Fearing for the worst

Yassemine Mather takes a look at Iran after the elections

The June 24 second round of Iran's presidential candidates followed the pattern set in the first round - with one exception. We found out from the post-election statement of defeated candidate Hashemi Rafsanjani that he was not the only one to have spent billions on this poll: the state had come up with huge sums in support of his former ally and presidential opponent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After the elections Rafsanjani said: "All the means of the regime were used in an organised and illegal way to intervene in the election." He condemned "those who spent hundreds of billions of rials (tens of millions of US dollars) of the people's money to defame me and my family". As the election campaign of Ahmadinejad was very modest, one does wonder where all this money went. Could it be that the 'divine' intervention of the supreme religious leader, ayatollah Ali Khameini, was not sufficient? Perhaps the Bassij militia (religious police), whose leaders have vowed to clean up corruption in the islamic state, entered into more worldly arrangements in order to secure votes for their former commander? Of course, it did not take long for Ahmadinejad, the hard-line victor in the presidential election, to disappoint those amongst his supporters who were taken in by his rhetoric about 'redistribution of wealth' (in the spirit of 1979 and Khomeini's early days, when there was much talk of action on behalf of the 'disinherited') - or those who believed his words about a tougher foreign policy. The day after the results, he made it clear that his economic and foreign policies will not differ substantially from those followed by outgoing 'reformist' president Mohammad Khatami. Foreign and economic policy are areas where the will of the supreme religious leader - 'guardian of the nation' ayatollah Khameini - and the unelected shia Council of Guardians have the final say. Iranian presidents do not even have the authority to move a single pasdar (islamic guard) from his post, never mind deciding on nuclear policy or an alternative to the neoliberal devastation of Iran. The area where most people expect change is in the role of religion and the Bassij (from where Ahmadinejad derives much of his support) in interfering in Iranians' private lives. After all, the Bassij has repeatedly complained about the lack of proper head cover among women in parts of affluent north Tehran, and about non-segregated parties and other gatherings. Many Iranians are fearing the worst. Ahmadinejad claims he will favour Iranian companies when awarding oil contracts, and talks of removing what he calls "ambiguities and a lack of transparency in the oil industry". This drive against corruption and for Iranification is supposed to go hand in hand with wealth redistribution. Yet, as Iranians told foreign reporters throughout this election, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Mass privatisation, 'economic adjustment programmes' and other neoliberal economic measures imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have created mass unemployment, poverty and destitution for millions. The Iranian capitalist firms favoured by Ahmadinejad have no intention of changing the economic status quo, and the clergy's own vested interests in the "ambiguities" of the oil industry make a mockery of his claims - the main beneficiaries of the daylight robbery taking place in oil are shia mullahs and their close relatives, known as aghazadeh ha (sons of clerics). As far as the Middle East is concerned, the election showed once more that US intervention in the region - not least through the occupation of Iraq - has strengthened the position of the mullahs. Two ayatollahs - Khameini and Sistani - played a vital role in the Iraqi elections earlier this year. Khameini's Iraqi protégé, prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, backed up by the Iranian-trained militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is now prime minister with the blessing of Sayyid Sistani. Meanwhile another protégé of Khameini, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is presented as Iran's elected head of state, with his Bassij militia in close attendance. As Robert Fisk put it earlier this year, the "US has indeed changed the geopolitical map of the Middle East - but not in the way the Americans imagined" (The Independent January 29). Today a handful of reactionary shia clerics have imposed their own form of 'elected' dictatorship from the Syrian to the Afghanistani borders - with serious consequences not only for many Arab rulers, but also for the rising sunni resistance in the region. This will inevitably create more confrontation between the two models of islam vying for domination, which will make the long-term prospects for the region even more hazardous. In Iran, the fact that the new president belongs to the same faction as the majority in parliament will not end divisions within the ranks of the regime. Shia clerical circles are infamous for their sectarianism and already divisions amongst members of the Council of Guardians over the way they dealt with the elections show all the signs of a new round of infighting. Ayatollah Mehdi Karoubi, defeated in the first round of the elections, is launching his own islamic party and a wounded but super-rich Rafsanjani will wield his considerable financial and political power in other ways, challenging everything Ahmadinejad and his supporters in the Council of Guardians try to do. The majority of Iranian workers have paid little attention to the two rounds of the presidential elections. Many have been taking action to further their own, more pressing interests. Last week over 1,000 workers from the copper company, Bahonar, staged a hunger strike in Mashad in protest at management attitudes towards the workforce. They were amongst many complaining about working conditions. This week the strike by workers at the diesel section of the Iran Khodro vehicle manufacturers has paralysed one of the country's largest industrial complexes. Another 80 workers demonstrated against contract work outside the council building in Neyshabour. These protests made up only a tiny proportion of the total number of working class struggles over the last two weeks. Today, as in 1979, the Iranian working class remains the only force that can rise above the petty arguments of corrupt politics - of both the shia and secular variety. If this class can be won to recognise its own historic role for the creation of another world, it alone has the potential to defeat the neo-conservatives, the neoliberals and the fundamentalists in the Middle East l Yassamine Mather