TCS Daily

Meet Iran's Future Leaders

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - July 8, 2003 12:00 AM

With all of the attention being paid to the effort to effect regime change in Iran, it is only natural to ask what candidates might replace the clerically dominated Islamic government in any new secular administration. Learning about these candidates is crucial, as it will help us learn more about the pro-reform movement, and it will help maximize the ability of the Iranian people in choosing a leader that will bring about their dreams of sociopolitical and economic liberalization, as well as re-integrating Iran as a respected and mainstream member of the international community.

The following are some leaders who might increasingly be found at the head of the reform movement as protests against the regime continue:

  1. Mehdi Karroubi: Karroubi is the Speaker of the Iranian Majles (Parliament), and has strong connections with both the reformers and the hardliners in the Iranian government. His credibility with the reformers stems from his efforts to have Iranian dissidents released from prison -- even going so far as to threaten to boycott the Majles until one dissident member of Parliament -- Hossein Loghmanian -- was released from prison. While any successor government in Iran should be secular, alliances with reformist clerics like Karroubi should not be ruled out -- as those alliances would probably help the reform movement advance its cause more swiftly and easily. Besides, any effort to woo reformist clerics to the side of the pro-democracy movement will help divide the clergy and prevent it from acting as a unified front to reformist efforts.

  2. Hossein Loghmanian: The reason Karroubi's effort to ensure Loghmanian's release was so significant was that Loghmanian is such an important player in the pro-democracy movement in Iran. As an MP, he is an established player in Iranian politics, and possesses a great deal of credibility with the reform movement for speaking out so strongly against the hardliners in the regime, and for trying to change the regime from the inside. Because Loghmanian is part of the Iranian political establishment, his opposition to the Islamic regime makes it hard for the regime to claim that all of its opponents are puppets of the United States, or that they are exiles bent on mischief. Loghmanian is an Iranian, and has governmental responsibilities that defy the characterizations that the regime likes to use to marginalize its opponents. At the same time, as the first MP in 100 years to actually be imprisoned for speaking out against the Iranian government of the day, Loghmanian has made clear that he views the attainment of political power as secondary to the effort to liberalize Iranian politics and society, and thus, he has gained the strong support of the reform movement.

  3. Hashem Aghajari: Aghajari is respected as one of Iran's leading dissident intellectuals for his courageous statements challenging the fundamental power of the Shi'ite clergy, and calling on Iranians to cease viewing the clergy as "sources of imitation" -- a major break with Shi'ite teachings and tradition. Even more amazingly, Aghajari refused to appeal the death sentence that his comments brought him -- instead choosing to dare the regime to go ahead with its planned execution of him. The regime backed down and dismissed Aghajari's death sentence. As a result of his courage in facing down the regime, Aghajari has become an inspiration to the reform movement, and will likely be a significant moral force behind the movement's efforts to effect change in Iran.

  4. Mahmud Ali Chehregani: A leader of Iran's Azeri population, Chehregani has emerged as a reform advocate with powerful and significant backing from the Pentagon, and from American politicians interested in reforming Iran. This report points out, however, that one of Chehregani's goals is to bring about an autonomous -- and eventually an independent -- southern Azerbaijan region of Iran. Given the long history of Western colonizers in seeking to partition Iran, and given the sensitivity of the Iranian people to any repeat of history, the United States would do well to repeatedly stress its desire to preserve the territorial integrity of Iran, and to make clear its differences with Chehregani regarding this issue. Managing a fundamental change in the nature of the Iranian government will be difficult enough without throwing in the complications of territorial restructuring in the process.

  5. Reza Pahlavi: The former Crown Prince of Iran, Pahlavi has strong support among Iranian expatriates (who are increasingly providing technical and informational support to the reform movement through satellite television broadcasts and through the Internet), but he also has significant support among Iranians within Iran who are on the receiving end of outside broadcasts urging reform. Seeking to avoid the mistakes of his father, the young Pahlavi has reached out to the Iranian left in order to make common cause with them, and has stated that he is not necessarily interested in taking his place as a new Shah of Iran, or even as a republican authority figure in a new Iranian government. Pahlavi has support among Iranians who are either too young to remember the abuses of his father's rule -- and who long for the material prosperity and close ties to the United States that his father was able to bring about -- as well as with older Iranians who are nostalgic for the prosperity and international respect that was given to Iran during the old Pahlavi dynasty. At the same time, he is viewed with suspicion by Iranians who do remember the abuses of the old Shah's reign, and who are concerned that Pahlavi -- as an expatriate living in America for over twenty years -- may not be as attuned to Iran and Iranian needs as someone like Hossein Loghmanian, who is not an expatriate. Any future political success on the part of Pahlavi will depend largely on whether Iranians have a desire for a return to the monarchy (doubtful), or whether Pahlavi can successfully sell himself as a republican/democratic leader in whom the Iranian people can repose their trust.

Of course, this is only a partial list of future Iranian leaders. But these five individuals are among the most prominent in Iran, and could very well be asked to assume some authority in any post-Islamic government. Those who wish to assist the reform movement would do well to familiarize themselves as much as possible with the new potential batch of Iranian leaders, and with the specific policies that they espouse. Doing so is one of the most effective ways to acquaint oneself with the issues facing Iran and its reform movement, and to help that movement achieve its goals.

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