The Last Word Mashallah Shamoslvaezin
'There Is No Other Way'
Last week a judge in the Iranian city of Hamadan sentenced reformist activist
and university professor Hashem Aghajari to death for blasphemy. Aghajari
was quoted saying, among other things, Marx says, 'Religion is the opiate
of masses,' but I say it is also the opiate of governments.EIn Tehran
last week, the ruling sparked five days of student protests, some of the
most vehement mass demonstrations since 1999. The unrest has underscored
the tensions between reformists and conservatives in Iran, something with
which Mashallah Shamsolvaezin is intimately familiar. A leading Iranian
newspaper editor and confidant of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Shamsolvaezin
was himself accused of blasphemy four years ago
and spend 19 months in jail. The conservative-dominated judiciary has shut down six of his newspapers in the past five years. Newsweek's Maziar Bahari spoke with him in Tehran last week. Excepts: Newsweek: What do you think
about Aghajarl's death sentence? Shamsolvaezin: This is a political sentence
and not a result of legal procedures. Many decisions made by the judiciary
in the past few years have been more political than legal. Whenever the
conservatives face a political challenge and see themselves in a weak position,
they do something like this to compensate for their deficiencies. But this
time their decision has backfired, and we are witnessing their retreat
after negative reactions to the sentence. Even many of the grand ayatollahs
don't approve the sentence. But why now? It's a reaction to President Khatami's
two proposed bills to the Parliament [which increase the power of president
and curb the hard-liners' supervisory power]. The firm stance of the president
and the Parliament to pass these bills made the conservatives search for
a solution to stop the bills. They couldn't do it in the Parliament, where
reformists have the majority. So they took the game to a different arena
and issued this sentence. You can see that in the past few days no one
talks about the bills anymore. Mr. Aghajari's case is the main topic of
discussions now. Are the conservatives that organized to be able to conspire
and plan such action? If you look at their actions in the past few years
you come to the conclusion that it can't be haphazard. The conservatives
have consistently been able to change the balance to their advantage in
these situations. We don't even know for sure if the case was reviewed
in Hadan. There are rumors that they sent the case to Tehran to decide.
'Whenever conservatives are in a weak position, they do something like this to compensate for their deficiencies. This time it backfired.'
Who would make the decision?
I think it's a confrontation between two security and intelligence apparatuses within the Islamic Republic Ean intelligence organization created by the hard-liners versus the Ministry of Intelligence of the reformist government. This hard-line intelligence organization is strong and has powerful support within the establishment. No one has been safe from them in the past few years: students, journalists, intellectuals, pollsters. No one.
How do you explain the current situation in Iran?
It's in equilibrium created by fear. The conservatives don't have the popular support of the reformists, who in turn don't have the strongholds which the conservatives possess. They both use their power to scare the other one. For example, the reformists have recently said that if the conservative supervisory councils veto the reformist bills, they would resign and leave the government. The conservatives are afraid of this and do whatever they can to prevent them from leaving the establishment. The political system in Iran is quite dysfunctional. If the bills don't pass, Mr. Khatami's resignation may result in early elections.
Many people seem to be tired of the broken promises of reformists. Are reforms really permissible in Iran?
It is still possible. There is no other way but reform. Iranian people may sometimes have doubts about certain reformists, but they still firmly believe in the process of reform. You can see that whenever people have had a chance to vote for reforms they have done so. Of course, the reformists have made many mistakes in the past six years [since Khatami's election]. They relied too much on their popular support and did not institutionalize their power. Also, they did not take clear positions about issues such as human rights and women's rights. But on the other hand, positive laws have passed, the power of the conservatives has been reduced considerably and the young generation of conservatives is not as rigid as their fathers.
Reforms have also resulted in people believing in themselves and the influence they can have on the government. In fact, people have advanced much mare than the government, and this will result in the development of democracy in Iran.