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Ed Webb

Iran's Next Supreme Leader Is Dead - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Outside the years 1999 to 2009, when he headed the judiciary, Shahroudi served from 1995 until his death as member of the Guardian Council, the powerful conservative watchdog that ensures the Islamic consistency and compatibility of parliamentary legislation and electoral candidates alike. He was likewise in the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that selects the supreme leader’s successor, and a member of the Expediency Council, created toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War to adjudicate disagreements between parliament and the Guardian Council; this council subsequently also began advising the supreme leader on the broad contours of policy and strategy. After the 2017 death of its chairman—Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a highly influential former president—Khamenei tapped Shahroudi as his replacement. Shahroudi was therefore clearly a figure Khamenei could rely on, a figure the supreme leader recently eulogized as a “faithful executor in the Islamic Republic’s most important institutions.”
  • Shahroudi presided over a witch hunt against reformist parliamentarians and newspapers, students and intellectuals, human rights activists and, at the end of his tenure, the pro-reformist Green Movement protesting against the fraudulent elections that handed Ahmadinejad a second term
  • Shahroudi is reported to have overseen, directly or indirectly, some 2,000 executions, including of minors
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  • also credited with introducing some reforms, including reinstituting the separation between judges and prosecutors abolished by his predecessor Mohammad Yazdi, suspending stoning as capital punishment, and proposing a bill granting more legal protection to minors
  • his unique selling point as potential supreme leader lay as much in his cross-factional appeal among the Iranian establishment as in the continuity he represented—two assets critical to Iran’s future political stability
  • Shahroudi maintained reasonably good ties with all four of Iran’s existing factions: conservatives, neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, and reformists
  • Shahroudi was also the only Shiite cleric in the rarefied pantheon of possible successors, or even anywhere, doubly rumored to have been angling for leadership of Iraq’s Shiites. Back in 2012, reports surfaced of Shahroudi building up a patronage network inside Iran’s western neighbor and specifically Najaf, greased by the levy of religious taxes and Iranian state funds. As things appeared, Shahroudi sought to undermine or even replace the aging Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s and therefore Twelver Shiites’ premier spiritual authority. Tehran had a good reason, too: the Iranian-born Sistani—a mirror image of Shahroudi—quietly opposed Iran’s political system based on the supreme leader’s rule, velayat-e faqih.
  • If Shahroudi was seen as an outsider with his Iraqi provenance and Semitic-laced Persian, neither quite Iranian nor fully Iraqi, his background at least held out some possibility of appealing to Twelver Shiite communities beyond Iran’s borders, and most critically in Iraq, where Shiites have tended to give velayat-e faqih short shrift. Ever since Saddam’s toppling in 2003, Iraq’s Shiite-majority government has gravitated closer toward Iran, but it continues to maintain a political autonomy at times grating to Tehran.
  • Iran’s internal stability and regime longevity—increasingly challenged by spontaneous protests countrywide over the past year—depend on the political class collectively accepting a supreme leader capable of forging consensus and balancing competing interests. Shahroudi’s unique ability to span the divides of the Iranian political and clerical establishment was one reason his name was repeatedly floated as Khamenei’s eventual successor. He was also both theologically and managerially qualified and among the few relatively nonelderly clerics viewed as politically reliable by Iran’s ruling establishment.
  • the hard-liners’ longtime stranglehold on the key levers of military, judicial, media, and clerical power will now leave little room for Iran’s reformists and moderates, among them current President Hassan Rouhani, to weigh in on the succession process
  • With the first generation of Iran’s revolutionary clerics fast fading out, Shahroudi’s relatively early death at 70 eliminates what is perhaps the most serious and qualified succession candidate so far floated in Tehran’s corridors of power
  • Iran’s acrimonious elite infighting may be normal and not necessarily a sign of regime weakness, but this requires a supreme leader generally accepted by all to adjudicate differences
Ed Webb

There is Nothing Inevitable About Dictatorships in Muslim States | Opinion - 0 views

  • former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt as an autocrat for three decades, appeared as a witness against imprisoned former Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, who was Egypt’s first freely elected leader. Besides being former Egyptian presidents, they had something else in common: their religious supporters both considered revolting against them to be a forbidden form of "khuruj ‘ala al-hakim" – "withdrawing from the ruler." This wasn’t just an idle sentiment; it was expressed by Ali Gomaa’, the-then Mufti of Egypt whose words I heard when in Cairo during the revolutionary uprising of 2011. “Khuruj ‘ala al-shar’iyya haram, haram, haram” – ‘exiting’ from [political] legitimacy is religiously forbidden, forbidden, forbidden.”
  • Supporters of Arab autocratic regimes of Mubarak and others that faced the Arab uprisings were not the only ones to use this tool
  • it is undeniable that the world has changed a great deal since the concept had widespread currency among Muslims and was applied to pre-modern modes of government. Whether Muslim religious establishments have collectively realised this or not, the modern autocratic ‘president’ holds far more power—if only due to technology alone—than the medieval sultan. And far more destructive than that is that civil society in today’s world is far weaker—especially in the modern Arab world—than it was in pre-modern Muslim societies
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  • Pre-modern Muslim communities were governed by far more libertarian systems—systems that were underpinned by social institutions, rather than the crippling and coercive powers of the modern state
  • much—if not all—of the region has since been shaped by a new trauma in post-colonial states. That trauma is what results in much of the autocracy that we now take for granted
  • The modern autocrat or dictator in Syria owes far more to the system of colonialism that immediately preceded it, than it does to intrinsic Arab or Muslim systems of governance from past centuries
  • the system of autocracy and dictatorship faces a deep contradiction with the internal logic of the Islamic tradition of scholasticism. Islamic religious authoritativeness depends in large part on the equivalent of academic peer review among scholars, and then upon the popularity of scholars among the wider population. How can such ‘peer review’ take place without a corresponding atmosphere of intellectual freedom and accountability?
  •  If Muslim religious scholars today seek to revive and rejuvenate religious discourse, they urgently need environments of creative and open enquiry. The ethics of the Islamic tradition cannot exist otherwise.
  • autocrats are loathe to imagine any such environments – and that is the underpinning of the counter-revolutionary waves endemic throughout much of the wider region today.
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