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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6600

Mr SIMPKINS (4:49 PM) —Last Friday, the Islamic Republic of Iran held its presidential election. The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was re-elected. The result, of course, is questionable in the extreme. As commentators have stated, the result makes no sense at all. The two salient points I have heard from some commentators are these. For the first time, Tehran voted for the President. Never before, but suddenly the hardline president has the support of the better-educated Iranians. Yet the oddity does not stop there. For the first time, there was a high voter turnout. Instead of favouring the reformist candidate, as it had since 1997, that higher turnout actually favoured the hardline Ahmadinejad and he was victorious. I would say that the voter turnout may have been high, but I suspect that many of the voters did not even know that they had turned out and voted.

I have commented before on the state of democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Certainly the veneer of true democracy is very thin, given the existing structure that has to approve all candidates. No credible commentators would suggest that the election was fair or the result legitimate. The result is, however, a tragedy for the two per cent of the population from those religious minority groups, such as the Baha’is, who are not protected under the Constitution and have been consistently persecuted over the last 150 years.

I would like to diverge to the method used by the regime to maintain control of the population in Iran. I recently heard reliable commentators suggest that the control of power in Iran has fully shifted to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Republic or, as they are commonly known, the Revolutionary Guards. This is a very important point and it is useful to take some time to consider what part the guards play in Iran.

As most commentators are aware, President Ahmadinejad was a member of the guards, albeit in the Basij militia. We know that the guards were established in 1979 as part of the Islamic revolution. Their role includes the term ‘national security’, which particularly includes that aspect which is referred to as ‘internal security’. There is no doubt that the establishment of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Republic by the Ayatollah Khomeini was for the defence of his position as supreme leader and of the regime.

Since 1979, the guards have certainly become a military force, yet they are also strongly involved in the economy and the politics of Iran. It has been estimated that the guards control about a third of the economy. There is therefore a strong reason to maintain their position and avoid reform.

Their percentage of control of the economy is also consistent with the number of former guards in the Majlis, the parliament. As I previously stated, the President was a member of the Basij element of the guards. The Basij are known as the mobilisation militia or officially as the Basij Resistance Force. They are a subordinate organisation of the guards. They are volunteers and currently undertake not only law enforcement tasks but, amongst other tasks, enforce moral standards and carry out the harassment of any form of gathering that the regime does not endorse. We must understand that Basij recruits can start from as young as 12 years old. They are in schools, in universities and in villages throughout the country. They are literally ingrained into every institution within the nation. These are the people from the organisation that we often see named as plain-clothes police or religious police. Even the real police fear them.

There is no doubt that the Basij have suppressed and continue to suppress individual freedom and that they are in fact operating to put down the demonstrations currently taking place in Tehran. While some may say they hide behind the authority they believe they have under Islam, I believe that they believe in their faith, revelling in a sense of righteousness—a righteousness that asserts that anyone who opposes their view and seeks democracy must be dealt with. It is a rare religion that in this modern era asserts its control so clearly and violently, yet it seems that Islam remains no further advanced than when it began. These sorts of regimes—regimes of extremism, regimes of violence and repression of the individual as well as of any form of dissent—are not regimes that can be negotiated with. Reason via constructive argument is only met with brutal reaction. I believe that the complete integration of the Basij and the guards into every element of Iranian society leaves little option for freedom and the democratic spirit.

I commend the brave people of Iran who risk their lives in questioning the sham that was the election. It is my view that political control is now entirely in the hands of the Army of the Guards of the Islamic Republic, as represented by its current and former members. I see no other option for the people of Iran than to continue to protest. The reign of the guards must come to an end and the repression must end. I cannot see that happening without a lot of people being hurt. I would go so far as to say that freedom is a cause that is worth fighting for.