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Totalitarianism And Lack Of Civil Society Lead To Recurrent Protests In Iran

A scene from protests in Kerman, Iran showing security forces entangled with demonstrators, November 16, 2019
A scene from protests in Kerman, Iran showing security forces entangled with demonstrators, November 16, 2019

An Iran-based sociologist Taqi Azad Armaki has warned that the intensification of the security situation in Iran following recent protests could lead to a social explosion within a year a two.

Following the mid-November unrest that was ignited by a sharp rise in the price of gasoline but soon turning into an anti-regime political upheaval, pundits in Iran have been warning officials against heavy-handed treatment of protesters who are fed up with corruption, discrimination and social injustice.

On the other hand, some hardliner figures insist on the continuation of non-democratic ways that can potentially further escalate the situation.

Dr. Azad Armaki suggests in an interview with pro-reform website Fararu that Iran needs a civil society rather than a security society to avert the volatile situation that makes the country prone to unrest.

Other intellectuals such as Ahmad Gholami, the editor of reformist daily Sharq has also stressed the significance of civil society as a barrier and shock absorber between the government and the angry people.

Gholami wrote in a December 7 commentary in Sharq: " the elements of civil society are like fortifications that protect the administration against social typhoons." Meanwhile, he warned that the recent protests in Iran were partly the result of loss of credibility by country's elected institutions in the face of the arbitrary, but otherwise absolute power of non-elected institutions.

The main concern for most intellectuals discussing the post-unrest situation with some sympathy toward the current Iranian political establishment is whether the protests will reoccur anytime soon, and what can happen if they do.

Azad Armaki believes that if civil society replaces heavy-handed suppression, there still might be many protests in the future, but they will not be revolutionary in nature.

He says the country's main problems are injustice and inequality while the government has not been doing anything to alleviate these problems. Others would say that the government is itself part of the problem.

Azad Armaki says Iranian officials talk too much about problems but they do not take any serious measures to solve them. According to Armaki, both reformists and conservatives are confused about what Iran's main problem is.

"The reformists have changed the problem to one of democracy and people's vote, while the conservatives believe the country's main problem is hijab," He said.

He accused the conservative who control the economy of failing to restore justice. He also lashed out at reformists for failing to strengthen civil society institutions.

Armaki believes that even after the unrest officials and parliament did not try to listen to protesters. Meanwhile, no one listens to the academics who have probed into the problems and the causes of dissent.

In the absence of civil society, the people appear to have lost their confidence in elected officials as well as their hope in any improvement in social justice. And this increases the chances of further unrest as problems remain unsolved.

But these writers, residing in Iran, have failed to note the limited existence of civil society in the late 1990s and early 2000s that was crushed by hardliners through relentless persecutions, arrests and arbitrary convictions.

Sharq's editor, Ahmad Gholami in his article also points fingers at elected officials: " The Presidency, the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles) and the Tehran City Council are among the institutions that have lost their credibility and status” in recent years.

Criticizing the officials' behavior Gholami warns that "Not only the under-performance of reformists at the Presidency, the Majles and the Councils weakens them, but it also reduces the prestige and status of these institutions in the eyes of the people, and this is possibly more damaging. What is being lost is the concept of election, people's vote and elected institutions as the frontline of politics."

Regardless of the concerns expressed by reform-minded figures, some hardliners appear to be adamant to continue the authoritarian rule that has enraged many citizens.

In an elaborate attempt to undermine the principle barring military figures from interfering with democratic processes, the former commander of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps (IRGC) has bragged that the force has "trained and groomed" a new generation of politicians to take over the country.

Speaking on the state TV on December 10, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, who is currently in charge of Soft War operations at the IRGC, lashed out at the Rouhani administration and branded it as "inefficient." He said on the program: "People are tired of various political tendencies. Officials have not passed the people's test. People know that even in the current situation many problems would have been solved if officials listened to the Supreme Leader's advice about the Resistance Economy."

While advocating young hardliners' registration as candidates for the Majles elections in February, he further called on the Guardian Council to "scrutinize Majles election candidates' ideological background" to make sure that they comply with Iranian hardliners' totalitarian school of thought.