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Helping the Iranian People

On Wednesday, Iran’s Guardian Council, the country’s constitutional watchdog, said that it had reinstated more than 280 candidates for the March 14 parliamentary elections. Earlier, more than 2,200 contenders, most of them reformists, had been disqualified, including a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s theocracy. The hardline Council may accept additional names in the next few weeks, when it will publish a final list of individuals eligible to run. There will be only a week of official campaigning.

The result is already foreordained: the disqualifications ensure that supporters of the unpopular president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will dominate the legislative body. At best, insurgents can win a tenth of the seats. Consequently, there will not be too much suspense on election night next month in the Islamic Republic. And don’t expect Wolf Blitzer to be announcing precinct-by-precinct results.

Electoral contests in tightly controlled regimes are never about outcome, of course. Turnout is the key factor. Autocrats always seek high participation levels to legitimize their rule, while dissidents change tactics, sometimes competing in rigged contests and at other moments shunning them. History tells us there is no one correct strategy for people who want to upend an odious government, and I do not know what ordinary Iranians should do between now and the 14th of next month.

“We have no such thing as majority rule in Islam,” said one elected member of Iran’s parliament a few years ago. Or as Khomeini himself once declared, “What we should have in mind is the satisfaction of God, not the satisfaction of the people.” Fortunately for us, that ayatollah’s doctrine ensures that theocratic governments will fail after initial fervor passes. The Iranian Revolution will be three decades old next year, and the corrupt and tired government that it left in its wake is sustaining itself primarily through oil and gas revenues, appeals to patriotism, and the support of big-power sponsors China and Russia. The Iranian people not only have to struggle against their own theocrats but also against the authoritarians in Moscow and Beijing.

There may be little we can do internally to affect the balance of power between the people and their rulers, but we certainly have the means to help Iranians by convincing the Russians and Chinese to withdraw their support for the government in Tehran. Regime change in the Islamic Republic is inevitable, but it can only happen soon if we do our part at this moment.



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