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Iranian political reform

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

First I would like to thank Mohamad Sadejhpour and the People's Mujahideen of Iran for organising this forum.

The Australian Democrats endorse the 3rd Option espoused by the National Council of Resistance of Iran: that the Iranian people and the Iranian resistance must bring about Change in Iran.

It is unfortunate that constructive engagement and human rights dialogue have failed and military intervention is a 20th Century concept that has never worked.

We are living in the 21st Century now, and we can't afford to keep on repeating the mistakes of the past.

In Iran, we are dealing with a dictatorial theocracy, which views pluralism, individual human rights and the expression of opinions as an anathema.

The Iranian revolutionary movement, like many revolutionary movements before it, capitalised on growing popular dissent against a weak regime, took control, eliminated all opposition, consolidated its power base and has become a regime even more tyrannical than one it replaced.

The people of Iran are fed up and want political reform on their terms. Surveys show that Ninety-Four percent of Iranians want an end to the Theocracy.

The Student Protests on December 6, 2004, in Tehran clearly indicated that people have had enough and despite the threat of torture, and will speak out.

The parliament's attempts to press for further reforms relating to women's rights as well as the state's accession to the UN Women's Convention were repeatedly blocked by the Guardian Council, the highest legislative body in Iran. The legislation was referred to an arbitration authority last December because of irreconcilable differences between the two legislative bodies. Here we see the tension and antagonism between the popularly elected arm of the legislature against religious conservatives who maintain a constitutional strangle-hold over popular reforms.

However, such hostility towards democratically elected representatives of the people could not be any clearer with the banning of opposition political parties from contesting elections in February earlier this year.

There is a widespread desire among Iranian's for political reform, and we must nurture it by helping maintain a civil political culture in Iran and supporting civil resistance, NOT by supporting armed intervention or threatening war.

To put the Iran & Iraq war in an historical context, we must see it as vastly more complex than other more recent conflict in the region.

Even though the war was at base as a border dispute over commercial shipping access to the Persian Gulf, in ethnic terms, the war could be seen as a conflict between Persians and Arabs; in ideological terms, between Islamic revivalism and secular modernisation; and in sectarian terms, between Sunni and Shiite. A notable feature was the patriotic loyalty of both Iranians and Iraqis to their countries and their respective governments of the time. The Arab minority in southwest Iran did not rally for Iraq, and with a few exceptions, the Shiite population showed little sympathy for Iran.

However, that environment no longer exists in the post-Saddam era of Iraq. The power dynamics between Iran and Iraq have been turned upside down, and now the regime in Tehran has successfully extended its political influence into the new Iraqi Parliament.

Any US led military action against Iran justified by Tehran's failure to end its nuclear ambitions, or acquire weapons of 'Mass Destruction', will only ensure that the rest of Muslim world will see the West as 'Devils' and as invaders intent on controlling the Middle East. It will only serve other Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes to unify their people against a common enemy. The possibility of any true democratic reform would be thrown out of the window for good.

The US-led Coalition invasion succeeded in toppling Saddam and the Ba'th party, but it has failed to deliver peace and stability in Iraq. Similar action against Iran would be doomed to the same horrible waste and uselessness. A military invasion of Iran, as espoused by certain elements in the US regime is pure insanity. Armed conflict with Iran must be avoided at all cost. Engaging with political movements within Iran to help drive reform within is a foreign policy we must pursue for peace and stability in the region.

If George Bush and John Howard advocate 'regime change', replacing authoritarian regimes with elected democracies throughout the Middle East, then the best way to do that would be through the ballot box, NOT with a bullet!

US policy in Afghanistan replaced a secular Russian-supported regime with an Islamic extremist one, and now finally an insecure secular one. Arguably in Iraq a largely secular Sunni regime will be replaced by a more popular majority Shiite Islamic one.

A key point is that extreme regimes and extreme actions lead to reciprocal extremism. Fundamentalist Christianity encourages extreme varieties of Islam, and ignorance from the Western side helps the ignorant in lands affected by our foreign policy. We who are parliamentarians and profess a belief in democracy and development by discussion and voting to make laws for the good of all our people should try to act against extremism, and encourage the type of regimes that we are part of. This should happen from all political parties in Australia, as our similarities are greater than our differences.

I note the following article:

The Washington Times, Jan. 8, by Ali Safavi - "Risks of appeasing Iran's mullahs" (Commentary, Wednesday) offers a refreshing and plausible policy option in dealing with Tehran's increasingly defiant nuclear posture and rogue behaviour in Iraq.

Europe's decade-long policy of all carrots and no sticks has failed miserably as the cunning Mullahs of Iran made a stew out of the carrots and ate it. The Iranian people are far worse off today than 10 years ago, when the Europeans cloaked their business-minded approach under the veneer of, then, "constructive engagement" and, now, "human rights dialogue."

While the Europeans pocketed billions, ordinary Iranians grew poorer and thousands ended up hanged in public places or languishing in jails.

Appeasement advocates in Europe and the United States, while highlighting the negative aspects of a military strike, insist on yet more concessions to Tehran. As the author suggests, however, there is a third option: "For once, we should side with the millions in Iran whose cry is for freedom and regime change."

The United States shot itself in the foot in 1997 by blacklisting Iran's main opposition, the People's Mujahideen, in a doomed effort to reach out to now-lame-duck President Mohammed Khatami.

Having now acknowledged that no member of this anti-fundamentalist group was a terrorist, the administration should remove that unwarranted designation to show to the Iranian people that it is on their side and to give itself effective leverage in dealing with Tehran.

- Ali Safavi, President of Near East Policy Research, Washington.


Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans is a Member of the Legislative Council in the NSW Parliament for the Australian Democrats. This is the text of his address to the Iranian Resistance Council Forum:'Options for Peace', convened in NSW Parliament House on 4 May 2005.


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