The Right to Voice Opposition = Democracy
Silencing the voice of opposition sooner or later allows the government to place the priorities of its leaders before those of the people it governs and in the case of a democracy, before those of the people they were elected to represent.
The voice of opposition doesn’t always represent the majority of the people but without it, the majority might one day find its own voice silenced.
But what happens when a government is both democratic and dictatorial such as in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
Elections ≠ Democracy
Iran prides itself on being democratic based on the fact that its presidents are elected by the people. In fact, in the last elections, Hassan Rouhani voiced his opposition to the management of the previous governments and was elected by a clear majority. His election was ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s non-democratic leadership, embodied in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who gave Rouhani its blessing.
Perhaps Khamenei was ready for change or perhaps the call for change was so loud that he and his cronies understood that stifling the voice of the majority might lead to an all-out revolt.
Unfortunately for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the opposition leaders in the previous 2009 elections, they were not as lucky nor as successful as Rouhani: they are still under house arrest to date despite Rouhani’s promise to free them and their silence reminds all that Khamenei still holds the dictatorial reins on Tehran.
Opposition = House Arrest, Imprisonment, Exile and Death
After 3 years under house arrest, Moussavi’s health is worsening. Three weeks ago, he was taken to hospital but was returned home by security forces on the same day. His daughter voiced her protest on the opposition’s website Kaleme and he was reintroduced to hospital to receive medical care. To the chagrin of the security forces, pictures of Moussavi in hospital were leaked renewing the pressure to free a man whose only crime was to legally oppose his government.
But Moussavi is still definitely in the category of “the lucky ones”. Most political prisoners find their way to the infamous Evin prison and even if they are hospitalized, they are chained to their beds such as in the case of political prisoner Mashallah Haredi.
The riots in Evin prison last month were lead by political prisoners who decided that they wanted to be heard. They were brutally silenced by Iranian security forces and are now under threat of being exiled. No comment yet from Rouhani.
“Rogue Forces” and Hardliners
The opposition to Rouhani’s government is growing daily. Hardliners are staging protests and are disseminating information such as the infamous “I am Rouhani” movie which portrayed him as a “pragmatic technocrat leaning towards the West”. These same hardliners are now demanding for Rouhani to resign.
Rouhani, who was elected on the freedom of opposition cannot help but bite the bullet: “I am proud that the government has created a situation allowing everyone to easily talk and criticize“. But insiders say that he is specially frustrated at the silence of the most important voice in Iran, that of Khamenei.
In the meantime, ex-president Mohammad Khatami has expressed his worries that “rogue” forces of plain clothes security officers who are disrupting meeting that include any criticism against Khamenei and the Islamic Revolution.
So paradoxically, the election of a democratic, moderate-minded leader is allowing for more voices of opposition to grow against him while any opposition to the hardliners remains silent.
Which is worse? And more importantly, when will Iran decide if it wants to remain a dictatorship or become a true democracy?