No Comment — June 18, 2009, 10:07 am

A Crisis in Theocracy

Several readers have asked what I meant in saying that “The myth of the Islamic Republic has been shaken by its roots.” Let me unpack this a bit. At the core of the state created following the 1979 revolution was an attempt to update the political theology of Shi’a Islam. A theocratic model in which a religious figure was to be installed as Supreme Leader with ultimate political authority was balanced in two ways. First, the Expediency CouncilCouncil of Experts was created as a body of religious experts to select the Supreme Leader and potentially also remove him or check his exercise of power. Second, an elected presidency and parliament were also created. The president exercises the executive powers not given to the Supreme Leader, and the parliament is the legislative body. The whole concept of the system involves a democratic model which is subject to theocratic limits, with the balance being struck consistently in favor of the theocracy. The myth of the Islamic Republic—and I am using the term myth in the sense of political philosophy, not necessarily as a disparaging term–is that this is an updating of the medieval models, serving to imbue the government with the legitimacy of popular consent. But current events point to the system’s inherent fault line: what happens when the democratic mandate cannot be reconciled with the theocratic leadership? Moreover, what happens when the theocratic leaders attempt a coup d’état to remove the democratic component of the government and install their own puppet? We’re witnessing a severe stressing of this system now, and it reveals a real allocation of power which is at odds with the theoretical one. The radical clerical party appears to hold all the cards, and the constitutional checks on their power so far appear ineffective.

Reza Aslan is reporting now that maneuvers are underway within the Expediency CouncilCouncil of Experts—that its chair, Rafsanjani, has convened a meeting in the city of Qom. This could be a momentous event, and in any event, it is threatening to Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader. But together with the strong and rather underappreciated statement against the elections issued by the most senior of the ayatollahs, Montazeri, it also shows that the fissure lines are not simply between the reformers and the clerical party, but even within the clerical party. Reza Aslan discusses these developments with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow here:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Also note that the Ahmadinejad government has been caught photoshopping again. It took photographs of yesterday’s pro-Ahmadinejad rally and manipulated them to make the crowds look as big as those which swelled Tehran at the anti-government rally. It’s now clear that notwithstanding all the blandishments his government could offer, Ahmadinejad is not as strong a draw as his opponents. And this fact is extremely telling in terms of the legitimacy of the claimed voting results.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2015

The Joke

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abolish High School

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beat Reporter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Going It Alone

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Rotten Ice

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Life After Guantánamo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
Photograph by the author
Article
Rotten Ice·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“When I asked if we were going to die, he smiled and said, ‘Imaqa.’ Maybe.”
Photograph © Kari Medig
Article
Life After Guantánamo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’ve seen the hell and I’m still in the beginning of my life.”
Illustration by Caroline Gamon
Article
Going It Alone·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The call to solitude is universal. It requires no cloister walls and no administrative bureaucracy, only the commitment to sit down and still ourselves to our particular aloneness.”
Photograph by Richard Misrach
Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

Acreage of a Christian nudist colony under development in Florida:

240

Florida’s wildlife officials decided to remove the manatee, which has a mild taste that readily adapts to recipes for beef, from the state’s endangered-species list.

A 64-year-old mother and her 44-year-old son were arrested for running a gang that stole more than $100,000 worth of toothbrushes from Publix, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS stores in Florida.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today