Honduras and Iran: What is going on?
EDITORIAL, 6 July 2009
#69 | Johan Galtung
The brief answer is Obama’s answer: we have to see how it all sorts itself out. Politically this usually means–like Condi Rice’s famous “birth pangs of a new Middle East Order” during the massive killing in Lebanon Summer 2006–that something is going on that should not be interfered with. Or that Obama wants neither to back a loser nor open intervention. Well, here is an effort.
On the surface it is about the formalities of democracy: free and fair elections (FAFE) in Iran and change of government without any election, FAFE or not, in Honduras. Sufficient to explain demonstrations and brutal repression, in Tegucigalpa and Tehran.
But deeper down something else is going on, explaining the passion in both places as opposed to the US non-passion in Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004. The word not often used in contemporary liberal parlance, class, enters; more structural than the obvious power struggle between would-be presidents in the two countries. But it works out in different ways as the two countries are very different. And that has consequences for the relation to the declining superpower, the USA, and also to other countries deeply concerned with what happens, like the UK and Venezuela.
Zelaya was turning to the left. Honduras joined ALBA, Chávez’ Bolivarian revolution with an economy geared toward basic needs for the poor and regional self-reliance. ALBA is part of many moves toward regional autonomy, like Telesur for TV, Unasur, SATO, Mercosur. More countries are joining. The USA may have put down its foot because of military bases in Honduras: class and imperial interests threatened. But the Secretary General of OAS did not follow the US line, issued an ultimatum, and Honduras left OAS.
The Iran story is different. The country is a dyarchy under the theocracy of the Clergy, like the Soviet Union and Germany under the Communist and Nazi Party, Spain under the Falange, etc. There is a traditional administrative structure with the country divided into regions, regions into provinces, with municipalities and so on. In a democracy the country and its parts, sub-parts and sub-subparts are governed by elected assemblies, councils etc. In a dyarchy the ruling power, clergy or Party, or: Capital, have a parallel structure with ultimate power at all levels, also when traditional bodies are elected. There are variants of dyarchy but class is about power and so is dyarchy, so dyarchy is about class.
One interpretation of Ahmadinejad, far removed from nuclear issues and the falsification of his speech about Israel–he never wanted Israel erased from any map but shrunk to June 1967 size like the Arab League; he never denied shoa but wanted attention to the holocausts of other peoples–is that he wants to dislodge the clergy and its dyarchy, and uses charges of high-level corruption for that purpose. Mousawi is more a system man, with nothing new.
What is new is in people’s protests, like Iran 30 years ago.
No doubt islamic fundamentalism, sharia, the position of women are major issues; but it is less clear who supports what. Ahmadinejad is not an islamic fundamentalist. That he rejects US-UK supremacy is clear; sufficient for an “islamist” label given Western lack of sophistication. Public opinion data by BBC-ABC-CPO predicted rightly 89% participation, and 2:1 for Ahmadinejad, regardless of process defects. But that is as mentioned a surface issue. The demonstrations are now against clergy dictatorship.
That all US levels between Obama and the Embassy should be innocent in Honduras strains credulity as much as UK innocence in Iran. There was once Anglo-Iranian Shell and the 1953 coup. But the top level may have left the action to the lesser fry, waiting for things to sort themselves out with “plausible deniability”.
But the underlying US-UK logic is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and as misleading as ever. One appointed enemy is Chávez–used to be Castro–also because of excessive loquacity, making the Spanish king’s “por qué no te callas“, “why don’t you shut up”, very good advice. Equally or more dangerous to the traditional US grip on its “backyard” is actually Lula, spinning networks noiselessly. But that makes Micheletti a friend of the oligarchy their friend, a very poor choice; proving once again that Obama’s change was more in skin color than in policy color.
In Iran Ahmadinejad–another politician who might benefit from the advice of King Juan Carlos, talking far too much–is indeed the appointed enemy, making Mousawi, and, possibly also top clergy, their friends. Again very poor choices indeed, like having Saddam Hussein as a friend, paying him handsomely, because he was against the “communist” Qassem, or choosing the Shah as a friend because he was against the “communist” Mossadegh. Reality defies that simple logic wrongly attributed to Arabs when it actually is more widespread in Western foreign ministries, with the “friend, or enemy, of my friend the Leader USA, is also my friend, or enemy.”
There is a difference. Honduras is small fry in the Latin American system; Iran not in the Middle East. Being center of Shi’a Islam has implications in Iraq and Lebanon like Catholics and Protestants tending to support their own kind. Borders with Iraq are unsettled, Khuzestan in southwest Iran is Arab, not Persian. The USA can act against Honduras with impunity in Honduras; the UK not against Iran, an SCO, Shanghai Cooperation Organization observer; China and Russia are the leading members.
And yet the world should tolerate neither the exploitation by the Honduras oligarchy supported by the first coup on Obama’s watch, nor the brutal repression by the Clergy dictatorship.
This column expresses deep solidarity with Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, a valued and loved member of the TRANSCEND Network, for her Gaza efforts. We demand her immediate and unconditional release from the Israeli prison where she is being held along with 20 others kidnapped in the Mediterranean last week.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 July 2009.
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