Khamenei and Assad’s ‘Democracy’
Khamenei and Assad’s ‘Democracy’
Why does Iran insist on holding presidential elections while the world watches these elections being rigged on a daily basis during the weeks that precede the day of the vote? The elections’ results were determined weeks before they were held, not because of overwhelming popular support for then-candidate Ebrahim Raisi, who was elected in the elections that saw the lowest voter turnout four decades (48 percent), but because the Supreme Leader had worked systematically to predetermine their results.
At the start, Ali Khamenei oversaw the “sanitization” of the list of candidates to avert surprises and paved the way to a Raisi victory with many candidates’ withdrawal from the race, and eventually, Raisi was made president based on an almost explicit view for the next phase in the Iranian revolutionary regime’s life.
This vision encompasses the formation of an Islamist government composed of indoctrinated Supreme Leader loyalists who are closer to the regime’s Islamist factions than its Republican factions. The vision also includes a road map for Iran post-Khamenei.
What occurred, then, was an appointment disguised as an election, a personalized regime disguised as a state of institutions, and a closed regime disguised as a democracy.
With that, Iran was keen on convincing, through the means available to it, the Iranians- the Arab world and the world at large, that it had held presidential elections. Commentators exaggerated in praising it and emphasizing its superiority to the American electoral process.
In Syria, Bashar al-Assad could have continued to impose the status quo he wants, but he insisted on holding presidential elections whose legitimacy is not recognized by most of the world. As those in Iran and those writing about it had done, commentators showered “democratic wedding” with praise in the press and on screens. The day of the election was covered by all the tools available to the regime, as though it had been a genuine competition.
Why didn’t the Supreme Leader appoint Raisi- though it is exactly what he did- and why didn’t Bashar al-Assad extend his term by force so long as no one seriously recognized his election legitimacy?
We could say that Khamenei and Assad are, to some extent, mocking the concept of democracy by presenting a highly tattered version of it, telling the world and their people before it: this is the democracy that the West is invoking to interfere with our affairs, and you can see how easy it is to rig and falsify to achieve particular ends. Thus, we are facing the desecration of the concept of democracy using the tools of democracy itself.
Elsewhere, Western writers and intellectuals can ride the wave of political self-aggrandizement in the West, claiming that tyrants’ invocation of democracy is a victory for democracy and an affirmation that it is the only source of political legitimacy today, even if it is applied through sham elections… This idea is rooted in a more profound concept adopted by Francis Fukuyama, who declared that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union’s collapse had heralded the end of history, that is, that democracy is the final stage of humanity’s political evolution and the final form that managing public affairs and executive authority would take.
The irony is that Khamenei and Assad held elections at a time this is distinguished in two ways: firstly, both their regimes are suffering from a serious internal legitimacy crisis that the elections themselves exposed far more than they papered over. Secondly, the reputation of the concept of democracy itself is suffering from a severe hemorrhage. It starts with its primary fortress in Washington and doesn’t stop at the Post-Soviet Republics in Eastern Europe or Israel, passing through India, the world’s largest democracy. We could talk endlessly about “democracy’s” horrendous consequence for the region, at the developmental level, its implications for economic infrastructure and its prolongment of institutions’ paralysis, as is happening in Lebanon and, to a large extent, in the Palestinian territories since 2007.
As for Egypt, the country’s 2020 elections were distinguished by the strong competitiveness of joining the regime’s electoral list and the fact that run-off elections encompassed 87 percent of electoral seats, an indication of their competitiveness… They were elections, in contrast to the electoral process in Iran, in which the enthusiasm of participation clearly indicates the entrenchment of the January 30 Revolution regime’s solidity and its popular legitimacy, which are coupled with a broad, multidimensional development project.
On the other hand, democracy wasn’t and won’t be other Middle Eastern states’ course, especially not the Gulf states’ course, for entrenching the legitimacy of their political regimes, which have every right to talk about potent social and political particularities linked to their societies’ composition and the conceptual roots of their systems of governance and the broad consensus on the kinship-based and tribal sources of legitimacy.
We are, then, facing several proposals for managing public affairs, achieving development and optimizing systems of governance, which shouldn’t be reduced to democratization and a mechanical push in a single direction.
The truth is the West’s reputation, especially that of Washington, is generally poor, particularly its ardent push for liberal democracy. Let’s take an example; the contradictory behavior of former US President Barack Obama’s administration. It rushed, through the president himself, to publicly ask Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down, which gave the Egyptian mass movement an extremely strong push before its real intentions became clear, and it became apparent the Muslim Brotherhood had been extremely effectively “leading from behind.” That brought them to power and almost turned Egypt into a Sunni Iran!!
On the other hand, when the Green Revolution erupted in the wake of Khamenei’s direct supervision of the elections rigged in favor of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Washington chose to distance itself, under the pretext of not contaminating the Iranian popular movement and facilitating the subsequent labeling of the movement as pro-American in preparation for its liquidation!!
Why wasn’t Obama concerned that the Egyptians who were revolting would be accused of being American stooges but was worried about the same insults being hurled at the Iranians? The simple and straightforward answer is that this was a false pretense in the first place. What Obama really wanted to achieve by distancing himself was safeguarding the secret nuclear program negotiations between his administration that had been ongoing at the time! Obama’s position contributed to the annihilation of the most honorable intifada Iran had seen in 4 decades, and his position in Egypt precipitated a series of events that almost left the Arab world’s largest state toppled by political Islam.
Democracy isn’t the gateway for making political and social assessments in the Middle East… it is at least not the only one.
Iranian “democracy,” a cheap replica that went as far as predetermining the results, does not cover the Iranian regime’s legitimacy crisis, while the lack of democracy, does not do away with the prestige of the wise governance presented by major Gulf capitals and does not undermine the legitimacy of their systems of governance.
This is what the West does not understand, and unless it does, it cannot build fruitful relations that pave the way to good governance and sustainable development in the region. Elections are not a necessary gateway, nor conceptions of bubbles of freedom based on the story of a person here and another there or the orientalist delusion that political Islam is at the heart of countries and societies’ identities in this part of the world.