- Iran accounts for 50% of all executions in the world although the country represents only 1.1% of the world population. More than 40% of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are in Iran.
- According to Transparency International, the Islamic Republic is also in the world’s top league for corruption. According to Tehran’s official reports, between 2016 and 2020, embezzlement and bribery rose by 300%. Only last month, a $400 million embezzlement case was reported among 85 other cases of “big corruption” being investigated.
- Official reports show that some 80 unnamed but presumably powerful figures owe untold sums to state-owned banks on the basis of non-existent collateral.
- Add to all that the challenges that average Iranians face in social, cultural and political domains, and Alam al-Hoda’s “Islamic model” is unlikely to find a big market across the globe.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are marketing their authoritarian rules as alternatives to a “moribund” Western democratic system, the Khomeinist mullahs in Tehran are also throwing their hat, sorry turban, into the ring as contenders for leading a New World Order.
An early version of the mullahs’ bid came almost 30 years ago, when Hojat al-Islam Muhammad Khatami suggested that, by separating religion from politics, the Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe had created a world order that fomented wars, slavery and colonialism. The way to salvation was to restore religious control of politics by granting theologians a role in the leadership.
The new version is offered by Ayatollah Ahmad Alam al-Hoda, a senior cleric in Mash’had and one of the four or five turbaned heads considered as possible successors to Iran’s present “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The father-in-law of Iranian President Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, Alam al-Hoda also has close relations with the military-security apparatus often labelled as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Trying to cast himself as the ideologue of the regime, Alam al-Hoda spelled out his world vision in a lengthy sermon in the “holy city”. According to him, the era of modernism that began with the Westphalian treaties, American independence, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution is over as we enter the post-modern world.
“The world that was enslaved by modernity is crumbling,” he said. “A post-modern world is on the horizon; one that only Islamic Iran can lead.”
Alam al-Hoda claims that the United States is falling apart with some states, notably Texas, seeking secession, and that Israelis are fleeing their “promised land” in ever growing numbers.
But why should Iran emerge as the new world leader?
Alam al-Hoda’s answer is stark: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is the only standard-bearer of true Muhammadan Islam.
Out of the 57 countries with Muslim-majority populations, Iran is “the only country which has an Islamic government in the true meaning of the term”.
Other nations need not convert to Islam to benefit from the “Islamic model”. In fact some non- Muslim nations, notably Venezuela, have already done so.
Mohsen Shaterzadeh, former ambassador of the Iran to Venezuela, says that Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution was “inspired by the teachings of Imam Khomeini”. Chavez, who made several trips to Iran, learned how to rule a nation in a just way.
“Chávez finally came to believe in the Hidden Imam and developed a deep devotion to Supreme Guide Imam Khamenei,” Shaterzadeh says.
Iran’s “Islamic model” has also won “mass followings” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where the movement for establishing a “truly Muhammadan system” continues to grow.
This “we’re-the-most-beautiful” illusion of the mullahs may be dismissed as an acute form of limerence. The problem is that it prevents Iran from acquiring a realistic portrayal of itself that is not reflected in the falsifying mirror of fanatical fantasy.
A true picture of Iran under the Islamic Republic may attract some sympathy for the sufferings of a nation held hostage in a wayward ship on a stormy sea.
If you thought that was an outburst of poetic conceit, listen to what another ayatollah, Ahmad Jannati, said only last week.
“People say that because of inflation, they cannot afford more than one meal a day,” he said. “What is wrong with that? One meal is a blessing, as there are people who cannot have even that. In Islam, the rule is to bear all hardship to protect those who protect the faith it from its enemies.”
In other words, Alam al-Hoda’s “postmodern Islamic model” is “government by starvation.”
Starvation isn’t the only “blessing” that the Islamic Republic offers.
Iran accounts for 50% of all executions in the world although the country represents only 1.1% of the world population. More than 40% of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are in Iran.
Each year, an average of 150,000 highly-educated Iranians, among them 3,500 medical doctors, leave the country to join the estimated 8 million (almost 10% of the population) already in exile.
According to Transparency International, the Islamic Republic is also in the world’s top league for corruption. According to Tehran’s official reports, between 2016 and 2020, embezzlement and bribery rose by 300%. Only last month, a $400 million embezzlement case was reported among 85 other cases of “big corruption” being investigated.
Official reports show that some 80 unnamed but presumably powerful figures owe untold sums to state-owned banks on the basis of non-existent collateral.
Flight of capital is estimated to be between $22 billion and $30 billion a year. With Iran’s currency becoming virtually worthless and the Tehran Stock Exchange regraded as a den of thieves, even small savers try to take whatever money they have out as quickly as possible.
According to official estimates, more than 1.5 million Iranians have purchased property in Turkey, while a further 1.2 million have invested in real estate in Georgia, Armenia and Serbia.
At the same time, again according to official estimates, a quarter of Iranians live in sub-standard housing, including 13 million trapped in shanty towns.
A few weeks ago, the collapse of a tall building in southwest Iran claimed at least 80 lives. The authorities admit that the permits needed to build the tower were obtained through bribery. Worse still, the mayor of Tehran warns that there are almost 500 shabbily built towers in the capital that cannot be razed, presumably because they belong to powerful regime figures.
Iran’s position on the global life expectancy chart has fallen to 49th place compared to 38th in 1977.
Iran is also facing a downward demographic curve, with a significant number of young people unable to get married and raise families.
In 2021, then President Hassan Rouhani’s government estimated that 25% of Iranians lived below poverty line while another 30% had “a good life.” The remaining people were JAMS or “just-about-managing” on the edge of poverty.
Add to all that the challenges that average Iranians face in social, cultural and political domains, and Alam al-Hoda’s “Islamic model” is unlikely to find a big market across the globe.
Those who supposedly love that model in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are simply paid to sing its praise.
According to former Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif, Tehran spent around $35 billion a year to feed its supporters in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa, the four Arab capitals that Iran controls, according to Ayatollah Ali Yunesi.
Alam al-Hoda and his ilk are caught in the Walter Mitty syndrome, after a Danny Kaye film in which an ordinary man imagines himself in a series of heroic roles.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.