Afshin Molavi: Still Optimistic on Iran


I hope my colleague, Afshin Molavi, is correct about brewing reform and civil society development in Iran. I’ve heard a lot over the years that Iran’s theocratic rulers are very far from the democracy-pining average folks.
I think I still have to be convinced, but I chatted with Steve Kull recently who told me that his institution, Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), which has done such important policy attitude polling recently is going global — with an important polling effort taking place in Iran. Perhaps we can get a better sense with decent poll results of what is really stirring, and what not, among Iran’s citizens.
Here is an excerpt from Afshin Molavi’s piece today in the New York Times:

Iran’s modern middle class, which is increasingly urbanized, wired and globally connected, provides particularly fertile soil for these aspirations. The Stanford University scholar Abbas Milani has described Iran’s middle class as a “Trojan horse within the Islamic republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance and civic responsibility.” And so long as that class grows, so too will the pressure for democratic change.
If Mr. Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy results in further global economic isolation or military intervention, however, the situation for Iran’s democracy-minded middle class could deteriorate. Foreign hostility will furnish additional pretexts for the regime to frighten its people and crack down on dissent. Particularly if the European Union decides to participate in a tougher sanctions regime, liberal-minded Iranians will lose contact with the foreign investors, educators, tourists and businessmen who link them to the outside world.
Now more than ever, middle-class and other democracy-minded Iranians need to preserve and expand their network of institutions independent from the government — institutions in which they can take refuge from the rapacious hardliners who seek to control all aspects of Iranian life. That network should include a strong private sector; a rich array of nongovernmental organizations dealing with issues like poverty, women’s rights and youth unemployment; and social, intellectual and cultural associations that communicate with counterparts abroad.

— Steve Clemons