Here’s the full transcript of the interview:
How has the Islamic Revolution affected other regional nations in pursuit of democracy? How do you compare the establishment of democracy in Iran to Arab countries in the Middle East?
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi: It goes without saying that the revolution's replacement of a one-man dictatorship with a theocratic republic based on regular and semi-competitive elections represents a historical progress that must be studied on a longitudinal basis, in light of Iran's centuries of Oriental despotism and the modern history of (neo) colonialism, against which much of contemporary Iranian national identity is centered.
It is difficult to gauge the extent of influence of Iran's nascent Islamist democracy on its region(s), and in the absence of hard data we must resort to educated guesses. I tend to think that both Iraq and Afghanistan have been influenced by Iran's example, but the GCC countries less so because of the various fault lines. Over time, however, Iran's model might become more directly relevant to the young generation of Arabs in the GCC countries, but for now a calculated Iranophobia is used as an antidote by their ruling classes.
What’s your take on the democratization process under the Islamic Republic?
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi: As to the question of whether or not these elections deserve support and can be considered democratic, my answer is an emphatic yes to both, principally because I believe the democratization process receives a new lease of life at each interval and these are definitely more than theatrics and display serious divisions in Iranian society.
One could critique the various shortcomings, e.g., brief campaigning period, exclusion of unwanted candidates, the absence of international observers, etc., but these pale in comparison with the genuinely pluralistic essence of these elections that feature multiple candidates vying with each other and hitting each other hard before the nation.
The fundamental features of a "deliberative democracy" entailing debates, assembly, informed choices of citizens, etc., can be seen in the Iranian context, albeit with certain limitations that in my opinion are secondary to the primary function of the elections as transmission belts for the republicanist system with its peculiar checks and balances.
As a result, we witness a growing degree of citizen 'efficacy' and the furnace of electioneering gripping the entire nation and thus adding to the system's legitimacy. This year's presidential elections have been particularly acrimonious and the hard-line candidates have aptly targeted the incumbent president on the multiple issues of the economy, corruption, and foreign affairs, as a result of which chances of a runoff elections is rather high, but in the end my hunch is that Rouhani will prevail, not the least because of his net contributions during his first time, reflected in Iran's post-sanctions reintegration in the international community and the strengthening of its regional status.
Dr. Kaveh Afrasiabi has taught political science at Tehran University, Boston University, and Bentley College. Afrasiabi has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University, UC Berkeley, Binghamton University, Center For Strategic Research, Tehran and Institute For Strategic Studies in Paris.
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