The reformist camp in Iran has continuously claimed that it has promoted reforms in Iran despite all the odds stacked against it. Nevertheless, none of its promises have been fulfilled during the last two decades despite the reformists controlling the legislative and executive branches of the Iranian political system. What has been fulfilled is not their promises but rather their political agenda to stay in power and strengthen the Islamic Republic. In this piece, I will explain some tactics that the reformists have been very successful in employing and using to ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic.
‘If not us, you will get Syria’
The reformist camp has engaged in scaremongering to push Iranians to lean towards the Iranian government. “Beyond the Islamic Republic, what the opposition wish for is nothing but chaos and violence and devastation of the homeland and providing the basis for the humiliating presence and domination of aliens and their agents over the nation and the disintegration of the country or the establishment of a brutal dictatorship that will destroy the religion and livelihood of the people,” Mohammad Khatami, the spiritual leader of the reformist camp, said.
The Shah Was Bad
While Iranians are suffering the highest rates of unemployment, inflation, and underdevelopment under the Islamic Republic of Iran, a staunch reformist published articles about Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. This was done to distract Iranians from the current government’s oppression by highlighting the shortcomings of the previous government. Another constant instrument of distraction has been the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). The reformists and their rivals both blame the MEK for all the riots and uprisings in Iran to distract the people from the failings of the government. During the December 2017 to January 2018 uprisings in more than 100 cities of Iran, Abbas Abdi asked the Iranian public why today’s defenders of the Islamic system, like in 1981, “do not crack down on protesters” and “take serious action to counter them.” In that period, the pro-Khomeini Islamists were fighting against the MEK.
The reformist agenda of rectifying a government that has brutally oppressed all genuine reformist groups and silenced any real reform program is nothing but a diversion. Mohammad Khatami goes further and claims that Iranians who do not share his opinion are not fair: “In spite of all the political, economic and social problems that exist today for various strata of society and different groups, an unmatched solution to safeguarding the country and its comprehensive progress and achieving the great aspirations of the revolution is reform in its true meaning, and I believe in the depths of the conscience of every fair Iranian who has a history of ups and downs and is worried about a vague and violent future and hatred, and all those who are looking for Iran’s stability and progress and dignified welfare, want the same thing and have the same judgment.” By calling people who are against the reformist agenda unfair, he diverts attention away from two decades of reformist failures. Other diversions used by Iranian reformists include:
- Asking people to rally around the Islamic Republic’s flag because many people died for it during the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war;
- Misinforming the public about what is to come and what is going to happen;
- Minimizing the risks and threats involved in the continuation of the Islamic Republic, claiming they have the best understanding of these risks and threats;
- Promising a lot and failing to fulfill these promises; just look at what Khatami and Rouhani promised to do and did not deliver;
- Blaming others for what the government is responsible for (corruption, inefficiencies, and waste);
- Playing the victim card while holding power; and
- Criticizing dissidents who are against the government as emotional and unreasonable.
When the reformist camp found out that its policies were impossible to pursue in the 1990s, it had no choice other than engaging in fraudulent tactics to remain relevant and receive votes in the Islamic Republic’s rigged, sham elections. The reformists have been successful at staying in power without any favorable outcomes, and they have even resorted to some sections of the ruling class in order to ensure their continuity in Iran’s political system. But the public is losing its trust in both political factions. The reformists’ tactics of diversion and distraction are coming to the end of the road.