How a nuclear deal helps democracy in Iran

Nader Hashemi writes: Most of the debate in the West on the Iran nuclear deal has focused on questions related to Western security interests in the Middle East. Will a deal ultimately prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? Will it significantly inhibit a nuclear arms race in the region? How will Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Countries be affected, and to what extent will Iran be able to expand its regional influence after the lifting of sanctions? Almost ignored in this discussion, however, are the effects that a nuclear accord might have on internal Iranian politics and society. Specifically, how might a final nuclear agreement between Iran and the West influence the prospects for democracy and democratization within the Islamic Republic?

June 2009 is a key reference point in the struggle for democracy within Iran. Fearing a return of the reformists to power, the Iranian regime falsified the presidential election results that would have removed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the presidency. As a result, a nonviolent mini-revolt known as the Green Movement demanded a vote recount, greater political transparency, and more broadly the democratization of Iran. Protests rocked the country for six months before they were violently suppressed. According the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Green Movement posed a greater threat to the internal stability of the Islamic Republic than the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

As a result of this event, Iran’s post-revolutionary social contract lay in tatters. Until this point, Iran’s clerical leaders were able to carefully manage public demands for political change and factional rivalry via an electoral process that though never “free” was perceived to be “fair,” in the sense that the integrity of the ballot box was guaranteed. After the stolen election of 2009 and the ensuing crackdown, this consensus no longer existed. The base of support of the Islamic Republic narrowed considerably as a deep crisis of political legitimacy set in. [Continue reading…]

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