How Do You Unite Iranian Monarchists, Republicans, Leftists, Moderates, and Conservatives?
Today on February 11th, protestors gathered around the world to show their opposition to the Islamic Republic’s continued existence. Passion and determination are still strong among the Islamic Republic’s enemies on the anniversary of the revolution that brought this regime to power. There’s a strong sense that Iranians of all ethnic, religious, gender, and ideological backgrounds inside and outside the country are 100% DONE with the Islamic Republic. But what do the Iranian people want to replace it with?
After 44 years of Islamic Republic rule, a consensus has still not been found. There are still those who wish for the return of the Pahlavi dynasty, with Prince Reza Pahlavi to take up where his father left off. There are liberal democrats who want some kind of democracy modeled on western political systems. There are leftists like socialists and followers of Abdullah Ocalan who want democratic confederalism to take root in Iran. And then there are the secularists and the religious conservatives with diverging visions of faith’s role in Iran’s public life. There are Persian nationalists who dream of empire and ethnic minority groups that want to secure autonomy for their regions.
A small gathering of the opposition’s most notable “leaders” met yesterday in Washington DC to try to showcase a united front. They hope to build a consensus by the end of this year, but it is clear there are major gaps between them. On top of that, most of these “leaders” are ethnic Shi’a or secular Persians so their vision of a future Iran is incomplete without leaders of Iran’s other many ethnic and religious groups. Even if the Islamic Republic were to fall today, there is a very real danger that the opposition outside and inside Iran would fall into the trap of so many revolutions, namely that “the revolution devours its children.” To have total victory for all freedom loving Iranians, we must eliminate the regime AND avoid civil war or the rise of a new dictator. How do we bridge these gaps? How can we create a political system that can accommodate Iran’s diverse interest groups?
There is already a solution. It’s imperfect but it can provide a template that Iranians can study and build upon to create a new Iran that can make most Iranians happy. This solution is called the Commonwealth Constitution of the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr. The name is not important, but the document itself provides a political system that combines federalism and confederalism that looks a little like the United States, Switzerland, the EU, and the Rojava Cantons of North Eastern Syria. It creates a tiered system of political units that allows regions large and small to be united under one Iran but with varying degrees of autonomy.
At the top is the federal “Commonwealth” that represents Iran on the international stage and legislates for problems that affect all regions of Iran that elect to be within the Commonwealth system. The Commonwealth is guided by a constitution with strong rights and explicit separation of powers. Underneath the Commonwealth are the Satrapies which are like American states/Canadian provinces/ Swiss cantons. These are semi-autonomous political units that focus on more local issues. Satrapies have their own constitutions that are limited by the Commonwealth Constitution. Their structure of government is whatever they want as long as it does not violate the Commonwealth Constitution.
Now there are options for communities that want much more autonomy but don’t want to be independent nations since a united Iran can better withstand foreign imperialism. The Commonwealth Constitution creates the option for regions to set up “Vassal States.” Again, the name is not important. Its based on the Iran’s own political history of decentralized governance. A Vassal State would be essentially a much more autonomous Satrapy. Instead of the Vassal State’s constitution be limited by the Commonwealth Constitution, the relationship between Vassal State and Commonwealth would be based on a negotiated treaty between them. At minimum, the Vassal State would pay the Commonwealth for defense spending. The Vassal State would be able to create a democratic or undemocratic government based on a referendum by the people of that Vassal State. The last piece of the Commonwealth Constitution is the political unit called the “Enclave.” This is a very small autonomous political unit that could give small ethnic and religious communities political autonomy within the wider political system. Enclaves could be like tiny Satrapies or like tiny Vassal States.
Now how could we imagine this system working for a post-Islamic Republic Iran? This scenario is just an example of what could be, not what I think it should be. Lets say this new Iran is called the Guarded Domains of Iran. It has a Commonwealth Government that is the new face of Iran on the world stage. It is democratic and progressive in its constitution and embodies the aspirations of “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Underneath this Commonwealth is a collection of Satrapies. Perhaps some core former Islamic Republic provinces want to be ruled by a constitutional monarchy led by Reza Pahlavi. These provinces would vote to unite and elect Reza Pahlavi as Shah and create a Satrapial Kingdom constitution. Let’s call it the Kingdom of Pars. Now say some other former Islamic Republic provinces don’t want to be under the Pahlavi. They would create their own Satrapy governments, perhaps liberal representative democracies or direct democracies etc.
But as we know Iran is a very diverse place. Let’s say in this scenario, there are deeply religious regions of Iran who lament the fall of the Islamic Republic and wish it had just reformed a little rather than disappear all together. Rather than take up arms and start a civil war, these conservative regions would form Vassal States that would negotiate their relationship with the Commonwealth. They would remain part of Iran but would pay the Commonwealth for the right to be defended by the Guarded Domain of Iran’s armed forces etc. Their government would be a reformed Islamic Republic voted by referendum of all adults within that region.
And what about provinces with pre-dominantly non-Persian ethnic groups? In this scenario, provinces with mostly Azeris create a democratic republican Satrapy. The provinces with mostly Baluchis want to unite and create an autonomous Vassal State. Same with ethnic Arabs in Iran’s south. And Kurds, well they create a democratic confederacy that is a Satrapy. Lurs, Bakhtiaris, Turkmens, Chaldeans, Assyrians form Enclaves. Again there are so many possibilities to a new Iran based on this political system. What matters is that different Iranian communities have options to decide their little piece of this new Iran.
This system is not perfect. The existence of a Commonwealth government and Vassal States would create tensions, no doubt. Democratic versus authoritarian or secular versus religious would define the political struggles of this new Iran. But this is not new. What would be new, is a political system that allows these groups to coexist and find common ground where it exists, and work together on what can be done. Like all grand political experiments, from the decentralized empires of old Iran, to the newer United States, EU, Switzerland, Rojava Cantons, there are always compromises that future generations must struggle with. However, if Iranians inside and outside of their beloved motherland want to both replace the Islamic Republic AND avoid civil war or a new dictator, they must take the ideas put forward in the Commonwealth Constitution seriously and envision a new political system beyond the narrow ideas that are being put forward now.
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Latif Simorghi is an activist, blogger, and author.