February 5, 2007

Changing the Constitution Is the Only Democratic and Non-Violent Way to Transform Iran

Debate Concerning Reform of the Constitution
Mohsen Sazegara
Issue 6- February 2007/ Bahman 1385 - Constitution and Rule of Law

The sixth issue of Gozaar focuses on the Constitution and rule of law in Iran. We posed the following questions to Mohsen Sazegara, Mehrdad Mashayekhi, and Hormoz Hekmat:

• What possible and/or probable means exist for changing or amending the Islamic Republic's Constitution?
• Is it necessary (and possible) to change the Constitution through the legal mechanisms outlined in the Constitution itself?
• Is a public referendum an appropriate way to bring about constitutional reform?
• What solution(s) would you offer?

Mr. Sazegara's answers appear below:

Article 177 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran lays out the possibility of revising the Constitution, but the form and content of this revision can only be determined by the Supreme Leader. “The Leader issues a decree to the President after consultation with the Nation’s Exigency Council stipulating the amendments or additions to be made by the Council for Revision of the constitution which consists of…”

Most members of this council are the members of the Council of Guardians, the heads of the three branches of government, and the permanent members of the Nation’s Exigency Council. Ten members are also selected by the Supreme Leader. This composition clearly points to the fact that the Council for Revision of the Constitution is controlled by the Supreme Leader, although any decisions after being approved by the Supreme Leader have to be endorsed in a national referendum. In any case, the decision to introduce a change in the Constitution, the stages of realizing this change, and its final form are all subject to the whims of the Supreme Leader. The principal problem with the Constitution is the unlimited powers of the Supreme Leader who cannot be held accountable for his actions. In fact, the Constitution has legitimized the tyranny of one person in the name of Leadership. There is no way to reform or improve the Constitution because the Supreme Leader can curb, influence, and dictate all the possible changes within it.

The only way to change the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran lies outside this Constitution. It can only materialize through intense pressure from Iranians inside the country, aided by the international community. This pressure should be so strong that it forces the Supreme Leader into retreat and compels him to submit to people’s demands for Constitutional reform.

Perhaps we can readily claim that the only democratic and non-violent solution to the present situation is the change of the Constitution. But we should keep in mind that the Supreme Leader will not simply submit to any demand, advice, request, or solicitation for change. He will retreat only under the pressure generated by civil disobedience and the mobilization of various segments of society. Civil disobedience includes a vast range of actions that extend from street demonstrations to seminars and sit-ins, from graffiti on the walls to slowing traffic and blackouts. Around 200 forms of civil disobedience have been surveyed and studied to date. Similarly, the pressure of the international community on the Iranian regime can also be effective, provided it is in concert with the demands of the people inside Iran.

I support the mobilization of various groups and segments of society in actions of civil disobedience. These actions should stress short and long-term demands, but they should mainly focus on obtaining a true referendum on the current Constitution under the supervision of international observers. I believe that only civil and non-violent strategies must be used to achieve this objective. Detailing this view is, of course, beyond the scope of a short debate; thus, we should defer this elaboration to another occasion.