Iran & Saudi Arabia: Monarchies & Islamism
The rulers of Saudi Arabia are repeating Shah's mistake by thinking their problem is the US. Lack of democracy and progress in the social system of Saudi Arabia is increasingly being challenged not only by intellectuals and progressive-minded individuals inside Saudi Arabia, but it is also being challenged by the progressive people in the region and all around the world. Despite so much economic and technical advancements of the last half century in Saudi Arabia, beheading and other barbaric practices are commonplace in Saudi Arabia and basic rights of women and Jews are readily dismissed, and we are in the 21st Century and there is still no democratic structure in the political system of Saudi Arabia.
Democracy and human rights are still foreign words for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and they think their problem is only to convince the US government to support Saudi Arabia as-is. This is a good reminiscent of the last days of the Shah and how Shah was trying to convince Carter and the US administration that human rights was not the issue in Iran. In fact, even though Shah did care for economic and technical progress, nonetheless, ever since the coup of 1953, Shah thought that democracy was his enemy, and this is why, on the one hand he always appeased the clergy, and on the other hand clamped down on the most harmless democratic gatherings of people, beginning with the 16-Azar (1953) killing of the students at the Technology Faculty of Tehran University:
The reality is that because of lack of democracy, nobody was able to form any organization to run Iran, and the clergy which already had its traditional organization was unchallenged to take over Iran, when the Shah's regime fell apart. Shah should have modernized the political structure of Iran if he wanted to save his government and the cornerstone of that modernization was protection of democracy and secularism. The latter would be opposed by the clergy and this is why they opposed even the partial secularism of enghelAbe sefid of the Shah. But Shah instead of moving forward with a thorough secularism and augmenting it with democracy, tried to appease the clergy on secularism by giving them concessions here and there, while blocking all democratic forces from forming their own organizations thru arrests, torture, and executions.
And all this did not help the Shah to save his government, and only helped the successor of his regime to be a Mediaeval Theocracy rather than a democracy. Shah was successful in his suppression of Iranian democratic movement by curtailing the further secularization of the state which had started at the time of mashrootiat and Reza Shah. The clergy regained their status in the judicial branch of the state and it is a fact that clergy's role in Iranian state is not something that happened in the Islamic Republic and it is still not understood by many monarchists who support the 1906 Constitution which allows the veto of 5 mojteheds and considers Shi'a as the official religion of Iran. Here is what I have written on this topic before and how pivotal it is for any future constitution in Iran:
And Khatami and his supporters today still want us to believe democracy is just the rule of law and this has been my response:
Many of the monarchists like to blame Shah's fall on U.S. or the British. The reality is that US and UK supported the inevitable when the time came, because the clergy were the only ones who could rule Iran at that time, thanks to Shah's eradication of secular democratic movement for over 30 years prior to the revolution. In fact, US has approached the clergy in two ways depending on US interests at any given time, and also depending on the general world situation. For example US, not only in its fight with the Soviet Union in the past, but even still now, appeases the Islamists when they see it fit, like they have done in Afghanistan, by calling for a new state with an Islamic tag long before the Loya Jirga. Nonetheless, after Sept 11th, the US is distancing itself from the fundamentalist forces in the region, and these forces are more and more using terrorism, as their way of attacking progressive forces, and the Western interests. This is what I wrote about the Sept 11th at the time of that tragic event:
Today, Saudi Arabia is going thru a similar process as Iran's 1979 Revolution. The fear of the West is that the fundamentalists can take over Saudi Arabia by a revolt or a coup and in a post-911, this is a danger for the US. The rulers of Saudi Arabia keep appeasing the fundamentalists. They think the lesson of Iran is to appease the fundamentalists more than what the Shah did, instead of seeing the true lesson of Iran, which is, to endorse democracy, progress, and secularism, so that the secular and democratic forces can create their own organizations, which may support constitutional monarchy or may support forming a democratic republic in Saudi Arabia, and these organizations would be the real block to any retrogressive takeover of power by the Islamist fundamentalists.
In such a situation, if Saudi Arabia was not going to make the same mistake as the Shah, they should allow democracy to fully flourish; and of course many political organizations and parties will get formed; and they may challenge the monarchy itself, the same way monarchies that chose the democratic alternative in Europe were constantly challenged by other democratic and republican forces; and some like Sweden and UK survived but they face such challenge all the time, which *is* democracy. And yes this means that there is a chance that Constitutional Monarchy can lose power to a democratic republic in a democratic Saudi Arabia, but avoiding it like the monarchy of Iran did, means losing power and at the same time leaving the scene unchallenged for the traditional organizations of the fundamentalists, which incidentally do not need democracy to flourish. Here is what I wrote a few months ago about what democracy is:
Will Saudi rulers allow secular democratic forces to organize themselves; or they will either do it late; or keep appeasing the Islamists, until the Islamists take over Saudi Arabia for good? That is still an open question. The reality of democracy is that any force accepting it, risks the possibility of losing power. But those European monarchies which took the path of democracy realized that going back to the appeasement of clergy and disregarding the separation of state and religion is not the solution to the problems of monarchy; and in fact it can cause their quicker demise; as many monarchies in the Middle East from Egypt and Iraq to Iran and Afghanistan have experienced with so much bloodshed. The way of the future is democracy and secularism and appeasing the fundamentalists is not going to save the monarchies and will only postpone the progress of the countries of this region at a high human and capital cost, as one can best see in the experience of Iran's reactionary 1979 Revolution. Let me give a bit of details here about understanding the 1979 Revolution in Iran because misunderstanding it has caused, and is still causing, many errors among forces of different political and ideological inclinations.
In 1987, in my article in Iran Times, entitled "Progressiveness in the Present Epoch", I wrote that 1979 Revolution of Iran was a reversal of a Modern Times' synonymy of Revolution and Progress, which was assumed as a given, since the American 1775 and the French 1789 Revolutions. This synonymy was now reversed, and I wrote that the world may need a new Immanuel Kant to formulate this reversal when the retrogression has become the epitome of a major political revolution in Iran. In fact, Kant never bothered writing about revolutions till the American and French Revolutions happened and when writing on topics of armed conflicts, his topics were war and peace between different states. Kant's formulations of his ideal state and the topic of individual rights were in reference to a state of affairs achieved thru reform and *not* revolution. I will explain more below but let me first say my main point about Iran's 1979 Revolution.
As I had noted in my article of 1987, not all the forces in the revolution were seeking reactionary goals but the main forces of the revolution *were* seeking reactionary goals. In contrast, the main forces of the American and French Revolutions were seeking the individual rights, civil society, fairness, and social freedom, and this is how a thinker like Kant who basically did not advocate revolutions, became a supporter of those events. In contrast to the French and American Revolutions, the main forces of Iranian 1979 Revolution were *against* individual social rights and *social freedom* and even the Shah believed in more social freedom than them, and this is why the Islamists started wiping out those rights, from the first days after the revolution with the slogan of "yA roosari, yA toosari" when suppressing the demonstration of women in Tehran, right after Bahman of 1357, they spoke of Islamic principle of "amre beh maroof va nahi az monker", which became the rule, which was used to suppress the individual social rights of every citizen in Iran.
If during the Shah's regime, only the political rights of the individual were suppressed, the new Islamic state would not even stop at political rights and decided on how people could eat or dress or have sex or even live inside their own house. It was a total reactionary direction of the 1979 revolution which developed by the strong presence of Islamists, thanks to Shah's blocking of any democratic organization in the three decades prior to the 1979 Revolution. As I had noted in my article, it is noteworthy that in the French and American Revolutions, the reverse was true. In other words, in those revolutions, the reactionary forces were not all against the revolution, and there were reactionary forces also present on the side of the revolution. *But* the main forces on the side of the revolution in the American and French Revolutions sought progressive goals, such as the *individual rights* and civil society.
This is how those revolutions became the epitome of the ideals which Kant had called for in his writings, the ideal social norms which he was trying to achieve through *reform* in Germany of the successor of Frederick the Great, Frederick William II, who contrary to Frederick the Great, had no respect for individual rights and even had banned Kant from writing on religious matters, after Kant's publication of his 1793 "Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone", and the fact that as long as King Frederick William II was alive, Kant did not write on religion.
So Kant was a symbol of a democratic-minded individual who did his most to work by civil obedience and the only reason he supported the American and French Revolutions was because he saw them to usher in the ideals which he saw as necessary for a modern state, and not because he liked to advocate revolutions, which he did not. In contrast, many who supported the Iranian 1979 Revolution forgot about asking what ideals that revolution was seeking, and supported it just because it was a revolution to overthrow the dictatorial and corrupt system of the Shah, and not because the revolution was seeking progressive and democratic ideals, which it was not.
Calling the 1979 Revolution a coup by some monarchists only means for some of them that they still have not understood that revolution is not synonymous with progress, and for some others, means that they just want to blame the problems of Iran on foreign forces, when it is so obvious that at the time when the world is progressing towards a post-industrial society, Iran fell to a reactionary force that offered a reactionary retrogression of the society, as the solution for the real problems of development that Iran was facing, thanks to the suppression of secular democratic forces in Iran's society, for three decades prior to 1979, under Shah's dictatorship.
Here is what I wrote about Iran's reactionary 1979 Revolution, in 1987, which was published in Iran Times of Washington DC:
Today the events of Saudi Arabia remind me of the same type of development. If the Saudis do not move quickly towards a secular and democratic state, I would not be surprised to see a fundamentalist overthrow by the likes of Bin Laden in Saudi Arabia. Iran in contrast will be moving away from the fundamentalism, as the Iranian people learned it the hard way that the solution to the problems of Iran is only through a democratic and progressive state and the Islamic theocracy, one way or the other, has not been able to offer any solution for the present and future of Iran and one way or the other, it is doomed.
Many of the Iranian intellectuals waste their time discussing whether 1979 Iranian Revolution was a coup or a revolution and I have already adequately responded about this issue. But what is even more important is what follows from my theory is that Iranian Revolution was the most major reactionary revolution of our times which has symbolized the reactionary response to the development of the world from an industrial society to a post-industrial society. What this means is that the futurists have the best perspective to offer a real solution for Iran and the region because Iran is the country that faced the decision of choosing an alternative for the future, a future which was not going to be a capitalist or communist solutions of the industrial society (which as explained in my article in 1987 were not considered as viable in the Iranian movement of 1970s).
Thus the ones looking for an alternative beyond the industrial society, either ended up in a pre-industrial solution with Islamists at the top, or they had to be futurists going beyond the liberal and communist traditions. Unfortunately a futurist force was almost nonexistent in Iran of 1979 and even three years later, it was strongly opposed and threatened by the Iranian opposition which was mainly leftist. Here is what I wrote two years ago about the lesson of 1979 Revolution of Iran that there are no quick panaceas for those who really want to work for democracy and progress in Iran::
But Iran having been the cradle of the first major reactionary revolution of our times, means that freeing Iran from this nightmare and moving towards the future will be the best example for the world as to how to go towards a post-industrial society. It will be in its most pure form in Iran in contrast to the countries like the U.S. that are gradually taking this step. I think Iranian experience will have the central role in formulating the way as to how future post-industrial society will develop. The same way that American and French Revolutions were so central in the way the intellectuals in all other countries searched for solutions to pass the Medieval Times and to go for an industrial society in the 18th Century.
What is very disappointing is that the Futurists have mainly ignored the developments of Iran and have only seen the Iranian situation as the issue of US-Iran relations whether at the time of the Shah or at the time of IRI and hostage-taking. If one looks at the publications of World Future Society (www.wfs.org) in the last 20 years, there is hardly any article about Iran. Among the futurists, only Daniel Bell has made a reference to Iran and the Salman Rushdie issue and Alvin Toffler has made a few occasional references:
I think Iranians and those who understand the Iranian situation will be the ones who can bring that awareness to the world before the futurists can get a grasp of the magnitude of this upheaval and how important it is to understand it to see how the post-industrial development will be challenged by pre-industrial alternatives and retrogressive structures of the past, such as the Islamic fundamentalism. I think the Iranian people forming a futurist party and spearheading such an epochal event to lead Iran to a post-industrial society, can become an example for the world, in making this new paradigm shift from the industrial to the post-industrial world. And there is not much more I can add to what I have written as to why the solution for Iran is a future_oriented Federal Secular Democratic Republic:
Following the discussions of monarchy in Iran and Saudi, I should also make a note about Prince Reza Pahlavi and the Iran's future. The following is what I had to say the last time I wrote on the topic, and really there is not much I can add to what I wrote in May 2002:
In short Iran and Iranians will have a leading role in formulating the proper solutions for building the post-industrial society, which can help others in other parts of the world by setting a new path. I think for secular and democratic forces in Iran to provide proper leadership for this future development of Iran, they need to form a futurist party that can lead such a change, or else we may end up with another retrogression, and we all know how the 1979 retrogression cost us all so dearly in the last 23 years. Here are the ideals I think a futurist party for Iran can be formed around and strive for:
Sam Ghandchi, Publisher
Aug 7, 2002
P.S. The above article was first posted on Jebhe BB on Aug 7, 2002.
P.P.S. For my other articles , please visit ( http://www.ghandchi.com ).