Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Iran rightly singled out by the West
Posted by Taufiq Rahim | 3:45 pm
Although the Arab 'spring' has put democracy at the forefront of the agenda in the Middle East, it has not swayed authorities in Iran who have stymied reform attempts to open up the political system. While there are elections for some positions, analysts insist that real power is held in fact by the Supreme Leader; that position has always been beyond a direct vote of the country's citizens. Yet more poignant is that most positions of power are held by a small coterie of individuals; what exacerbates the situation is that there is a growing economic disparity in the country, despite populist attempts by the government to address the needs of the poorer classes. A significant part of the economy in the opaque country is controlled by a small oligarchy of companies and individuals with links to the ruling class, aided in obtaining government contracts often through corruption or nepotism or a combination of both.
Dissent is simply not tolerated and censorship is commonplace. Inspired by the wider movements in the Arab world, some Iranians have taken to the streets. They have been denounced by the regime, that accuses them of serving 'foreign interests' and trying to undermine public order. These protesters -with demonstrations as recent as this week - have insisted they are simply asking for human rights. There are worries that Iran will escalate the violence it will use if there is a widening of this movement, not to mention the untold numbers of political prisoners who continue to languish in prison.
Unlike in nearby Egypt when it was under Mubarak where there were some elements of political liberalism and openness, Iran is characterized by a complete vacuum of political activities. There are no political parties. In fact it refuses to even have a parliament or hold regular elections, opting for an experimental democratic process on the municipal level. While incremental democratic development itself could be appropriate for its context, what is particularly galling is that women have thus far never voted nor stood as candidates in these contests and are not expected to do so for another four years (if then). On women's rights, not only has Iran denied them political enfranchisement, it has also - as is widely known - enforced a strict dress code. If you are fortunate to see a woman in Tehran - the country's capital - which is rare to begin with, she will likely be covered head-to-toe. In fact, she cannot even leave her house without a male guardian; nor is she allowed to legally obtain a driver's license.
Russia and China guided by geopolitical and geoeconomic interests given Iran's strategic position in the region and vast oil resources, have refrained from voicing any real criticism of the country. Fortunately the U.S., Europe and other Western countries have been vociferous in continuing to denounce and condemn Iran's human rights record repeatedly. They continue to insist on the release of political prisoners and the protection of young Iranians when demonstrating for greater rights. Hopefully the world's eyes continue to remain on Iran and ensure that the rights of all in that country are respected.