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January 18, 2004
Iran: Tipping Point Coming Soon?

The political crisis facing the Iranian government deepened today as the clerics in the Guardian Council refused to back down from disqualifying thousands of reformist candidates:

Iran's hard-line Guardian Council on Sunday defended its disqualification of prospective candidates for next month's parliamentary elections, further deepening a political crisis. The Guardian Council, an unelected body controlled by hard-liners, has disqualified more than a third of the 8,200 people who applied to run in the Feb. 20 elections. ...

The comments dashed hopes of a breakthrough after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the Guardian Council on Wednesday to reconsider the disqualifications and laid down criteria that appeared to be easier to meet.

The unelected Iranian mullahs who sit on the Guardian Council for life apparently feel that any attempt at compromise undermines their claim to protect the Islamic nature of Iranian government as envisioned by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 overthrow of the Shah. While Iran functions as a republic with democratic processes, all potential candidates for office must pass muster with the mullahs -- and as one might expect, they prefer candidates that support their hard-line take on Iranian society and government.

For the past few weeks, reformists in Iran's legislature have protested the disqualification of thousands of fellow reformists; now that protest has turned into a sit-in with dawn-to-dusk fasts. Despite the entreaties of "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to compromise, the Council has held fast. Their obstinacy threatens to blow the entire election process into a civil meltdown:

On Saturday, reformist Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Moballegh, who is Iran's chief of elections, warned he would not allow next month's legislative elections to proceed unless hard-liners backed down.

As has been reported frequently, the Guardian Council has become increasingly politically isolated from the people they rule. The Islamic Revolution, accomplished by the mullahs in defiance of the Shah, gave power to the oppressed (or so they thought) and allowed Iranians to be governed by their religion instead of a Western-leaning autocrat. However, twenty years of even more oppressive rule under the mullahs have disenchanted the Iranians as a people, and their patience is wearing thin for these capricious and provocative actions from the Council. If the Council delays much further in compromise, they may find that events will overtake them -- and they'd better hope that whoever rises to command at that point is more amenable to compromise than they've been.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 18, 2004 9:19 PM

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