Panel 6d The Crisis of Legitimacy: Transformations in Governance and Civil Society in the Contemporary Islamic Republic of Iran

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Chair: Peyman Jafari, PhD candidate, International Institute of Social History and Leiden University

Paper 1: Iran’s Competing Discourses of Regime Legitimacy
Dr Maaike Warnaar, Associate Lecturer in International Relations, Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam

Authoritarian regimes do not survive with repression alone – regime survival to a large extent depends on ideational legitimacy (Albrecht and Schlumberger, 2004). Furthermore, the mobilization of a repressive apparatus needs ideological inspiration to be effective in carrying out its functions. As such the Iranian regime, despite its increasing reliance on repression, remains dependent on an official discourse legitimizing its rule. To enforce its preferred views and narratives, and to ensure that no counter-narrative is available, the regime employs censorship on media, intellectuals and writers. However counter-discourses inevitably emerge, particularly through every day practices of dissent (Bayat 2009), word of mouth and new media. This paper explains how the regime’s discursive sources of legitimacy can be and are challenged through opposition narratives.

Paper 2: From Ballots to Bullets – The Iranian Women’s Rights Movement after the Presidential Elections of 2009
Paola Maria Raunio, PhD candidate, University of St Andrews and Visiting Scholar, University of Turku

The women’s rights movement has been a principal actors in the Iranian civil society. However, the role and the extent of its work has largely been defined and re-defined by the people in power. The paper will open with a brief discussion of the women’s rights movement and its relationship with the Iranian regime after President Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005. The 2009 election atmosphere presented the movement with a window of opportunity to re-energise its activities. The paper will look at how women rights advocates materialised this window of opportunity and how they managed to place their message and request for reform back on the public agenda. The paper will also examine how the movement adapted to the challenging post-election environment that unfolded on the streets of Iran. The paper draws on “political opportunity” tradition as for its theoretical framework and its empirical findings are from a fieldwork trip in Tehran in the spring 2010. >> download the paper

Paper 3: ‘Democracy’ as a Means of Legitimacy in Contemporary Iran
Dr Shabnam J. Holliday, Lecturer in International Relations, Plymouth University

The paper explores how the idea of ‘democracy’ is used to legitimise representations of national identity by political actors in contemporary Iran. The paper takes a poststructuralist approach by deconstructing key ‘texts’ which make specific use of the concepts of ‘democracy/dimukrasi’ (‘Western’) and/or mardumsalari (‘Iranian’ democracy). Following the 2009 presidential election, Ahmadinezhad accuses the ‘West’ of not being sufficiently ‘democratic’. Whilst recognising that the Green Movement is a fluid and amorphous collection of individuals and groups, it becomes clear that a much more inclusive notion of ‘democracy’ is accepted as ‘legitimate’ and ‘authentic’. It is concluded that although what is perceived to be ‘legitimate’ and ‘authentic’ is contested, it appears that references to ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic practices’ are a means of legitimising political discourses in contemporary Iran.

Paper 4: Iranians in Turkey, Transnational Political Activism and the Legitimacy Crisis of the Regime
Dr Paola Rivetti, Post-doctoral Fellow, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University

It is generally assumed that “a stable and significant transnational field of political action connecting immigrants with their polities of origin does (…) exist” (Guarnizo et al., 2003), and the consequences of this transnational activism have been explored in terms of influence on the country of origin (Østergaard-Nielsen, 2006). The present paper aims at assessing the characteristics of this field in the case of Iranians in Turkey, who share a common political background, namely that of dissidence (which is not that of activism). The novelty of this paper is the focus on Turkey, which is perceived as a “transit country”. This particularity makes international political networks very important to the migrants, who feel the pressure to be inserted into any of them in order to leave Turkey. This paper also sheds light on the political influence Iranians abroad may exert on the Islamic Republic, leaving room to explore the strength of de-legitimacy of the regime they may strengthen.

Paper 5: Salient Sanctions and Regime Resilience: The Case of Iran
Ali Fathollah-Nejad, PhD candidate, SOAS & Münster and Assistant Lecturer, University of Duisburg–Essen

The paper will take a look at the sanctions regime imposed on Iran, in particular the one put in practice in the course of the so-called “nuclear crisis”. Sanctions include unilateral (by the US and its allies, above all the EU) and multilateral measures (those imposed by the United Nations Security Council since 2006). The paper will shed light at (1) the actors pushing for sanctions and their political and economic interests; (2) geo-economic dynamics of these sanctions in an increasingly multipolar world and the policies accompanying it; and (3) at effects on the Iranian economy, civil society and power structure. Concluding from the analysis on effects and costs of sanctions both geo-economically and economically, a number of observations will be formulated pertaining to Iran’s broader economic development, also affecting its society and polity.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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