First and foremost, it is worth clarifying that in Iran the division between “reformists” and “liberals” on one side and “conservatives” or even “fundamentalists” on the other makes no sense whatsoever.
Both political camps are linked to the memory and teaching of Imam Khomeini, who was a political leader because he was an innovator in the field of Twelver Shia Islam.
For the Imam of the 1979 revolution who, immediately after rising to power, dismissed Iran’s nuclear power inherited from the Shah as “a sign of the devil” – albeit he later changed his mind – the aim of the Prophecy, which for him is equal to human reason, “is to guide mankind towards the establishment of a just society through the implementation of divine laws”.
Hence, unlike what happened in the old Quietist tradition of both strands of Islam, namely Sunni and Shia, for the Imam of the Shia revolution “Islam is a political religion, and every aspect of this religion is political, even its worship”.
Therefore, during the current period of ”concealment of the Last Imam”, the faqih, namely the “experts of Islamic Shia law”, must set up an Islamic State.
In short, the political power is the faqih’s religious duty: this is the basis of the famous velayat-e faqih, namely the “guardianship of the jurist”.
For Imam Khomeini, the whole community of faqih represents the concealed Imam on the earth until his appearance-revelation.
Hence the “experts of Islamic Shia law” have, jointly and collectively, the same authority and responsibility as those that Prophet Muhammad and the first “well-directed” Caliphs had on the earth.
Again to quote Khomeini, “Islamic government is neither tyrannical nor absolute, but constitutional. It is constitutional in the current sense of the word, i.e. based on the approval of laws in accordance with the opinion of the majority. It is constitutional in the sense that the rulers are subject to a certain set of conditions in governing and administering the country, conditions that are set forth in the Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Most Noble Messenger (s). It is the laws and ordinances of Islam comprising this set of conditions that must be observed and practiced. Islamic government may therefore be defined as the rule of divine law over men”.
All the members of the Iranian Parliament and of the other elected or non-elected institutions act within this set of values, principles, as well as legal and Qur’an practices. Needless to think of a Westernization through liberalization, as some Western analysts imagine.
Or to think of a Shia regime rift between pro-Westerners and “reactionaries” because, for the Iranian ruling classes, the core of the issue is how to use the West and not be used by it.
Hence thinking of a specific theocracy “of waiting” – as the one of the Iranian Shia State, a unique case in political theology – as a system divided between “liberals” and “conservatives” (regardless of what both words may mean in the West) is a sign of utmost naivety for those who have to interpret the results of Iran’s 2016 elections.
The Pervasive Coalition of Reformists: the Second Step, named the List of Hope, led by Mohammed Khatami, is the only coalition which openly supports the so-called “reformists”. It is an assemblage of parties or lists such as the Council for Coordinating the Reforms Front, Mehdi Kharroubi’s National Trust Party, the Union of Islamic Iran People Party, which is the Hassan Rowhani’s newly-established political arm, and finally, the Followers of Velayat, led by Ali Larijani, former chief nuclear negotiators (considered a “conservative”) and current Speaker of Parliament.
The political groups allied to the List of Hope, which has great significance in two-round elections such as Iran’s, are the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers, the Combatant Clergy Society and the Association of Followers of the Imam’s Line.
It is worth recalling that the List of Hope also includes 24 other smaller groups, such as the Islamic Association of Women and the Islamic Labour Party of Iran.
In the elections this party-coalition obtained 28.62% of votes and got 83 Parliamentary seats out of a total of 239.
The Principlists Coalition that the West (gazing, as Narcissus, at its own reflection) passes off as “conservative” is made up of a fraction of the Combatant Clergy Society and the Islamic Coalition Party, as well as four other smaller groups.
It got 64 seats in the Majlis with 22.06% of votes.
Ali Motahari’s People’s Voice Coalition was created to criticize the “conservative” Ahmadinedjad.
A cousin of Ali Larijani, who is now leading his own party within the winning coalition, Motahari is the son of a faqih and is regarded as a liberal-conservative politician.
Motahari’s List obtained 3.44% of votes and got ten seats, but it is difficult to place it in the traditional Downs’ left-right axis we use for the systems derived from the American and French revolutions.
There are many true independent candidates – as many as 55 members of Parliament, who can safely support either camps, which appear to us progressive or conservative.
The religious minorities accepted in the country, namely Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians, obtained their five constitutional seats and garnered 1.75% of votes.
The results are even more complex to analyze in the case of the Assembly of Experts, the Council entrusted with the task of supervising the Parliament in accordance with the velayat-e-faqih. It is the 88-member Council that will elect the next Rahbar, the Supreme Leader.
As many as 27 seats were obtained by the Principlists Coalition, while the Second Step reformists gained 20 seats.
As many as 35 candidates, however, were supported by both coalitions which we like to ascribe to our camp.
The results reached by the various coalitions show that, in the Assembly of Experts, 19 mujtahid were elected directly by the Second Step coalition, while 27 were elected with the votes of other lists not allied to the “progressives”, for a total of 46 “experts” who, I assume, will be answerable to both political traditions – if any.
The Combatant Clergy Society has 5 Experts directly elected, but as many as 51 voted also by other groups, including many of the camp we define as progressive.
The Combatant Clergy was created in 1977, before the Islamic revolution, to topple the Shah. Its first leaders were Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who is the current leader of other progressive lists, and Morteza Mohtahari, the father of the current leader of the People’s Voice Coalition.
The group now counts 56 members in the Assembly of Experts, accounting for 64%. This rebalances much of the progressive shift in the Majlis.
The Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom elected 3 Experts directly and 51 ones jointly with other lists that sponsored them.
It is the group at the origin of the 1979 revolution, founded by Ayatollah Khomeini’ students as early as 1961, when the Shah seemed unassailable and indeed, according to his Iranian name, “King of Kings”.
As can be easily imagined, in the city and province of Tehran, the People’s Experts list received a landslide victory.
But, as in other countries, including Western ones, here the divide is between urban and rural areas – the same rift which gave rise to capitalism in the West and destroyed centralist socialism in the USSR and, in other respects, in China.
Nevertheless many Rowhani’s personal opponents and competitors were excluded from Parliament or from the Assembly of Experts. Hence, for the President in office, the issue lies in using this power surplus.
The focus of Rowhani’s policy is the economy and, above all, the geopolitical impact of the planned Iranian economic expansion after the agreement with the P5+1.
Iran needs it. It needs a booming economy to tackle the problems and uneasiness of young people (leading to their “Westernization”) and update its obsolete production system, which has grown lazy and idle as a result of an almost completely nationalized economy.
The President will privatize, at first, the automotive industry, but he has also bought a fleet of 118 Airbus airplanes for a total sum of 25 billion US dollars.
Nevertheless the political debate in Iran does not concern reforms, but their pace and their shape.
And especially their political impact on the relations with the United States and some other Western countries. Nobody, within the Majlis or the Council of Experts, wants the United States to monitor Iran’s industrial transformation and its very recent opening onto the “market-world”.
Currently Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) amounts to 4.88 billion US dollars, but Iran has designed a Development Plan for the period 2016-2021. An amount of 361 billion US dollars needs to be invested, 204 of which can be found in Iran, but the rest has to come from foreign countries or private investors.
Hence, if Iran uses the JCPOA to become the largest population and economy to be globalized after the USSR collapse, the geopolitical effects are likely to be the following: it will increase its engagement in the Greater Middle East, but only in connection with the Russian Federation and China; it will counteract the low oil price policy led by Saudi Arabia to “punish” the United States and Russia; it will create its own Shia area of influence, which will not lead to a war against the Sunnis, but to an ongoing attrition with Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia will be particularly fierce in attracting the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which is coming to Iran after the signing of the JCPOA and after Saudi Arabia opening for the first time to FDI in June 2015.
The above stated plan envisages a yearly GDP growth exceeding 8%, a Chinese-style growth rate, but it is very likely that – once temporarily put an end to the nuclear power for military purposes (but is it really so?) – Iran will manage a military build- up, funded by economic growth, which will follow the traditional criteria: the primacy of guerrilla warfare and “hybrid strategies”, managed by the Pasdaran, and the ICBM missile system.
The strategic goals will be to strengthen its own regional role and the political management of the many Shia minorities scattered throughout the Sunni universe.
Moreover, the link between economic growth and Iranian remilitarization will be used to revive the relations with Russia and to enable China’s peaceful expansion into the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, finally as guardians of the future new “Silk Road” planned by Xi Jinping as early as 2013.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France