Friday, November 04, 2005

Iran: No Time to embrace our natural allies

*The embrace of evil?*

The natural allies actually refers to Iran's Middle Class who are supposedly a, (according to Stanford University Scholar Abbas Milani) "Trojan horse within the Islamic republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance and civic responsibility." And the article argues that current sanctions by the US prevents them from financing groups that could have immediate as well as medium to long term effects for the growth and development of Iran. It is further argued that given this growth and development, it is likely if not inevitable that the conservatism we find within Iran will diminish.

The writer makes a good case when he argues that "poverty, not prosperity, again propels Iran towards extremist politics." And that the election of the current Iranian president was not due to a desire to assert their rights to civilian nuclear power or a hardline foreign policy. That instead, "it emerged from a persistent sense of low-grade economic pain, resentment of the ruling elites' corruption and frustration with widening income gaps."

If so, then aiding and abetting in the alleviation of poverty helps combat extremism in the particular instance i.e. by allowing the electoral debate to be more than about the price of food. But also, the standard argument that wealth begets democracy i.e. as citizens get richer, they will demand a greater say in the running of the countries and the decisions made of their affairs and purportedly in their name.

Of course, getting there in the medium to long term is going to be a pain, both literally and metaphorically. While it is admitted that the general disenchantment with the pro-reform and pro-democratic candidates was not directed at their ideology perhaps, the truth nevertheless remains that the people were tried of their ineffectiveness as well as the fact that many of them did not even make it to the ballot sheet. The power of the Conservatives is entrenched given that the President shares power with and is subordinate to the Council of Guardians. This group of Ulamas easily stiffled the actions of ex-President Khatami with the help of the conservative elements within parliament. So control of parliament is not even sufficient to control the workings of the country or even its foreign policy at time.

Furthermore the Council can control the composition of parliament. Their control of the electoral commission has made it all too easy to stack the deck in favour of the conservatives by getting rid of more than 90% of reformist candidates, leaving the conservatives to a clean sweep of government.

But at times, Khatami was able to get what he wanted against the express wishes of the Council or at least mitigate their actions (like reducing the sentence of a pro-democratic academic such that he no longer faced the death sentence for question their divine right to rule.) And the manner in which he was able to get this done was by leveraging on his overwhelming popularity with the public. AND if such a momentum could have been sustained and if he had actually followed through on some of his threats, who knows what might have been. A such, there is cause for cautious optimism that there will be progress in the future and that no democratic reform moves are automatically doomed to failure.

The original intention of the title was actually in reference to how we should be dealing with Myanmar. And the reason why it is couched in such a particular fashion is because it seems that certain writers who have previously castigated America for playing fast and loose with their standards during the cold war (Regan's infamous, "they may be sons-of-bitches, but they're our sons-of-bitches") and aligning themselves with right wing dictators as long as they would fight against the left-wing one, now seem to be suggesting something similar. In particular that constructive engagement should be key, nevermind that the nation makes their prisoners sew soccerballs with their teeth.

Now, don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be said for constructive engagement especially in this day and age but I think there needs to be an awareness of whether such actions would prop up the dictatorial regime and in fact further the human right abuses. And whether this discredits the actions of the engaging nation, no matter how noble their intentions. But even with that in mind, I am compelled to admit that human rights are predicated on the notion of life and where there's an AIDS epidemic on the ground and people are starving to death, better to engage and safe those lives and hope that your actions undermine the regime in the long run (which is the main thrust of the Iran article).

The military junta of Myanmar has shown itself more than capable of surviving despite sanctions (whether this is because of the lifeline that ASEAN provides is debatable). They haven't shown themselves particular concerned about the welfare of their people. But they have shown themselves susceptible to a carrot first and stick second approach. Assure that their interests will be protected and they seem quite amenable to working with the international community. Given all this, maybe it's time for constructive engagement with them?




Post a Comment

<< Home