A Frankenstein of a Leadership Council
By: Reza Bayegan
Over the past few years some Iranian political activists have held conferences and virtual roundtables in Europe and the United States ostensibly on how to save Iran at this crucial juncture by putting together a so-called ‘leadership council’. The actual item on the agenda of these meetings however has been nothing except outright self-promotion and vulgar or occasionally subtle displays of the participants’ inflated ‘Me’. It is one of those cases where bad form and bad content reinforce each other to produce a recipe for unmitigated failure.
The leadership council would supposedly comprise of a bunch of top Iranians, a kind of brain trust or political crème de la crème who are qualified to wrest the country away from the hands of its repressing tyrants and navigate it to the shores of safety and democracy. That is in theory of course. If such an entity ever materialized however (over the past few months murmuring about it has become louder), it would be yet another big kick to the corpus of the moribund Iranian opposition. It would serve to divide more than it would help to unite and could only feed the aims of political wool-gathering rather than doing duty as an effective tool for fighting mullahs’ dictatorship.
The idea of the leadership council (a take-off on Khomeini’s Revolutionary Council) is nothing new. The term has been bandied about for years together with charts, plans and diagrams. Starving in the middle of its intellectual desert, every once in a while the Iranian opposition dreams of a new food for its empty guts. This new hallucination could yet be incarnated into the most frightful Frankenstein ever.
The manufacturers of this idea should have first asked themselves some key questions on how putting a highfalutin name on an arbitrary list of political appointees, or a government-in-exile package, could result in a sensible modality for challenging the dictatorship in Iran. They should have asked themselves how Iranians from within the country would view the creation of a political body without any democratic mandate.
At a time when the exiled opposition badly needs the trust and affection of Iranians, such a move would create further alienation by being regarded as an arrogant and heavy-handed measure imposed from above. It would be rightly considered as a prelude to what is in store for Iran if ever such an opposition succeeded in gaining power. It would serve as a foretaste of future cronyism and political patronage. In a world where even a powerful political establishment such as that of Great Britain can be badly damaged by cash for honours scandal what chance could the fledgling Iranian opposition have in defending itself against similar accusations?
Moreover, if we are to take what they say seriously, bottom-up politics has been the byword of the Iranian opposition for a considerable time. With the leadership council, this approach is turned on its head. The corollary is that either the opposition doesn’t know the head from the bottom, or thinks the rest of the Iranian population is unable to make such a distinction.
No matter how brilliant the members of leadership council could be, or what luminous credentials they might hold, if they are intelligent enough they should realize that there is no short cut to political power in Iran or indeed anywhere else in the twenty-first century. No one can make any cluster of people the leading figures of the Iranian political scene with the stroke of a pen or pressing of a seal. Those fanciful minds who still think in terms of antediluvian politics should snap out of the reverie that one day over the rainbow the splendid carriage will drive up to their doorway, whisking them away to a ministerial desk in the Iranian capital. Ultimately nothing can supplant hard, dedicated work and the dust and sweat of the political battlefield. Unless of course one is satisfied with the glory of being designated as a leading Iranian dissident or a prominent member of the opposition while walking the streets of London, Washington or Paris.
Rather than healing the wounds of the past and fostering consensus amongst various and sundry political factions, the creation of a leadership council would be a self-destructive mechanism eroding the valuable energy directed against the totalitarian government in Tehran. Instead of helping to organize a well-tuned and capable opposition, such an entity will erect itself as a single, highly vulnerable target that could be annihilated more thoroughly and effectively by its potential enemies.
Iranians have no choice but to realize that there is no quick fix or short cut solution to their deep-rooted political problems. The remedy should be found not in an ostentatious parading of a leadership menagerie that could immediately go under the merciless scrutiny of the envious, or bona fide critics, but in creative, hardworking and all-inclusive political management. Real leaders do not need the luxury of a decreed list, but can work together by the virtue of their shared values and unassailable principles. Nothing will be gained by including some personalities and excluding some others on a list that could turn into a curse and political liability overnight.
Sustainable political progress entails the creation of an informal network of like-minded colleagues and the ability to facilitate the greatest possible participation of all Iranians in the democratic process. Real organization requires genuine effort and fostering of an atmosphere of trust between forces that for the time being have put their own personal political ambitions in abeyance and are concentrating only on freeing their country from chaos and disintegration.