Iranian intellectuals analyze the June presidential election

16 May 2005

Last weekend the Center for Iranian Research and Analysis held a conference on 'Post-Khatami Iran' at Widener University just outside of Philadelphia. Several dozen scholars and writers from around the world converged to discuss various aspects of contemporary Iran, including the nuclear issue; Iranian-Israeli relations; human rights strategies; the political economy of oil; the call for a referendum on Iran's constitution; and the June presidential election.

On the election panel, Professor Rasool Nafisi of Strayer University presented a dizzyingly comprehensive picture of the field of candidates standing for election, and also provided some useful historical background on presidential elections in Iran since the 1979 Revolution. Professor Reza Ghorashi of Stockton State College discussed the issue of political apathy in Iran today and how it impinges on the June election. He made the interesting argument that the apathy toward politics particularly prevalent among young Iranians today is actually a good thing, insofar as young Iranians are directing their energies toward other spheres of life which they feel they can affect, while the official political process has grown stagnant and onerous. They are focused on creative things like blogging and entrepreneurial endeavours-spaces in which they can actually accomplish something-in the face of a political sphere that feels like so much dead weight.

Professor Mehrdad Mashayekhi of Georgetown University examined the current political landscape of Iran through the prism of paradigm shifts in Iranian political culture. He argued that the totalistic ideologies that previously dominated Iranian politics--monarchism, nationalism, Marxism, and Islamism--have run their course and been supplanted by a new paradigm. The new paradigm, he maintained, is post-revolutionary, rejecting political violence in a society that has been drenched in revolutionary upheaval; but it is also post-reformist, insofar as the project of reforming the current regime from within has reached a dead end. Invoking Timothy Garton Ash's notion of "refolution," he held that the Iranian oppopsition today has transcended the reform/revolution paradigm and operates in a new, hybrid territory defined by republicanism, human rights, and civil society.

How this interesting analysis relates concretely to the presidential election is a question we will pursue on this blog and on openDemocracy in the days to come.

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