This post is the fourth in a series entitled: “The Mahsa Revolution: A Political Philosophy and Futures Studies Perspective”
The goal of this series is to offer readers reflections on the on-going grassroots, women-led revolutionary movement in Iran, to be continued until its completion or the mutual exhaustion of readers and author. I will analyze, for non-Persian speakers, debates and initiatives regarding the future of Iran from a philosophical and futures studies perspective. Every revolutionary moment unlocks the space of the politically and socially conceivable and enables the hopeless to exercise their rusted capacity for imagining better futures. It also reveals normative disagreements on desirable futures, inclusion and exclusion from those futures, and strategies suitable for realizing them. Although I am not an Iranologist, my hope is to give readers a candid glimpse of the burgeoning forward-looking democratic life of Iranians in Iran and the diaspora.
Logo of the Alliance for Democracy and Freedom in Iran that has produced the Mahsa Charter
In my last post, I analyzed the “Mahsa Charter” which aims at unifying the broadest range of the opposition to the Islamic Republic around a common minimal platform for a transition to secular democracy. My reading of the charter was positive—I appreciated the balance it strikes between the demands of different constituencies (republican and monarchists, unitarists and federalists). In short, I saw it as a good starting point for constructive discussion. But in the days and weeks that followed the release of the charter (March 10), I was surprised to discover that few Iranians active on social media shared my view; most received it rather coldly and often attacked it vehemently. Today, I’d like to analyze how the charter was received in the Iranian community, and more specifically, in one of its main online deliberative spaces, Clubhouse, a “social audio” app very popular among Iranians.
Clubhouse as a Deliberative Space
On Clubhouse anyone can create a room and serve as its moderator. Most rooms are open to all registered users from Iran and abroad. I listened to several rooms dedicated to the Mahsa Charter, including an 11-hour discussion on the perception of the charter by “non-Persian peoples” (“KurdishLivesMatter Room”, March 13), two debates among monarchists (“The House of Constitutional Monarchists”, March 10, and “Room for all Iranians”, March 11), and a discussion among healthcare managers (“UHP for Iran”, March 12). The latter was the group that was the most sympathetic to the charter. The other three rooms were extremely critical. Although in each room some participants made outrageous claims and others were removed by the moderator for not respecting civil manners, most of the discussions were enlightening and respectful. Later, I gathered on Iranian media the reactions of most Iranian opposition parties (e.g., Kurdish, Azeri, the Greens and other left-wing parties)—they, by and large, converged with what I heard on Clubhouse.
Decentralization, Federalism, Self-Determination, and Ethnic Minorities
Monarchists are generally very dissatisfied with the charter because it omits any reference to “the Iranian people”. They believe it opens the door to the disintegration of Iran under the influence of separatists. Their reasoning is as follows: although the charter doe2s not say that Iran is made of “multiple peoples”, it talks about “ethnic minorities”, insists on linguistic diversity, defends decentralization, and ultimately, points towards a right to self-determination. Their evidence for the latter claim is a reference in paragraph 9 of the charter to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to them, this convention is irrelevant since it was adopted in 1966 in support of the right to self-determination of countries colonized by European powers, not minorities in nations like Iran where all populations are indigenous and colonization did not take place. Most monarchists deny the very existence of ethnic minorities victims of historical discriminations (i.e., under the Pahlavi regime); they claim that there is only one Iranian people, and everyone is equally discriminated against by the Islamic Republic. They fear the reference to ICCPR will be used in the future to organize referenda on self-determination leading to the independence of Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Baluchistan, etc..
In the KurdishLivesMatter Room, one hears a very different discourse. There, grievances against the Persian-speaking majority are voiced in strong words, including, at times, accusations of genocide against the Pahlavi regime, and of totalitarian tendencies against those who oppose federalism. The charter is criticized for not explicitly acknowledging the existence of “multiple peoples” in Iran, for not committing itself to federalism and the right to self-determination, and for being ambiguous about the future position of minority languages. In addition, they feel offended with the role devoted to the army in the charter, especially in its paragraph 13 (“military shall only be responsible to defend the territorial integrity of the country”). This is, for them, tantamount to threatening minorities with military intervention if they dare exert their right to self-determination through a referendum if the federalist option is rejected by most Iranians.
The Presence of Reza Pahlavi among the Signatories
The other point that creates tensions is the presence of Reza Pahlavi among the signatories of the charter. Although he is only one of the six initial signatories, and is listed among them in alphabetical order, republicans (federalists and unitarists alike) accuse the charter of being a tool in the hands of the heir to the throne designed to re-establish the Pahlavi dictatorship (persecution of the opposition) and the violent policies of Reza Shah (strong centralization and forced sedentarization of nomadic tribes from the 1920s on). Given the number of ad hominem arguments, their target is the very person of R. Pahlavi—none of his statements regarding democracy, pluralism, republicanism, elective monarchy, and decentralization seem to have convinced the majority of Iranian republicans active on social media that I have heard or read. It is unclear what else R. Pahlavi can do to convince them of his sincerity.
More surprisingly, monarchists are also dissatisfied with R. Pahlavi because of the very same commitments republicans find insincere. Some monarchists even conclude that the Prince has been deceived or pressured into signing a charter that is detrimental to the unity of the country. Thus, they paradoxically feel under-represented since he has expressed his preference for a republic over a monarchy. Moreover, they rightly stress that hereditary monarchy (their preferred regime) is incompatible with the first article of the charter (“all political and official members of the state shall be elected”).
I must conclude that the Mahsa Charter lacks the power to unite the opposition; on the contrary, it has, for the moment, led to increased distrust. In subsequent interviews and public events, the charter’s signatories failed to clearly explicate and justify its content and did not engage with objections. The era of civic friendship that Iranian-Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo perceived in the diaspora’s united support for the Mahsa revolution seems still a far-away dream for us. But their is hope: a plethora of alternative charters that gather smaller groups of like-minded people have surfaced; civic friendship might re-emerge once civil disobedience and large demonstrations have resumed in Iran against a regime that is rapidly turning into what I shall call a “techno-theocracy” with the extensive use of AI for digital surveillance and gender discrimination, a topic I will address in my next post.