Parties, Politics, and Elections in Post-Revolutionary Iran

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals

Discussant

Ali Banuazizi
Boston College

Presentations

by Mehrzad Boroujerdi / Syracuse University

Three decades after the 1979 revolution is Iran more of an integrated nation-state? To what extend is overtly “ethnic” voting a determinate of electoral behavior in Iran? Are elections framed in “local contexts” in restive ethnic minority provinces? How attuned are the voters in rural areas to national campaign chatter?

This paper analyzes the dynamics of provincial/local politics in post-revolutionary Iran and how it has impacted the integrative nature of the citizenry. The author maintains that we need to abandon partisan discourse and anecdotal reasoning in favor of data-driven inquiry in addressing the question of Iranian national identity. Toward that end, empirical data from 1979 to 2013 is used to challenge some of the widely-held presumptions about electoral behavior in Iranian provinces. The paper concentrates on seven restive ethnic minority provinces (East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Sistan-Baluchistan, and West Azerbaijan) that together make up 24% of Iran’s population. After juxtaposing some of the positive and negative trends impacting national identity in post-revolutionary Iran, the author moves to lay out some of the main explanatory arguments of the paper which are as follows: (a) While primordialism and the candidate’s coethnics is a factor in electoral turnouts and ethnic favoritism is commonplace, the electoral behavior of minorities increasingly indicates a willingness to operate within the confines of the political system; (b) the above dynamic is partly attributable to the fact that there are more cases of cross-cutting cleavages (ethnicity, religious sect, tribal loyalty) than overlapping cleavages; and (c) The rural population is now more politically engaged and has more access to political means (power to petition their MPs, provincial offices of various ministries), which in turn positively impacts turnout at municipal elections.

by Marina Díaz Sanz / Universidad Complutense de Madrid

In 1997 former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammed Khatami presented the Dialogue of Civilizations initiative (DoC) as the flagship of his foreign policy. Some years later, in 2005, the Secretary General of the United Nations launched the Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) initiative upon the proposal raised by former Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and co-sponsored by Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The 9/11 attacks meaningfully separate two related but still differentiated initiatives that have enjoyed varying degrees of international recognition. Authorship, representativeness and the intersection of domestic and international agendas are some of the issues that have been brought to the fore when discussing these initiatives.

However, this paper is set out to critically explore the geopolitical implications underpinning both initiatives from a longue durée perspective. In this sense, this work will try to assess the origins, ontological assumptions and practical translations of both initiatives in the wider framework of an alleged confrontation between the West and Islam. My contention is that, despite trying to contest the clash of civilizations idea that events like the 9/11 were deemed to confirm, both initiatives are reproductive of what Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, in his A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations. Us and Them beyond Orientalism (2011), has called the ‘clash regime’ so as to refer to the regime of truth, i.e. the pervasive and solid ideological structure, wherein Islam and the West occupy the two poles of an extreme and violent confrontation.

This paper will first examine Khatami’s initiative and will try to assess the significance of his policy in the wider frame of Iran-West relations after the Islamic Revolution. Secondly, this work will attempt to measure to which extent the Spanish-Turkish more recent initiative represents a re-reading of Khatami’s and, more generally, how they relate to each other (the potential geopolitical importance of the three actors at play, Iran, Spain and Turkey should not be overlooked). In a bid to connect these particular instances of policy to a more all-encompassing ideological narrative, the ways and means by which these initiatives interact with the ‘clash regime’ will be reviewed. To conclude, this paper will offer some ideas on how to supersede the ‘clash mentality’ that underpins these initiatives.

by Farzan Sabet / Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies , Geneva

Worker communism has been an influential yet little examined politicalcurrent in Iran’s post-revolution secular-left. With roots in the Islamic
Revolution of 1979, its emergence represented a paradigm shift in the I ranian left which at that time was losing ground to the ascendent Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s political Islam. At least three factors helped distinguish worker communism from the main trends of the Iranian left preceding it and facilitated its rise. First, while the Iranian left saw the struggle against imperialist forces as the primary mission, legitimizing an alliance with the national bourgeoisie, worker communism rejected this as a grave error and saw the struggle against all capitalist forces, including the national bourgeoisie, as being central. Second, the
worker communist current was able to utilize the ethnic- and geo-politics of Iranian Kurdistan to survive revolutionary violence and implement key aspects of its paradigm inside Iran and even export it abroad. Third, worker communism overcame the ideological crisis of the Iranian left brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union relatively unscathed because it had been founded on a fundamental critique of Soviet communism. Despite being influential in the left inside and outside Iran, worker communism faced a crisis while formulating a response to the rise of the reform movement in the late-1990s. This response fell short as a result of doctrinal inconsistencies, which created internal fragmentation, and political radicalism, which was incompatible with the realities of post-1997 Iranian society."