Iranian clergy tightens grip; moderates, Bani-Sadr weakened
Ayatollah Khomeini's latest unyielding utterances have thrust control of the Iranian revolution deeper than ever into the hands of the fundamentalist clergy.Skip to next paragraph
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At the same time, the swing of the revolutionary pendulum toward unrestrained religious zeal is further confirmed by the Iranian parliament's choise of a hard-line cleric as its speaker. Iran's more secular intellectuals are being pushed more and more toward the fringes of power, their pleas for moderation ignored.
The present trent in Iran even raises doubts as to whether there is any effective political future for the nation's President, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. Like the two previous Iranian leaders since the Shah's departure -- transitional premier Shahpour Bakhtiar (now an exile under threat of assassination in Paris) and his successor Mehdi Bazargan (lying low in Tehran) -- he is finding his position being eroded from above as well as from below.
Only last January Iranina voters gave Mr. Bani-Sadr an overwhelming majority over other presidential candidates, including that of the religious fundamentalists. At that time he clearly had the Ayatollah's blessing. Today the situation is very different, as witness Ayatollah Khomeini's words of July 20 referring to the new government about to be formed in Tehran:
"If your government is like the ones in the past, we must mourn for this movement [revolution]. . . the government must be decisive and 100 percent Islamic."
The Ayatollah warned that the Majlis (parliament) should reject proposed new ministers if they were "like some of the ministers who are now in power." Islam, he avowed, could not be implemented through "these gentlemen whose minds have been trained in Europe." (Mr. Bani-Sadr is one of many prominent Iranians who have received education in France or other Western countries.)
The Ayatollah's words seem to add up to a cry of defiance, perhaps of desperation. He clearly is dismayed by the stalemate that grips Iran a year and a half after the revolution.
"We are guilty before the nation," he told Iran's judicial council. "We have had disaster after disaster."
Apparently the panacea he recommends is less secularism and more complete and zealous commitment to fundamentalist Shia Islam. But in doing so, is the Ayatollah more guided by religious mysticism than by any sense for practical politics?
Since his election as president six months ago, Mr. Bani-Sadr has been the nominal head of government serving with interim ministers in titular charge of departments. For many weeks now, Mr. Bani-Sadr has been trying to nominate a prime minister of his choosing and install a cabinet as provided in the new Constitution. But he repeatedly has been frustrated by the religious fundamentalists, led by Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, whose Islamic Republican Party (IRP) has the biggest bloc of seats in the legislature.
Now the Majlis has selected Hojatolislam Hashemi Rafsanjani, a member of the IRP, as its new speaker. This writer remembers Johatolislam rafsanjani as one of the first to board the plane bringing Ayatollah Khomeini back to Tehran as soon as it landed at Mehrabad Airport Feb. 1, 1979, and again, a week later, announcing the Ayatollah's choice of Mr. Bazargan as his first prime minister. Hojatolislam Rafsanjani (like Mr. Bani-Sadr) is in his 40s.
The Iranian revolution has followed in the main the classic pattern of all revolutions. The intellectuals were its first standard-bearers and promoters against the Shah during the 1960s and 1970s.Partly because of the Shah's repressive policies, the intellectuals were driven to using the mosque-network as their means of communication because it was the one least susceptible to blockage by the once all-powerful and effective central authority. The marriage of the intellectuals and the clergy resulted.
By the late 1970s, the masses joined the revolution -- and the ouster of the Shah followed in January 1979. Since then, there has been an internal struggle for control of the revolution between the mainly secular intellectuals and the clergy, against a background of a mounting reign of terror. So far, the clergy have prevailed because they managed from the outset to capture virtual monopoly control of the masses.
But as Harvard anthropologist Michael Fischer points out in his recent book on the Iranian revolution, neither the old generation of fundamentalists nor the established intellectuals may in the end prove the deciding factor in this struggle.
Over half the population of Iran is under 17, Professor Fischer points out. Those who compose the revolutionary rank-and-file are young men in their teens and 20s. So alongside the struggle between religious fundamentalists and secular moderates, there is the turmoil of what he calls "the changing of a generational guard."