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Iran - a form of democracy

By Graham Cooke - posted Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Iran should not be judged by Western standards of what constitutes a democracy, an academic and leading authority on the country says.

Hossein Moghaddam, the Convenor of Persian and Iranian Studies at the Australian National University, said one of the reasons why Iran is placed at the head of a list of rogue states is the inability of the West - and particularly the United States - to comprehend how the country works.

He said Iran began to develop the concept of elections a century ago - a process interrupted when British and American intervention overthrew the elected government of Mohammed Mossaddeq to restore the autocratic rule of the Shah in 1953. A form of democracy has been restored since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that deposed the Shah. “Today we have a government which to a great extent reflects the voters’ choice,” he said.


“Iran has never claimed to be a democracy in the Western sense of the word. It has a system based on Islam and while it does not accord with the concepts and formulae of democracy that the West is familiar with, it works for the country and may well work for other countries in the region.

“It is true our constitution makes provision for the Guardian Council to vet parliamentary candidates, but of the 7,000 people who came forward for the forthcoming elections, only 280 had some uncertainty about their eligibility and most of those have since been approved.”

Dr Moghaddam defended the current Iranian regime and called for a “new era based on rationality and mutual understanding which can pave the way for a better relationship”.

“Iran is not a monolithic country like North Korea and Libya,” he said. “The clerics we hear so much about in the Western media constitute only the top layer of leadership and foreign policy. Then comes the president, the Assembly and within the Assembly organisations such as the National Security Council and the Expediency Council, all serving different purposes. It is a complicated process - a mix of many factors - and the West should have patience with it.”

Speaking at a meeting of the Canberra Branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Dr Moghaddam came in for some close questioning on Iran’s stand on a number of issues including its nuclear industry, attitude to Israel, women’s rights, its ambitions to be a regional power and relations with Iraq.

He said that while current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is associated with the international stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, nuclear power had been pursued as an option under previous presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami. “Over 25 years the country has developed a dynamic foreign policy over nuclear energy and has gained a lot from using it as a bargaining chip in negotiations.”


On statements by President Ahmadinejad that Israel has no right to exist and should be wiped from the map, he said Iran has never recognised Israel but the West should learn to differentiate between “the formal political message and the emotional and revolutionary message which is part of the Iranian social fabric”.

“The Supreme Leader of the country, Ayatollah Khamenaei, says we will have no confrontation with any member country of the United Nations and that includes Israel,” he said. “A few days afterwards President Ahmadinejad himself said Iran is not going to attack Israel even though Israel is encouraging the United States to attack Iran.”

The status of women in Iran is far superior to that which exists in many neighbouring countries. “Women are in parliament and they are defending and expanding their rights. One of the most prosperous businesses in Tehran is run by a woman.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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