The Iranian conservatives’ trump card

Article published on June 23, 2005
community published
Article published on June 23, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

With Rafsanjani’s victory in the second round of the Iranian presidential elections looking likely, the country’s conservatives have got the perfect move.

The second round of the presidential elections in Iran is already a victory for the conservatives. The mullahs have managed to create the illusion to outsiders that the country will elect the least conservative of the candidates and at the same time maintain the status quo as neither of the remaining candidates in the final round are reformists.

The regime in a strong position

Despite criticisms from people such as Ayatollah Mehdi, who is living in exile in Germany, that the elections are neither transparent nor inline with Islamic principles, Iran’s leaders have managed to secure support after a few difficult years on both a national and international scale.

All the candidates in the first round managed to avoid addressing the burning question of Iran’s nuclear programmes. And yet they can show off to a national and international audience for having staged Iran’s most socially dynamic and politically competitive elections; never before have the votes been so divided that a second round was needed. Iran is also showing that it can organise elections without any help or interference from external sources, setting an important example for the region. What’s more, no car bombs have been involved.

Iranian youngsters adopt a Carpe Diem attitude

But all of this is just whitewashing over the fact that whatever the outcome, little will change. It is perhaps this truth that has made Iranian youth turn away from political activism. Already they aren’t fighting for freedom and liberalisation with the same energy as before, preferring to have fun and make the most of the economic growth that Iran is experiencing thanks to the increased prices of its energy exports such as petrol.

As in every society where the winds of change blow but expectations are not met, young people are less interested in politics: after eight years of Mohammed Khatami’s government and its ‘reformist’ agenda, they do not notice major holes and fail to call into question the Ayatollah’s importance. Young people’s lack of interest is a supreme victory for the conservatives because no one is left to force change. But this is not something unique to Iran. In relation to the construction of Europe, the same thing is happening - just as it did in the late seventies after a major rush towards democratisation in countries such as Spain.

However, this culture of disillusionment in Iran does not necessarily imply a major step backwards. The economic boom will make Iranians accustomed to expecting more and more comforts as they get used to having more material goods. Perhaps Rafsanjani will surprise us all and manage to introduce reforms without the mullahs feeling that their religious model is being attacked.