Nassef is a lifelong learner of comparative study between Islam and International Relations. He co-founded the International Relations and Islamic Studies Research Cohort (Co-IRIS) and founded the Philippine International Studies Organization (PhISO).
Master in International Studies' Comprehensive Examinations
University of the Philippines-Diliman
August 17, 2009
B. Question number FOUR (International Affairs):
The protests over the results of the latest Iranian elections have become a global concern. Why? How can you explain this phenomenon theoretically?
With the advent of the Safavid Empire in West Asia, there was a great alteration of the Persian politics – it is the coming of an Islamic age in great Persia. I have to emphasize the etymological description of these two terms, i.e., Iran and Persia. It was in the regime of Reza Pahlavi that he constructively separated the utility of Iran from Persia. He implemented an executive order that Iran will be used in a political sense classifying the modern state, while Persia will be used in a cultural sense from ancient history to mores and folkways.
Moreover with the coming of Islam in Iran, it was further politically materialized when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led an Islamic revolution in 1979; even he was ostracized by the Western back-up regime to France. How ironic because at that time, Khomeini wanted to stay in Iraq but Saddam Hussein rejected his proposal and that is why he was able to study the norms and laws of the Western world when he was exiled in France.
Now that Iran became an Islamic Republic with a system based on Khomeini’s ‘velayat e-faqih’ (a system ruled by a supreme leader, with religious and political power, separating its responsibilities to the head of state). The constitution of Iran is unique that it has different subsidiary organs and bodies which have different and unique roles and duties.
The 2009 Iranian election was supposedly a climax in Iranian politics. It was a battle between Ahmadinejad (the conservative, who would like to maintain the status quo) and Moussavi (the reformist, who would like to change the status quo and even contested the legitimacy of the supreme leader – the current Ayatollah Khamenie).
It was an epic battle that may have changed Iranian’s art of governance if Moussavi had won, especially that he was relentlessly campaigned by his wife. A manifestation that emphasized the roles of women in the whole social, political and cultural strata of Iranian’s society. Not only a change in its domestic politics, but a configuration of ‘real politik’ in the Middle East region and in the world.
Robert Cox’s “Critical theory” emphasized the significance of culture and religion in the behavior or norms of a state. Iran’s Islamic Republic prevailed over the reformers and was materialized with the help of a hegemon within the state’s affair, i.e., the supreme leader. Much of the Iranians, with an exception numbers from the youth (who was borne after 1979), wanted to preserve its traditions, culture, and maintain the status quo.
This theory further explained that all knowledge is ideationally interconnected. Rejecting that there are “no facts” about the world only ideas are existing. Khomeini’s velayat e-faqih plus Islam is equals to an idea that displayed a politically constructed Iranian politics and its views to the world. Some of the norms, mores, and folkways were gradually modified. Even a social construction about the family, the roles of men and women were constructively altered basing on Shites traditions with additional teachings from Khomeini.
The election in Iran is a global concern because the result of it might change how the Iranians conceive its relations to the world, particularly to the US, Israel, and to the Arab world. The US and Israel’s securitization of Iran’s nuclear energy is a major issue and debated among IR scholars. Israel is consistent in delivering its ‘speech act’ that Iran is an existential threat to the Israeli’s nationhood or survival and to the peace process with the Palestinian people (Barry Buzan and Olan Waever, the Copenhagen Securitization framework).
Realists contend that since Israel has an allegedly advanced nuclear arsenal then Iran will do the same, procuring nuclear technologies to develop weapons because they sees Israel’s nuclear weapons as a threat to their security, thus a security dilemma is taking place. (John Herz, Security Dilemma in International Politics) More so, a mirror-imaging is happening; just like what occurred in the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Holsti in his work about principles, objectives, and conducts of foreign policy argued that with this kind of scenario, i.e., Israel perceived Iran as a threat to their survival because of the rhetoric of Pres. Ahmadinejad at the Columbia University that Zionism must be eliminated from the page of time, and not as what the international media is saying – Israel must be wipe-out off the map, quoting the late Ayatollah Khomeini, and the resentment over religious turfs between the Sunnis (Arab countries) and the Shites (Iran and Syria) is an indication that the Arab countries (together with the out-casted Libya of Khadafi) might counter the perceived rising hegemony status of Iran through a foreign policy approach of balancing.
Pres. Obama would still engage diplomatically with the Iranian regime on the nuclear issue and would now become ‘tough’ with the Israeli regime on the resettlement issues in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Therefore, the Iranian election underlines the complexities attached in its political and power struggle in the region. Not only in the region, world powers have interests in the Iranian politics, i.e., the US diplomatic engagement with Iran on nuclear issue, China as the biggest consumer of Iranian oil and gas, and Russia’s military commitment with Iran (that if it is attacked, Russia will compel a ‘Second strike’.
Therefore, the Iranian election underlines the complexities attached in its political and power struggle in the region. Not only in the region, world powers have interests in the Iranian politics, i.e., the US diplomatic engagement with Iran on nuclear issue, China as the biggest consumer of Iranian oil and gas, and Russia’s military commitment with Iran (that if it is attacked, Russia will compel a ‘Second strike’ target to the attacker) – this is also embodied in the provisions of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).