Miércoles, 22 de Enero de 2020
Última actualización: 16:13 CET

Like the Persians

Hasan Rohani. (HISPAN TV)

Iran has held its fifth regular elections since the triumph of the Islamic revolution of 1979. President Hasan Rohani, a moderate and reformist cleric —according to his society's standards— prevailed against the conservative candidate, being re-elected for another term.

A disparate alliance comprised of young students, urban women, and progressive segments in the civil service, the country's intellectuals, and its lower and middle classes, tipped the elections in his favor, in elections that enjoyed a high turnout.

You may be surprised that I chose to write about Iran in this column, dedicated to Cuba. But it is pertinent, as events in the Persian nation reveal, in an unlikely way, the comparative political backwardness of its Caribbean ally. After two processes of similar origins (anti-imperialist revolutions), with institutions that defy liberal democracy, and united by diplomatic ties, they, nevertheless feature political processes of uneven quality. This contrast is even more striking when one considers that Iran is a hybrid regime —half republic, half theocracy— surrounded by monarchies flouting any popular ratification, such that its socio-cultural backwardness —in terms of women's rights, the violation of freedoms, and religious morality— is par for the course in the region. Cuba, meanwhile, is a Soviet-style, single-party, nepotistic state whose archaisms —State ideology and police control of society— are aberrations in the Americas, where democratic republics prevail.

Iranians vote enthusiastically in elections with real candidates, and platforms with varying foreign and domestic policy proposals. Cubans, meanwhile, reluctantly go through the motions of "voting", without choosing anything or anybody. The Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians veto, but do not annihilate politics. The General Secretary and the Political Bureau call for debate, but then suffocate any relevant dissent. Iran's parliament, the Majlis, on the other hand, boasts varied and heated arguments, and Government control. The brash Ahmadinejad was triumphant over the protests of 2009, but was ultimately chastened by parliamentarians for his poor management. In the Cuban National Assembly, a unanimous and servile choir, no one has reproached Raúl Castro for anything; not even the modest glass of milk that he promised us 10 years ago.

Despite the contextual similarities in terms of repression and censorship, Iranian civil society exhibits a capacity for articulation, mobilization and challenges to power much greater than that in Cuba. And Iranian intellectuals —whether in the country or in exile— have exercised public service in a way more coherent than their Cuban counterparts. It may all depend on the differences between a regime of limited pluralism, in which a leader dominated the country until just a decade ago; and a model based on just one-party, captained by a single leader for half a century, and still under his control. Or, more profoundly, on the dissimilar legacies of a proud and ancient civilization, and an immature, adolescent "republic."

The truth is that Islamic Iran today seems to be a country in which politics offers, despite all its flaws, a channel for action. Meanwhile, in secular and Western Cuba "politics," for both the rulers and the ruled, continues to be a bad word. We are not only light years behind the envied Norwegians. It seems that we do not aspire to be, politically speaking, like the Persians either.

This article originally appeared in the Mexican newspaper La Razón. It is published here with the author's permission.