Iran is not a "fake" democracy, but an active nation with constraints. It is not a clientelist state like the Gulf monarchies. Citizen participation is high during elections. The transition of power from the right to moderate and pro-reform groups should find an institutional form.
Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iran is not a totally fake democracy, but rather a dynamic nation with a constrained yet active political system and a civil society that is evolving.
This assessment is based on a public opinion survey led by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) that is at variance with the image of ‘rogue state’ promoted by Washington and US President Donald Trump.
For the study’s promoters, at a time when the White House is changing its Iran policy, overturning Barack Obama's work on the nuclear agreement (JCPOA), it is important to carry out serious and thorough analyses of the country, its institutions, and people, and to look at a society undergoing rapid change.
The Iran Social Survey is the first nationally representative survey of social relations conducted in the Islamic Republic of Iran since the 1979 revolution.
Fielded in December 2016 with a sample of 5,005 respondents, it contains rich data on family history, electoral behaviour, ethnic identity, and contemporary state-society relations.
For President Trump and part of the US establishment, Iran is a police state with an oppressed population eager to turn against its tyrannical ruling class.
Certainly, the Islamic Republic is not model of democracy and virtue, but the state and its institutions are not monolithic as Washington likes to portray them.
“I don’t want to deny the brutal consolidation of the revolutionary state, but [. . .] there were different ways that the government reached down into society,” said Kevan Harris, the survey team leader.
The notion of a regime that picks three or four candidates to submit to the people is wrong, as is the idea of a welfare state that uses oil proceeds to win over people and keep them in their grip.
The latter applies to Hugo Chávez's Venezuela heyday and today’s US-friendly Gulf monarchies, not to Iran.
According to Harris, Iran’s political system is far more complex than it appears, and there is no correlation between state clientelism, voting, and party preference.
Another surprise from the survey is the degree of civic engagement in political campaigns. For example, during the last municipal elections in Tabriz, candidates handed out business cards on the street, trying to rally supporters in the days before election day. “These are stories you don’t hear outside Iran,” he said.
Lastly, wresting power away from conservative and right wing control remains an important issue. For Harris, there is room for reformers and moderates, as evinced by the success of current President Hassan Rouhani who was re-elected in May.
“An Iran with a more democratic system wouldn’t be one where the right wing just disappeared,” he said. “If you institutionalise transitions so that they can give up power, that’s an important step.”