[OPE] Hamid Dabashi on class forces and political tendencies in the Iranian movement (on CNN)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Jun 22 2009 - 17:37:07 EDT

(...) the movement that is unfolding in front of our eyes is seen as
basically a middle-class uprising against a retrograde theocracy that is
banking on backward, conservative and uneducated masses who do not know any
better. While the illiterate and "uncouth" masses provide the populist basis
of Ahmadinejad's support, the middle class is demanding an open-market civil

Highly educated, pro-Western and progressive Iranians are thus placed on Mir
Hossein Moussavi's side, while backward villagers and urban poor are on
Ahmadinejad's. The fact that in North America and Western Europe, usually
unveiled and fluently English-speaking women are brought to speak on behalf
of the women demonstrators further intensifies the impression that if women
are veiled or do not speak English fluently then they must be Ahmadinejad

This is a deeply false dichotomy that projects a flawed picture to the
outside world. It is predicated on the spin, that a very limited pool of
expatriate academics are putting on a movement that is quite extraordinary
in Iranian political culture, one whose full dimensions have yet to be
unpacked. The fact is, that - given the structural limitations of a nascent
democracy that is being crushed and buried in Iran, under a particular
interpretation of a Shiite juridical citadel - opposition to Ahmadinejad is
fractured into the followers of three candidates with deeply divided
economic programs and political positions.

Moussavi is universally known as a hard-core socialist in his economic
platform and a social reformist in his politics. Mehdi Karrubi is far to
Moussavi's right in his economic neo-liberalism and social conservatism.
Mohsen Rezaie, meanwhile, is even more to the right of Karrubi in his social
conservatism but to his left in his economic platform.

What above all challenges the reading of this event as a middle-class revolt
against "uncouth radicalism" is a crucial statistic that professor Djavad
Salehi-Isfahani, one of the most reliable Iranian economists in the U.S.,
provides in the same set of responses that The New York Times solicited from
experts. "Young people ages 15-29," Salehi-Isfahani reports, "make up 35
percent of the population but account for 70 percent of the unemployed."

The overwhelming majority of the people pouring into streets of Tehran and
other major cities in support of Moussavi are precisely these 15- to
29-year-olds. How could this then be a middle-class uprising if the
overwhelming majority of those who are supporting it and putting their lives
on the line are in fact jobless 15- to 29-year-olds who still live with
their parents -- who cannot even afford to rent an apartment, let alone
marry and raise a family and join the middle class in a principally
oil-based economy that is not labor-intensive to begin with?

Another crucial statistic that Salehi-Isfahani does not cite is the fact
that more than 63 percent of university entrants in Iran are women, but only
12 percent are part of the labor force. That means that the remaining 51
percent are out of a job, and yet the most visible aspect of these
anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrations is that women visibly outnumber men. How
could jobless men and women be participating in a massive middle-class
uprising against their "uncouth" leaders?

If we were to look closely at Moussavi's campaign commercials, his social
and economic platforms since he entered the race, and the presidential
debates with all the other candidates, we see that a sizable component of
his supporters are indeed university students, young faculty and the urban
intellectual elite --such as filmmakers, artists and the literati. But the
fact is that a major constituency of Moussavi is also the urban poor and
particularly the war veterans who have no respect for Ahmadinejad, believing
he had an inglorious war record, but are full of unsurpassed admiration for
Moussavi because of his role as a fiercely dedicated prime minister during
the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988).

Conversely, there is a significant segment of the traditional middle class,
the bazaaris, that is in fact the beneficiaries of Ahmadinejad's economic
policies of governmentally subsidized commodities and services, and thus
supports him.

As for the "uncouth" among the Iranian peasantry, Eric Hooglund, a senior
scholar of Iran with decades of experience in rural areas, has recently said
that when he hears reports that Ahmadinejad's support base is rural, he is
left quite baffled. "Is it possible that rural Iran," he asks pointedly,
"where less than 35 percent of the country's population lives, provided
Ahmadinejad the 63 percent of the vote he claims to have won? That would
contradict my own research in Iran's villages over the past 30 years,
including just recently."

The fact is that we really don't know how this uprising is going to pan out,
and yet we seem to be in too much of a rush to assimilate it backward to
inherited assumptions that may have lost their validity in face of this new
reality. I am convinced that we are witness to something quite
extraordinary, perhaps even a social revolution that is overriding its
economic roots. Although there are many similarities, this is a much
different event than the 1977-1979 Islamic Revolution. I am not sure that
this movement either sees itself as a revolution or will actually transmute
into one.

Given the brutality it faces, it has no choice but opt for a nonviolent
civil disobedience route. The age of ideological warfare is over in Iran. If
anything, this momentum is the closest event in Iran to the civil rights
movement of the 1960s in the United States, and precisely like that
movement, its economic dimensions are couched in social demands.

The world owes me a living
I've waited on this dole queue too long
I've been standin' in the rain for a fifteen minutes
That's a quarter of an hour too long.

- Looking after number 1, The Boomtown Rats

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