venerdì 24 agosto 2012

To what extent was society in 19th century Iran more ‘progressive’ than the state?

In 19th century, Iran is an example of an Asiatic socio-economic system where small microcosms (namely clans, tribes and villages) formed “little worlds in themselves”[1], with isolated individuals. These conditions prevented the formation of social classes. In this vacuum, ‘oriental despots’ were able to rule without relevant interferences. However, the Iranian Qajar ruling elite does not totally fit with this pattern for the decentralization of the state (e.g. irrigation system) and the absence of a strong bureaucracy.
Therefore, 19th century Iran was a traditional and Islamic society where social changes were limited. Furthermore, the political opposition was mixed to the heresy of the heterodox groups, for instance Babis, but even of religious minorities such as Christian orthodox and catholic, Jews and Zoroastrians. Those groups received asylum and protection only in mosques or shrines and in royal stables or newly built telegraph offices. Even foreign missions provided protection for the ‘outlaws’[2].
In a sense, Qajar Iran was a tribal empire where the “practice of taking hostages” [3] was a way of maintaining security. A centralized bureaucracy and army did not help the Qajars to control provinces and governors. For these reasons, on the one hand, the government depended on the ulema for the administration of the justice and public services. On the other hand, the court depended on merchants (e.g. traders, bankers, commercial intermediates) for the provision and transmission of funds.
Therefore, according to Ann Lambton, bureaucrats, soldiers, ulema and merchants were the four most important elite groups in Qajar Iran[4]. Even though they were not closed groups. Firstly, they were engaged in acquiring properties and investing the surplus buying lands. Secondly, intermarriage of prominent family component of these groups was a common practice[5].
For these reasons, Qajar Iran partially fits with the Ernest Gellner’s theory of modernization in agrarian societies for the absence of social mobility and impenetrability of the elites. Moreover, “a central dominant authority co-exists with semi-autonomous local units”[6]. However, the more fluid inter-relations among the four elite groups can be considered an evidence of the evolution towards the modernization of the country helped by the “Islam proclivity or potential for ‘reformed’ version of the faith”[7].       
In the first part of the essay, I argue that Iranian reformists were forged in the absence of the state and for the divisions among the clerics. For these reasons, they formed a group inside the society more ‘progressive’ then the political institutions. Primarily, I start describing the Iranian modernist intelligentsia in the 19th century and their political ideology. Secondly, I outline the divisions among the leading elites. Especially, I discuss the religious schools of thought present inside the clergy as political factions. In the second part, I argue that, since the Qajar time, the Iranian ‘civil society’ has been constantly more ‘progressive’ then the state. Especially, as a reaction to the foreign encroachment in 19th century and to the first Qajar concessions, inspired by the Ottoman Tanzimat, the Iranian reformers strengthen their political ideology, their means of communication and their relation with the other agents of the revolts. A better comprehension of the Iranian first attempts of Reform can allow a more accurate analysis of the constant struggle of power between ‘conservative’ elites and ‘reformist’ activists during the 20th century Iran.  

As aforementioned, 19th century Iran was still a rural society with strong divisions between communities and communal rivalries. Nevertheless, those autonomous communities in rural areas provided a “functional protectionism for the peasantry”[8]. For these reasons, chief governors in the provinces were utilized by the Qajar to increase wealth trough a system of taxes and illegal extortion[9]. Therefore, in their effort of ‘persianization’, Qajar shahs interfered and complicated communal and tribal relations. In the major Iranian cities, however, the protection of the quarters was provided by a diverse kind of formal and informal institutions: the courts and the guilds. The shah used the court to co-opt ‘traditional families’ as a mean to control the society[10].
Although European observers were impressed by the formal powers of the Qajar shahs who could control market’ prices, army officers and an arbitrary judicial system[11], Iranian monarchs were frightened by irrelevant act of opposition perpetrated by small minorities[12]. In this sense, they had an irrelevant power outside Teheran. Moreover, they could not claim a religious descent, as Safavids did, because they probably came to Iran during Turkic invasions during the 14th century. For instance, the first shah was a tribal man known for is simple life[13].
Qajars were indeed forced to continually retreat their decisions. For instance, Iranian first shahs did not have real means to in force their powers. So Qajars were obliged to perpetrate a policy of equilibrium or of ‘divide and rule’ that brought about by manipulating the subjects more than administrating a bureaucratic system. As a matter of facts, this balance of power was perpetrated by a system of promises and rewards. Likewise, this strategy was even present inside the government where conservative advisers were balanced by reformist ministers[14]. For these reasons, the Qajar shahs were worried by the Anglo-Russian rivalry in the absence of a relevant military force.
In this context, the ulemas were the “most independent and self-conscious non-governmental centers of power in Iran” [15], while the merchants were gradually more organized. On the one hand, ulemas controlled part of the law courts and the education system. Likewise, the merchants formed councils (malik al-tujjar) in 1884 to supervise trades and favor Iranian products. In a sense, ulemas and merchants started to consider urban bourgeoisie’s grievances against the Western economic penetration, using technological innovations. For these reasons, they were identified as anti-foreigners. Nevertheless, in Qajar Iran, religious prominent figures were involved in theological disputes, that led to a controversial relation with the political power.

Likewise, a new modernist intelligentsia emerged. Those activists were diverse: anticlerical philosophers, religious reformists, independent politician and intellectuals. Among the prominent modernists in Qajar Iran, it is interesting to quote Al-Afghani, Akhundaza, Malkum Khan, Abdul Talibzada and Mirza Kirmani. Those intellectuals used to travel often to Europe[16], sharing a common political ideology.
Firstly, they were for a secularization of the country and the separation between politics and religion as a practical consequence of the separation between ‘prophecy’, as divinely inspired, and, ‘philosophy’, as based on the human rationality[17]. Their most important publications and controlled institutions were the newspaper Qanoun and the University Dar al-Fanoun[18]. Especially, religious figures founded important anjoman (Secret Societies) such as shirkat-i islami (Islamic Society) and anjuman-i makhfi (Secret Society)[19]. Through those controlling bodies, they supported the necessity of reforms. Moreover, they defended the scientific research, criticizing those “who forbid science and knowledge”[20] as the enemies of the religion. Therefore, they were for a science in the name of the true Islam. For instance, they usually made a parallel between the Darwinism and the Mullah Sadra notion of evolution.
Secondly, many of those reformists belonged to the heterodox movements, as the Babis, and denied a prominent role for the ulema. However, they were not antireligious but anticlerical. They criticized the exclusiveness of the traditional religious conception of knowledge underling the risk that the absence of reform would favor a Westernization of the country. For these reasons, they interpreted Islam as a cause of decadence. For their support to the country more than Islam, they were considered as beginners of nationalist thoughts. Supporting the idea of Constitutionalism and restructuring the judiciary system, they considered ruling politicians as charlatans. In addition, they literally hated Arabs denouncing how they were negatively affecting the Persian language.
Finally, many independent politician and intellectuals shared the same values. For instance, Amin al-Daula, a liberal politician, was concerned in the education reforms and supported cultural anjoman[21]. In addition, it is interesting to quote here the peculiar figure of Mahmoud al-Sultana, a member of the Qajar family. He studied at Dar al-Fanoun and supported the reformist movement. Lastly, several intellectuals coming from modest background such as Ali Akbar Qazvini[22], writer and teacher of Political Science at the Dar al Fanoun University, shared the same attitude towards the regime.      

The disputes among the religious elite were not less complex. The same theological conflict, present among Sunni scholars, between traditionalists (ahl al-hadith), based in Medina, and rationalists (ahl al-rai), based in Qufa, was current among the Shia[23]. In Iran, the religious disputes were especially centered on the figure of the mojtahed (the jurisprudent) and his ejtehad (interpretation of the law), briefly divisible in three main groups. Firstly, the Akhbarist gave more importance to the community and the tradition of the prophet[24]. Secondly, the Shaikhi considered the prominent authority of a supreme spiritual leader[25]. Finally, the Osuli[26] gave a prominent role to the mojtahed[27], defining the concepts of marja-e taqlid (source of emulation) and velayat-e faqih (government of the expert)[28].
Especially the Osulis increased their presence in the Iranian society and were widely supported by the court. Nevertheless the Qajar regime was against the religious value of a government of the hidden twelfth Imam, many ulemas in the 19th century supported Qajar rulers and accepted their protection[29]
Many ulamas in Iran supported the restoration of the justice (Adlkhana), pointing out the inequalities caused by the Qajar’s dynasty. They found financial support trough legal, private, religious funds and donations. In a sense, the mojtahed was an ‘aristocrat’ who provided support for his disciples. For this reason, as they used to do with other leading groups, Qajar manipulated the ulemas conceding to them privileges, titles and financial support. These attitudes contributed to fragment and weaken the Iranian clergy[30]. In other words, the Qajar’s support of the ulemas was detrimental for the latter. Even if they defended in many cases government policies, ulemas were forced to accept limitations in their traditional incitement of massacres of minorities or executions of foreigners[31]
Moreover, Adamiyat underlines the tight relation between ulamas and merchants giving the example of the tobacco concession[32]. In this specific case the daily collaboration between merchants, ulema, the courts and the increasing presence of British and Russian economic interests in the country was evident. In 1891, a fatwa against the concession was forged with the collaboration between the prominent ulema Ashtiani, members of the court, and Malek al Tojjar, an important merchant. Nevertheless, many ulemas in Teheran denied the authenticity of the fatwa, ruining the shah’ plans to cancel the concession and forcing Ashtiani to depart. On this occasion, strikes started in Shiraz and spread rapidly over the main Iranian cities, namely Teheran, Isfahan, Tabriz, Mashad, Qazvin, Yazd and Kermanshah. For the first time, a local movement was transformed in a “national rebellion”[33].
In the last decade of the 19th century, for the ambiguity and absence of the Qajar monarchs and the divisions among the clerics, the ‘reformist movement’ exacerbated the popular discontent. However, it was evident that the religious discourse would mobilize the crowd much more than the reformist ideology. For these reasons, as Keddie argues, the latter needed to “manipulate the clerical leadership”[34].
In this context, if the court prevented the ulema in inciting the people against the regime with the risk of undermining both authorities, the reformists, and especially al-Afghani, started to openly accuse some ulemas of not fulfilling their duty of mojtadeh supporting the shah and giving the opportunity to the foreigners to exploit Iranian resources[35].

It might be argued that the ‘progressive’ the intellectuals, as agents of modernization, only at the end of the 19th century, clarified their ideology and defined instrumental alliances. In other words, they emerged as an opposition movement as a consequence of the first attempts, made by the Qajar, to answer to the requests of social and political changes. As a matter of facts, the European encroachment in Iran and the first reforms, implemented on the pattern of the Ottoman Tanzimat, contributed in raising the opposition of the intellectuals, the merchants and the ulema. These groups started to form a front of dissent.
Firstly, as a consequence of the Baku and Reuter concessions, the British and Russian economic presence increased in Iran transforming the country from a “pre-capitalist economy” “into a market economy”[36]. For these reasons, the local merchants were disadvantaged in the guaranty of their property from foreign competition. Likewise, the market was flooded by European goods and the Iranian currency was under the British control[37].
The lack of power of the Qajar shah was even more evident for the continuous lost of territorial sovereignty and the diplomatic inability in strategic international alliances. A first example in this sense is the Anglo-Persian agreement orally concluded between the shah and the Capitan John Malcom, who visited Teheran in 1800.
The inefficiency of the agreement was clear. As a matter of facts, the shah did not obtain any British military support in three different Russian attacks. The first request of help to the British troops was made during the Russian invasion of Georgia in 1801. The second attempt to appeal to the aforementioned agreement was on the occasion of the attack led by the Russian general Kotljarevskij. As a result of the Russian victory, the Gulistan Peace was concluded in 1813 and the shah was obliged to leave the Northern territories, near the river Aras, and abandon any naval rights on the Caspian Sea. The third example of the Iranian military weakness was the Russian conquest of Erevan that led to the Treaty of Turkmanciai (1828) with the lost of the provinces of Erevan and Nahicevan[38].
On the contrary, this last event aroused the Russian influence and started the well-known British speculations of a ‘Russian threat’ on the Indian dominions. Even though, according to Curzon, the Russian aggressiveness was exaggerated. Moreover, on the one hand, the shah was obliged by the British to be neutral on the occasion of the Crimean war and to withdraw his soldiers from Herat. On the other hand, he was constantly threatened by the Russian Trans-Caucasian railway, 500 km long, as a mean to dissuade any Iranian aggressive attempt in the region[39].     
In this contest, the rise of the prices of basic goods, due to the arrival of new foreign products, the decrease of the value of silver currency and the growth of population and the consequent strengthened demand of food, are among the current causes of the anti-regime mobilization that started especially in urban areas[40]. Nevertheless, the main Iranian cities were often acting independently.
The first reaction of the shah was an implementation of reforms on the Ottoman model: a reform within the system granted by the rulers through a limited military renewal and a technological modernization (e.g. agriculture mechanization and new mean of communication)[41]. These measures contributed, on the one hand, to the strengthening of the urban bourgeoisie[42], widening the gap between the Qajars and the merchants[43].

In this contest, the modernist intelligentsia, as the most ‘progressive’ segment of the Iranian society, at the end of the 19th century, clarified the political ideology and the strategic alliances. At that time, those intellectuals supported secularism, as a practice consequence of the original anticlericalism, constitutionalism, as an opposition to the shah political despotism, and nationalism, as a protection to the foreign economical encroachment[44].
It is emblematic the case of Malkum Khan, founder of the aforementioned newspaper Qanoun and Iranian Ambassador in London. In 1889, he lost his diplomatic status after a controversial decision detrimental of British interests. Likewise he revised his trust for the court seeking the support of the ulemas[45].
Moreover, after the tobacco crisis, many policies, implemented by the shah, tried to censor the political requests of reforms, controlling these groups of intellectuals and the cultural institutions. Therefore, the importance of Dar al-Fanun University was downplayed, liberal Western newspapers were banned and tribal rivalries were reactivated. As a result of these policies in 1896, the shah was assassinated by a merchant, known follower of one of the intellectual prominent figure al-Afghani[46].  
On the wave of the concessions given by the new shah, Muzaffar al-Din, the modernist intelligentsia had the chance to strengthen the traditional anti-regime struggle. The shah decreased any censorship, opened new schools and Universities, relaxed the control on the bazar. Finally, Malkum Khan was sent, as Iranian Ambassador, to Rome. With these new policies, in a sense, the shah “encouraged the opposition”[47] that had the chance of a wide reorganization: new secret associations opened and several reformist newspapers were founded. Likewise the opposition movement in Tabriz started to be particularly effective[48].    
Primarily, the intellectuals tried to talk to the crowd using more ‘popular’ means of communication. Through a daily colloquial language of “satire, and folk songs, they constructed new narrative of resistance and social change”[49]. At the beginning of the 20th century more than 200 hundred reformist newspapers were founded, I quote here: Anjuman, Majlis, Iran-a Naw, Habl-al Matin, Musavat, as heirs of the already mentioned al Sur-i Israfil. Those publications strengthened the political ideology of the modernist intelligentsia. In a sense, they underlined the continuity of the Iranian movement with the French Revolution, discussing the emergence of completely new struggles for civil and worker rights, criticizing both “religious fanaticism and political despotism”[50]. Through the pages of these newspapers, Iranian reformers launched the idea of an egalitarian society based on capitalism and Islam. 
Secondly, Caucasian Muslims and Azeri activists in Tabriz started an effective anti-regime struggle. Their instances of reform were gradually reactivated[51] through newspapers such as Kaspi, and later Hayat[52]. Those activists were anticlerical, pan-Turkic and widely impressed by the political discourse of the Young Ottomans. Moreover, they were allied with the Hemmatist Party[53], for the defense of social and workers rights[54]

In conclusion, Qajar Iran is an example of a weak and fragmented state with a complex and gradually effective society. In other words, the 19th century Iranian modernist intelligentsia was the ideological bulwark of progress. They gradually defined secularism, constitutionalism and nationalism as key elements of their political ideology in a country still rooted in tribalism, with emerging theological disputes among the clergy, faced to a sudden Western economic encroachment. Finally, the strategic alliance with urban merchants and ulemas, critics with the Qajars, facilitate the mobilization of the crowd on the occasion of the Constitutional Revolution[55].
However, a ‘progressive’ society, confronted with weak and conservative institutions, has been a constant of the 20th century Iran. On the one hand, the modernist intellectuals and their alliance with the ulemas, merchants, the petty bourgeoisie, immigrants and workers have been among the key elements that brought about by the formation of the opposition to the Pahlavi regime. On the other hand, the ruling clergy elite within the Islamic Republic reproduced the aforementioned Qajar technique of ‘divide and rule’. After the Revolution, firstly, they excluded from the political power liberals, minorities and leftist movements. Secondly, they exploited their alliance with merchants and intellectuals. Thirdly, they deactivated the emergence of a Reformist movement[56] within the Islamic system. For these reasons, religious intellectuals, journalists, independent intellectuals, artists and NGO’ activists still underline the theological contradictions of the Islamic Republic and the necessity of new constitutional and secular reforms.  

Giuseppe Acconcia


Abrahamian, E. Oriental Despotism: The Case of Qajar Iran International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan. 1974).  

Abrahamian, E. The Causes of The Constitutional Revolution in Iran International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 10 (1979).

Abrahamian, E. The Crowd in the Persian Revolution in Hourani/Khoury/Wilson (eds), The Modern Middle East Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Adamyiat in Bayat, M.  Iran’s first Revolution. Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909 New York: Oxford U.P. (1991).

Afary, J. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-11 New York Columbia University Press (1996).

Al-Shafi’s Risala, Treatise on the foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society (1997).

Bayat, M. Iran’s first Revolution. Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909 New York: Oxford U.P. (1991).

Bayat, M., Mysticism and Dissent. Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (chapter 6) Siracuse University Press (1982).

Crone, P. Pre-Industrial Societies Blackwell, Oxford, (1989).

Gellner, E. Nations and Nationalism Blackwell Publisher (1983).

Hopkirk, P. The Great Game: on secret service in High Asia, London Murray (1990).

Kaddie, N. The Iranian Power Structure and social Change 1800-1969: an overview International Journal of Middle East Studies (1971).

Lambton. A. K. S. Social Change in Persia in the nineteenth century in Hurani, Khoury, Wilson (eds), The Modern Middle East Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Melchert, C. “Conclusion” The formation if the Sunni Schools of law 9th-10th centuries, Leiden Brill (1997).

Taqizadeh, H. in Landen, The Emergence of the Modern Middle East New York, London: Van Nostrand-Reinhold, (1970).

[1] Abrahamian, E. Oriental Despotism: The Case of Qajar Iran International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan. 1974), pp 5-12. The author uses Communist Manifesto and the Preface to a Critique of political Economy (1859) of Marx and Engels to explain how Qajar monarchs were “despots without the instruments of despotism”.
[2] Lambton. A. K. S. Social Change in Persia in the nineteenth century in Hurani, Khoury, Wilson (eds), The Modern Middle East Berkeley: University of California Press (1993), pp 158-164. The author gives to both shari’a (Islamic law) and ‘urf (customary law) a supremacy despite of Qajars rulers and their courts. 
[3] Ibid. pp 162-164.
[4] To a certain extent, the categorization, made by Abrahamian in The causes of the Constituional Revolution in Iran, International Journal of Middle East Studies (1979) Cambridge University Press p 388, adds to the elite groups, defined by Lambton, the rural population and the tribal masses. According to the author, however, this large majority does not yet constitute a class. 
[5] Ibid. p 166.
[6] Gellner, E. Nations and Nationalism Blackwell Publisher, (1983) chap. 2-3.
[7] Ibid. chapter 4. I will discuss furthermore the debate among Islamic scholars on the relation with the political power.
[8] Abrahamian, E. in Oriental Despotism: The Case of Qajar Iran  International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan. 1974) p 23.
[9] Kaddie, N. The Iranian Power Structure and social Change 1800-1969: an overview International Journal of Middle East Studies (1971), pp 3-4.
[10] Ibid. Abrahamian pp 18, 23 and 35.
[11] Abrhamian quotes here the Lord Courzon’s visit of Teheran and his report ‘Persia and the Persian Question’, Ibid. p11. 
[12] It is interesting here to quote the theory of Patricia Crone on the ‘minimum state’ and the implications for local minorities that can reach the power, using the lacks of the state, P. Crone, Pre-Industrial Societies Blackwell, Oxford, 1989.
[13] When he became shah, Agha Muhammed Khan even refused to wear the crown.
[14] This is the case of the balance of powers between the minister Mushir al-Dowlah and the adviser Mustawfi al-Mamalik during the Nsasir al-Din Shah reign.
[15] Ibid. Kaddie pp 5-8.
[16] As mentioned in Bayat, M. Iran’s first Revolution. Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909, p 35, even the Qajar family was encouraging travels to Europe and the Ottoman Empire.
[17] Bayat, M., Mysticism and Dissent. Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (chapter 5) Siracuse University press 1982.
[18] The Dar al-Fanoun University was founded in 1851 by Amir Kabir. Those first Reformists supported a deep reform of the judiciary.
[19] Bayat, M., Mysticism and Dissent. Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (chapter 6) Siracuse University press 1982 pp178-186. As far as the secular intellectuals, many religious reformists were among the most effective critics of the corruption of the Qajar regime and supported the Constitutional movement since his beginning.
[20] Ibid. pp 147 and 174.
[21] Ibid. p 40.
[22] Known as Dakhoda was writing for the newspaper Sur-e Israfil. Writers and intellectuals will be an important component of the new intellectual groups that later supported the Constitutional Revolution.
[23] Al Shafi was the first to give a hierarchy to the sources of the Islamic law giving a prominent role to the Quran and the Sunna, classifying ijma (consensus of the scholars) and qiyas (analogy) as subordinate sources. Nevertheless the formation of theological disputes in Iran will be not tackled in this essay, it is interesting to read al-Shafi’s Risala, Treatise on the foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society 1997 and Melchert, C. “Conclusion” The formation if the Sunni Schools of law 9th-10th centuries, Leiden Brill 1997.
[24] This School was founded by Shaikh Mohammad Amin Astarabadi.
[25] This School was founded by Shaikh Ahmad Ahsai.
[26] Two important Osuli scholars were Mollah Ahmad Naraqi and Morteza Ansari.
[27] Bayat, M. Iran’s first Revolution. Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909, New York: Oxford U.P., 1991 pp 11-12.
[28] These conceptual achievements informed the post-Revolutionary (1979) Iranian Constitution.
[29] Ibid. pp 13-14 and 21.
[30] Ibid. pp 16-18 .
[31] In 1891 clergy calmed the crowd protesting against the British owners of the carpet manufacturing. Moreover, many mullah were involved in inciting massacres of Babis and in protests against the presence of foreigners in the country Ibid. pp 17-18.
[32] Adamyiat in Bayat, M. Ibid. p 19.
[33] Abrahamian, E. The Causes of The Constitutional Revolution in Iran, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 10 (1979), p 400. Afterword, I consider the political implications of the tobacco crisis on the beginning of the movement for reforms.
[34] Keddie in Bayat, M. Ibid. p 18.
[35] Ibid. p 23.
[36] Abrahamian, E. Ibid. p 391.
[37] The Imperial Bank of Persia, controlled by the British was a monopolist in printing bankonotes. Meanwhile Russian companies controlled the construction of road and fishing company in the Caspian Sea. Ibidem, Abramian p 393.
[38] Hopkirk, P. The Great Game: on secret service in High Asia, London Murray 1990 (chapter 2, 4 and 9), The Iran-British agreement was ambiguous. Iran should intervene against any Afghani attempt to invade India. Furthermore, the shah was engaged in avoiding any contact with the French. In change, he obtained the promise of a British help in case of a French’ or an Afghani’ invasion.
[39] Ibid. (chapters 22 and 32).
[40]Abrahamian, E. The Causes of The Constitutional Revolution in Iran, p 392. The tribal support to the Constitutional Revolution will arrive later.
[41] Especially the telegraph became a public place for gatherings. Abrahamian, E. The Crowd in the Persian Revolution in Hourani/Khoury/Wilson (eds), The Modern Middle East Berkeley: University of California Press, (1993) p 295.
[42] In a sense, Abrahamian controversially identifies the modern intelligentsia with the bourgeoisie.
[43] Ibid. p 291.
[44] Abrahamian, E. The Causes of The Constitutional Revolution in Iran, p 395. The author defines this ideological change of these groups as an example of “inconsistency”.
[45] Ibid. p 397.
[46]Ibid. p 400. The murder of the shah Naser al-Din can be considered the antecedent of the Constitutional Revolution.
[47] Ibid. p 400.
[48] Tabriz, North-Western Iranian city near the fluid Turkish border with a majority of Azeris, is going to be with Teheran and Isfahan one of the center of the Constitutional Revolution. The political power as an agent of repressions and concessions within a fragmented opposition is one of the constant features of the relation between social movement and the power in Iran during the 20th century.
[49] Afary, J. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-11 New York Columbia University Press (1996), Chapter 5
[50] Ibid. chap 5
[51] According to Taqizadeh, the Russo-Japanese war (that caused a general increase in the prices of sugar), the first Russian Revolution and the clashes between Armenians and Moslems were among the causes of the revitalized Caucasian Moslem movements. The Emergence of Iranian Reformism, Taqizadeh, H. in Landen, The Emergence of the Modern Middle East New York , London: Van Nostrand-Reinhold, 1970.
[52] The first publication was in Russian , the second in Azeri.
[53] It was founded as a branch of the Russian Democratic Party. In a sense, the foundation of the Iranian Communist party Tudeh as many element in common.
[54] Bayat, M. Iran’s first Revolution. Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909, chapter 4. It is not the target of this essay to disentangle the role of the modernist intelligentsia in the Constitutional Revolution. However, it is relevant to underline the developments of the movement showing their ‘progressive’ relation with the state; their constant reactivation due to the absence of political institutions or sudden concessions; how the political ideology and agenda of reformers was gradually better defined.  
[55] I quote here the opening of the first Parliament (majlis) and the idea of popular sovereignty as the most important achievements of the movement.
[56] Particularly interesting is the case of the Musharekat political party, led by the former president Mohammed Khatami, as an example of the last attempt of reform within the Islamic Republic.

giovedì 23 agosto 2012



«Il Pkk sfrutta il vuoto di potere in Siria»

Giuseppe Acconcia 

Lo scontro tra Turchia e Siria si accende sulla questione kurda. Il ministro degli esteri turco, Ahmet Davatoglu, ha accusato il Partito
dei lavoratori del Kurdistan (Pkk) di sfruttare il vuoto di potere 
a Damasco. «Non è una fantasia che Bachar al-Assad sostenga con armi 
le città (kurde, ndr) di Afrina e Kobani» - ha aggiunto Davatoglu. Secondo 
lui solo libere elezioni che includano le minoranze kurde, arabe 
e turcomanne potrebbero decidere a chi riconoscere «autonomia». Le 
preoccupazioni turche nascono da una possibile indipendenza dei kurdi
iriani sul modello dell’autonomia politica, linguistica e amministrativa 
garantita in Iraq ai governatorati di Erbil e Sulaymaniya.

Nessuna reazione arriva per il momento dal governo di Damasco. 
In un’intervista del luglio scorso Bachar al-Assad aveva negato 
di aver concesso il permesso al Pkk di operare in territorio siriano.
In realtà, in seguito 
all’inasprirsi della crisi, 
il partito Baath ha concesso 
maggiore libertà 
d’azione al Partito kurdo 
siriano dell’unione democratica (
Pyd) nella 
provincia settentrionale 
di Qamishli, incassando 
la neutralità di parte dei combattenti kurdi anti-regime.

Dal canto suo, il governo turco sembra interessato a tenere sotto controllo 
le attività del Consiglio supremo del Kurdistan di cui fanno parte 
il Pkk turco, il Pyd siriano e i kurdi iracheni. Secondo le autorità di Ankara, 
la crisi siriana sta riaprendo il conflitto kurdo in Turchia. Proprio ieri, 
nella provincia nord occidentale di Izmir (Smirne) in un agguato a 
un convoglio militare turco, sono esplose due mine uccidendo un soldato 
e ferendone undici. Nelle ultime due settimane ci sarebbero stati 
150 morti in scontri con attivisti kurdi, in particolare nei dintorni della 
città di Hakkari nella provincia sud-orientale, al confine con Iraq e Iran. 
Prima dello scoppio della crisi il presidente turco, Recep Erdogan, intratteneva 
buone relazioni con il suo omologo siriano. La questione kurda, 
l’arrivo di profughi siriani nelle regioni turche meridionali e la presenza 
di nuclei del Libero esercito siriano nel sud della Turchia hanno 
esacerbato lo scontro tra i due paesi.

Il Manifesto
Internazionale, pag.6
venerdì 10 agosto 2012

mercoledì 22 agosto 2012

Radio Vaticana, radiogiornale, ore 8.00 lunedì 2 luglio 2012

Egitto: il neo-presidente Morsi lavora per il nuovo governo

Domenica di consultazioni in Egitto per la formazione del governo dopo il giuramento del presidente Morsi, venerdì scorso davanti alla Corte Costituzionale. Primo scoglio per il capo di Stato è la scelta del nuovo premier, favorito l’attuale governatore della Banca centrale egiziana. Intanto Morsi ha annunciato una serie di misure volte a favorire la ripresa economica e rilanciare il Paese. Dal Cairo Giuseppe Acconcia

martedì 21 agosto 2012

Terremoto costituzionale


Terremoto costituzionale, Morsy sfida i giudici

Giuseppe Acconcia

Ai due lati di via Qasr al-Aini si affrontano per la prima volta i pro e gli anti Morsy. “Il popolo è con la decisione del presidente!”, urla un gruppo di donne con al collo la foto del neoeletto presidente. Più avanti, sul marciapiede opposto ai cancelli di via Moghles Shaab di fronte al Parlamento, si sentono le voci di chi non vuole che la Camera riapra: “Abbasso il governo del murshid! (autorità religiosa)”. Molti di questi attivisti avevano votato per Ahmed Shafiq alle recenti elezioni presidenziali. E nei giorni scorsi si erano dati appuntamento a Nassr City, nei pressi del monumento in memoria di Anwar al-Sadat, divenuto il punto di ritrovo dell’opposizione ai Fratelli musulmani. “Morsy ha rotto il giuramento presidenziale”, ha dichiarato ieri Farouk Sultan, presidente della Corte Costituzionale, in un’intervista a Masry al-Youm. I giudici non hanno dubbi e sospendono il decreto di Morsy di impugnazione della sentenza di scioglimento del Parlamento. Il neoeletto presidente egiziano aveva anche dichiarato che il Parlamento sarebbe dovuto rimanere in attività fino a nuove elezioni da tenere entro 60 giorni, con una nuova Costituzione. Ma a storcere il naso dopo la decisione di Morsy, ci sono anche liberali, socialisti e giovani dei movimenti. “Morsy ha fatto un passo falso. Si tratta di una decisione unilaterale che crea un conflitto insanabile tra le istituzioni egiziane” – ha dichiarato al manifesto Khaled Telima, parlamentare del Tagammu. Mentre Mohammed el-Baradei ha chiesto un incontro urgente tra Morsy, Consiglio militare e parlamentari per risolvere la crisi istituzionale. D’altra parte, al fianco di Morsy sono rimasti solo alcuni esponenti di 6 aprile. L’intera coalizione dei giovani rivoluzionari si è spaccata sulla questione dello scioglimento del Parlamento in una riunione tesissima, lo scorso lunedì sera. Ma gli islamisti continuano la loro battaglia tentando di smorzare i toni. E così, la contestata sessione della Camera di martedì è durata solo pochi minuti. Parlamentari liberali e socialisti hanno boicottato l’aula. Il presidente, Saad al-Katatni, ha avuto solo il tempo di spiegare come il decreto presidenziale sia del tutto legittimo. Non solo, dai palazzi del partito islamista dal quartiere di Manial, si fa sapere che sarà a breve presentato l’appello alla Corte di Cassazione per abrogare la sentenza di scioglimento del parlamento. “Non vogliamo lo scontro costituzionale, ma ci opponiamo all’interpretazione che ha dato il Consiglio militare della sentenza che ha determinato lo scioglimento dell’intero parlamento” – ha spiegato al manifesto Yasser Ali, portavoce di Libertà e giustizia. Ali ha anche annunciato che i nodi sulla formazione del nuovo governo saranno sciolti in poche ore, prima della visita di Morsy in Arabia Saudita. Il neoeletto presidente è atteso nei prossimi giorni anche ad Addis Abeba per discutere con il presidente etiope, Meles Zenawi, la controversa questione della ripartizione delle acque del Nilo, mentre è in corso la costruzione dell’imponente diga del Millennio. E’ la prima volta, dopo l’attentato a Hosni Mubarak in Etiopia nel 1995, che un presidente egiziano visita il paese africano. Intanto, è partito lunedì il processo per aggiotaggio ai figli di Mubarak, Alaa e Gamal. Secondo l’accusa avrebbero ottenuto 2,5 miliardi di ghinee (330 milioni di euro) dalla banca al-Watany manipolando i profitti bancari e trasferendo denaro all’estero. D’altra parte, continua la sfida al Consiglio militare del comunista, Khaled Ali. Dopo aver ottenuto l’abrogazione della legge sui poteri giudiziari alla polizia militare, l’ex candidato alle presidenziali ha presentato un esposto contro la composizione militare del Consiglio di difesa nazionale, convocato nelle scorse settimane in via permanente. Nel frattempo, proseguono a Suez dure proteste contro la sentenza che ha condannato sette attivisti per gli scontri tra salafiti e polizia militare nel quartiere di Abbasseya lo scorso maggio. In un clima di nuovo teso, con l’assedio al Parlamento e le critiche al primo atto presidenziale, si organizza l’opposizione politica e militante, laica e nazionalista, al neoeletto presidente islamista.

Il Manifesto
Internazionale, pag.9
mercoledì 11 luglio 2012