Much has been made by the media this past week about the likely rigged presidential elections in Iran this past Friday that saw Conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president, come away with a suspiciously wide margin of victory of nearly 30% over his nearest competitor, the Reformist Mir Hossein Moussavi. Subsequently, widespread protests have sprung up around the country as Moussavi supporters fervently contest that the election was fraudulent. In response, the state has implemented complete media censorship (including the disallowance of foreign media from filming any protests) and gone into lockdown mode as it utilizes police intimidation and brutality to quell the riots. While the rest of the world looks on with a mixed sense of excitement, intrigue, and angst as to the continually developing situation in Iran, one of the most basic and main underlying questions that everybody is trying to figure out is, "What is the true motivation of the thousands of protesters in the streets of Iran, and what are the potential long-ranging implications to the Iranian political structure?" While the answers to these questions is just mere speculation at this point, an analysis of my previous piece on Iran's political structure leaves us with some interesting insight.
In many ways, Iran is much closer to a theocracy than a true democracy. Their chief of state, the Supreme Leader, is a religious cleric who has a lifetime tenure once elected (unless the Assembly decided to dismiss him, and this has yet to happen in the 30 years since the Islamic Revolution). This allows the Supreme Leader to act more like a monarch or dictator than a democratic ruler. Furthermore, since the Supreme Leader has power to appoint a wide range of vital positions including half of the Guardian Council directly and half of it indirectly through the Head of the Judiciary, the Supreme Leader has incredible influence over the nomination for candidates of all the elected positions. The Guardian Council, possibly the second most important part of the Iranian government, is also undemocratically appointed and has the power to rule any law passed by Parliament and the President as either unconstitutional or incongruent with Islamic tenets and nullify it. Moreover, the fact that all candidates running for Parliament or the Presidency must be approved by the Guardian Council enables the Supreme Leader to indirectly censor any potential candidates who he feels would not represent his own virtues. In some ways, thus, the president of Iran is nothing more than a puppet regime for the man behind the curtain who is really pulling the strings, the supreme leader.
Assuming that the majority of Iranian citizens who are protesting in the streets today are ignorant to these facts would be presumptuous and would fail to give consideration to the true purpose behind these rallies for many Iranians. Given the overwhelming power of the Supreme Leader in Iran, it would seem that it should come as no surprise to the Iranian people or any informed observer that their "democracy" is being manipulated behind closed doors. The Supreme Leader goes relatively unchecked in their current system, and there is nothing stopping him from ensuring that he gets a president who represents his own political and world views. However, it is a benevolent sign that for the first time since the Islamic Revolution the Iranian citizens are finally rebelling against the government which shows that they are not willing to sit idly around as a small group of religious elitists rule their country. A recent poll shows that 76% of Iranians want the Supreme Leader to be elected rather than undemocratically appointed. Statistics such as this one show that Iranians understand that if they truly want democracy the most important figure and chief of state cannot be indirectly elected and granted lifetime immunity. While going after the untouchable Supreme Leader will be a tough task, the very notion that Iranians are demanding free and fair elections for the representative part of their system is an effulgent beacon of hope and a crucial first step towards dismantling the theocracy that is currently stifling the blooming of democracy that the passionate Iranian protesters represent. The Iranians are not just protesting an election, they are protesting an entire political system.