Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:59 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:59 | SYDNEY

Iran: Did the earth pivot for you too?


Rodger Shanahan


3 July 2009 10:16

The true significance of events is sometimes not known until well after their time, because immediacy often impairs objectivity. This not an absolute, as it is often possible to get a real sense of an event's significance through an understanding of historical context. In the case of Iran, for instance, I can't agree with Greg Sheridan's description of the recent election as 'one of the pivotal events of our time'.

Twelve years ago, the surprise election of Khatami (with over 70% of the popular vote; in excess of 20 million votes) against parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, who was endorsed by the Supreme Leader, was heralded as a 'landmark' event. It showed how despised the ruling clerical regime was and promised a new era of liberalism. Four years later, Khatami gained 78% of the vote (over 21 million votes). But after eight years of his presidency, little if anything changed. Despite the people sending the system an unmistakable message, the system triumphed.

While the Iranian political system will eventually crumble, the 2009 elections will not be the cause of it. Rather, like the 1997 and 2001 elections, it demonstrates how disliked the regime is and widens pre-existing fissures in the system. The security forces stood firmly behind the Government, which made meaningless concessions but sent an unmistakable message to the demonstrators that the time for public foment was over. The public eventually acquiesced.
Sheridan's assertion that this episode has caused 'a flowering international Shi'a debate about whether clerics should play a direct role in politics' ignores the significant international debate on the subject that has been going on for the past 50 years. In Lebanon it is manifest in the existence of Amal and Hizbullah, in Iraq through the emergence of SCIRI from ad-Da'wa, in Gulf states in the switching of allegiance among Shi'a between proponents of the activist and quietist schools of thought regarding the efficacy of clerical political participation. The Iranian election is not the cause of the debate, it is simply another manifestation of the decades-old (and in reality many centuries-old) debate.
There have been many significant — but far fewer pivotal — events of our time. The launch of the first personal computer and the mobile phone, the fall of the Berlin wall, the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre, England's 2005 Ashes victory (sorry that was an aberration, not a pivotal event) are all pivotal. While significant, I can't see the 2009 Iranian election ever being referred to by historians as pivotal.

Photo by flickr user Dave W Clarke, used under a Creative commons license.