Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Middle Eastern Hugo Chavez: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad


Chavez and Ahmadinejad together during a visit by Chavez to Tehran in 2004

An article by Michael Slackman in Monday’s NY Times, A New Face in Iran Resurrects an Old Defiance, caused me to appreciate how Ahmadinejad and Chavez have more in common than not, and in that context also caused me to appreciate what I think is the true danger Ahmadinejad represents. It's not that he's a conservative, and strictly speaking it's not accurate to label him that way, but rather that he represents a not-so-old way of thinking that is finding traction again in Iran, and given the way things are going and unless the reformists can do something to change their present position, it may well be that he could represent the future for Iran.

Chavez's came to power through the support of the Venezuelan poor and disenfranchised. He's also delivering for them, and this comes in the form of money or the things that money can buy, and a petro-rich country like Venezuela currently has a lot of both. On a similar but slight different note, Hamas is voted into office, in spite of the fact that putting them there threatens aid money from the west, primarily because the people had had it with the corruption
and lack of change that came with the Fatah party and were willing to risk what came with Hamas - again, a populist appeal to the masses and the masses put in charge the person or group most likely to deliver. And now we have Ahmadinejad, a man of the people by all accounts, uncorrupt, religious, and apparently quite sincere, and the people seem to like him.

A couple of days ago in Put the Blame Where the Blame Belongs, I took exception with Hossein
Derekhshan's Op-Ed piece in the NY Times. Now more than ever I see his piece as an attempt by a member of the Iranian intelligentsia, who I'm sure speaks for many with reformist tendencies in and out of Iran, to escape the fact that Ahmadinejad is in power because the reformists and their supporters screwed up, specifically by losing touch with the world outside of Tehran, and truth be told even with a large part of the population in Tehran itself. Ahmadinejad is supported by those people who have gotten the least from their government, who have little to be happy about with the reformists, and who 27 years ago were expecting the most from overthrowing the Shah, but instead have seen little change. These people are fed up with the corruption that is so much a part of their lives, and with not being able to understand why an oil-rich nation like Iran has had little positive to add to their lives; Ahmadinejad, quite literally, is the answer to their prayers.

What was worst about Derekshan's piece was his indulging an unfortunate Middle Eastern tendency to blame the U.S. for whatever's going wrong in that part of the world - of course the CIA is everywhere, our Zionist proclivities stain our policies and actions, and the U.S. is the only superpower around so it's therefore logically reasonable to therefore think it's responsible for everything that goes wrong. It's certainly easier to blame George Bush, or the U.S. government for the problems with the last Iranian election, but it diverts from the fact that what got Ahmadinejad into power is not unlike what put Chavez or Hamas in power, i.e. appealing to the poor and neglected. What's worse in Ahmadinejad's case is that he's a religious zealot in a theocracy, and moreover he's dancing to the tune of a dead Ayatollah, in this case Khomeini, who brought us the Iranian revolution of '79 and whose message, parroted faithfully today by Ahmadinejad, played well with the people when he was still alive.

Ahmadinejad's danger is that he's playing to a base of supporters who long for the deliverance that was promised by Khomeini, but which never materialized. Ahmadinejad wants to deliver on the promise of the revolution, and if he truly gets his hands on the reigns of power, and it would seem he's moving in that direction, not only the reformists but the conservatives will rue that day. A a zealot like Ahmadinejad will pull the rug out from under the established system in Iran, bringing in God only knows what but something that will appeal to the masses, though not the intelligentsia or the money and power loving conservatives, and will clearly put Iran at odds with the west, which seems to be happening more and more everyday.


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