatives, with his privatization and opening of the economy, with the liberal left that accepted his sociocultural opening (especially with his appointment of Khatami as the Minister of Islamic Guidance) and realist foreign policy aims. Initially Rafsanjani was able to steer down the middle, often succeeding in remaining neutral in conflicts between the right and left because he had interests invested in both sides.
But as these balances broke apart the hardline conservatives began to oppose Rafsanjani’s, and next Khatami’s, route. These concepts of civil society (jahm’eh-e madari) were being juxtaposed to the hardline submission to the ultimate authority of the jurist regardless of the republican institutions (jahm’eh-e velayi). Additionally, these reformists’ alienation of the traditional segments of society, through government centralization and bringing in experienced technocrats rather than appointing only people with “religious credentials”, began to marginalize previous power brokers.
Although for the most part Rafsanjani sided with his conservative base, his later years were primarily concerned with creating a foundation of power for his pragmatic-right faction, gaining allies on both sides, and eventually raising his banner carefully behind popular reform, and creating a momentum that gained Khatami his popular support.
But while these factional political disputes, his Realpolitiking, and his agenda of building strong government centralization helped to develop a functioning state built off of the original days of the revolution, what was happening on a meta-level was a complete restructuring of the revolution’s methods of doing business.
The rational consequences of this de-revolutionization soon grew incompatible with the Islamic Republic’s radical ideological roots (Max Weber presented this framework regarding Calvinist embrace of capitalism in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism). This did not happen over night of course, and is actually still happening, as a lot of heavily worded zeal remained in the language of the state, as both sides used Khomeini and the revolution to bolster their agendas.
This is where Iran’s neoconservatives reenter the stage. Even back when Rafsanjani began to steer the state in his direction, figures like Ahmad Jannati, today’s chief of the Guardian Council, opposed Rafsanjani’s de-revolutionization, along with the middle generation of post-war revolutionaries, or the Hezbollahis, he was marginalizing, dubbing it a westernization of the Islamic Republic.
When the conservative right had originally accepted Rafsanjani’s emphasis on a type of rule of law and “economic liberalization”, as years went by, his allowance of the left’s sociocultural openness, which spread to Khatami’s election on 2 khordad in ’97, alienated their cultural identification of the ‘true’ Islamic Republic.
Simultaneously Khamenei’s power was growing. In fact, Khamenei was structuring the loyalty of many key regime figures to bolster his power in state apparatuses such as the hajj organization, the richest bonyads (charitable foundations), the Qom seminary, and the IRGC.
When he was first chosen to be the leader, or rahbar, his authority was weak religiously and politically. But by the time the latter part of Khatami’s presidency came about, Khamenei had secured his legal (Guardian Council, Assembly of Experts, and Judiciary) and extra-legal (IRGC, basijis, bonyads) power bases, and the offensive against pragmatic conservatism and liberal leftism began swiftly with the arrest and conviction of Tehran’s mayor Karbaschi and the impeachment of two of Khatami’s ministers.
Thus, the engineering of Ahmadinejad’s election in ’05, the Majlis next, and the 22 khordad elections just this month, reveals a complete reconnection with what the neoconservative Jannatis, Mesbah-Yazdis, Ahmadinejads, Khameneis, Rayshahris, Ja’afaris, etc., believe to be the true path and legacy of Imam Khomeini.
Essentially before, the perceived over-rationalization and bureaucratic centralization alienated the traditional patronage system that the early years of the revolution provided. The lower-social strata took the backseat again for efficiency and instrumental, means-ends, social rationalization.
But unfortunately for the new bureaucrats/old pragmatic elites those segments marginalized are the militarized ones and Khamenei knew this.
Famous sociologist Max Weber, referencing the traditional Christian societies he studied, stated this process more clearly:
“Rationalization destroyed the authority of magical powers [religion], but it also brought into being the machine-like regulation of bureaucracy, which ultimately challenges all systems of belief” (Weber, 1991).
‘Belief’ which, to the neoconservative militant element, is the foundation of the rahbar’s power, and therefore the system of velayat-e faqih.
Now, with a war veteran in the second most powerful position in the Republic again, patronage re-institutionalized in ’05 and continuing now with his reelection, and the Hezbollahi segment comfortable with Ahmadinejad’s activist continuation of the Islamic Revolution’s early ideals, Rafsanjani and his cohort realists are being pushed severely to the sidelines.
But what the regime didn’t expect was a reaction from the people. What this movement, and the regimes obvious surprise, shows is that the neoconservative elite rulers aren’t just anti-liberal, but that they are completely out of touch with a majority of the society they run.
Of course these neofundamental elites don’t care so much. But what they didn’t anticipate was a reaction to their marginalization of old elites, like Mousavi, Khatami, Karroubi, and Rafsanjani. They certainly foresaw the power struggle that would develop behind the scenes, but they did not anticipate that civil society too would be an actor in this drama. And what an actor it has proven to be.
So the question remains: Can the power of the citizenry, over time, prevent these elites’ marginalization in order to halt a complete overhaul of the Republic (producing a compromise), or will the new hijacking of the Republic remain in the hands of the militants?
We’ll just have to keep waiting to see…