Aug 15, 2023
Islamic Republic: From Nation-State to Mafia State
By OMID SHAMS
It has been almost a year since the murder of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police and the outbreak of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests, the biggest anti-government movement in Iran since the 1979 revolution. To put down this formidable wave of protests, the Islamic Republic has resorted to actions that, for all practical purposes, have transformed it from a nation-state and a constitutional state to a criminal state or a mafia state.
The End of Nation-State
There are many and sometimes incompatible definitions of “nation-state,” but these definitions share a common element that, in one form or another, represents the inherent characteristic of the concept of nation-state: the relationship between those who rule a territory and the people living in it. “A modern state in which a government has sovereign power within a defined territorial area and the mass of the population are citizens” is how the American sociologist Frank W. Elwell defines the nation-state.
Encyclopedia Britannica offers a similar definition: “Nation-state, a territorially bounded sovereign polity — i.e., a state— that is ruled in the name of a community of citizens who identify themselves as a nation.” And the British philosopher Ernest André Gellner views nation-state as a political unit in which there is harmonious relationship between the state and citizens who have a common identity (the nation).
In all these definitions, the concept of nation-state is framed as a clear relationship between the state and the citizens who share a common identity. The government of the Islamic Republic, however, has not only fully severed its relationship with the citizens, it has also unilaterally terminated the contract between the government and the citizens.
During the past year, Iranian society has clearly shown that what is accepted by citizens as a common identity based on common cultural and even religious beliefs and values is in complete contrast to the set of beliefs and values that the government considers to be the foundations of a common identity.
In other words, the national identity of the citizens and the national identity of the government are not only inconsistent with each other but are completely contradictory. As a result, the nation and the government see each other as hostile and as representatives of alien beliefs and values.
On one side of this confrontation stands a government that tries to impose hijab, as an inherent element of religion and a foundation of national identity, by resorting to naked force, whereas hijab is neither an inherent element of religion nor the foundation of a common identity among Iranians.
This puts the government in the position of an alien force that has nothing to do with the dominant values of the society which form the common identity of the citizens or the national identity. In fact, since forcing hijab on the whole society has no religious justification, the government has deviated from both the religious and the national identity.
Consequently, "mandatory hijab," which neither originates from religious values nor is a reflection of national values, is nothing but a symbol of the government’s domination over the inhabitants of this land, and since this imposition is accompanied by violence, cruelty and naked discrimination, the nation views the government as an alien and despotic usurper.
The Islamic Republic has now placed itself on the threshold of its deepest internal conflict. A regime that claims to be a religious and national government has engaged in all kinds of anti-religious, anti-human and anti-national acts to impose what it considers to be religious and national values.
By killing children, blinding minors, raping women, destroying and setting fire to the graves of the dead, and by persecuting and imprisoning the fathers and mothers of the dead, the Islamic Republic has turned itself into an entity several times more gruesome and ghoulish than those monsters government loudspeakers have been talking about for decades during Muharram, the Islamic calendar month when the Shia mourn the unjust murder of their saints.
Today, thanks to cell phone cameras, this naked ruthlessness cannot be denied and it reminds everybody of the most wicked and gruesome monsters of mythology. A government whose motto was “independence,” and which claimed it had risen up against “capitulations” to foreign powers and appealed to nationalism whenever it found itself in a tight spot, has now fallen so low that it brings in Russian advisors and Lebanese and Iraqi paramilitary forces to crush its own citizens.
The Islamic Republic has turned into the ugliest version of everything that came to power by becoming a deeply anti-religion, anti-nation and anti-human government.
The End of Constitutional Government
A constitutional government is a government in which the exercise of power is restrained by the constitution in order to protect citizens against the arbitrary exercise of power. In other words, a constitutional government is a government based on the protection of collective interests against the rulers.
In July, a court in Mashhad stripped Marzieh Mohebi, a lawyer for more than 30 years, of her citizenship, allowed the confiscation of her properties by the government and ruled that she was an “enemy infidel.” This marked a turning point, a sign that the Islamic Republic has now entered a tragicomical post-constitutional phase, a situation in which a citizen working as a lawyer is considered an enemy infidel.
The court has declared a citizen to be an enemy infidel on the charge of "communication with hostile organizations abroad" because she defended the accused and informed the world about the situation of her clients. This means that the government no longer bothers to have the slightest relationship with the law.
What happened to Marzieh Mohebi now applies to the entire Iranian society. The Islamic Republic has completely withdrawn from the contract between the rulers and the citizens and has abandoned all its obligations under domestic and international laws. The Islamic Republic no longer obeys any laws as it tampers with the rights of Iranians, even for the sake of appearances.
In a situation where hundreds of people, including dozens of children, have been killed during the protests, even an investigation for the sake of window dressing like the years past is not on the government’s agenda. Instead, the 227 members of parliament have called for the execution of protesters.
Not only complaints filed against security agents never get anywhere, but Hojatoleslam Ahmad Reza Pour-Khaghan, head of the Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces, has abandoned any pretense of impartiality toward unindicted protesters by ranting against them and calling for them to be tried by military tribunals.
Of course, the government of the Islamic Republic did not leave the domain of laws at one fell swoop. However, at least in the last decade, senior officials of the Islamic Republic have used official platforms to publicly promote breaking the law and committing extra-judicial criminal acts.
Yousef Tabatabaei-Nejad, the Friday Imam of Isfahan, a city where at least 15 woman have been victims of acid attacks because of their unsatisfactory hijab, announced in a sermon in October 2020: "Society should be made to be insecure for women who unveil. They should not be allowed to break the norms so easily on the streets.”
Prior to the attacks, Tabatabaei-Nejad had spoken out about the need to “use force” against "bad hijab:” “Some people believe that coercion is not necessary in society and one must use cultural tools, but nothing can be done with advice alone.”
While the last nails are being hammered onto the coffin of rule of law, the Islamic Republic violated all its international obligations, alongside its own constitution and civil code.
There is no international norm or law that the Islamic Republic remains committed to, from the violation of all human rights obligations, the shooting down of a passenger plane and the rapid march toward the development of nuclear weapons and the testing of ballistic missiles in contravention to Security Council resolutions to providing weapons to an occupying government, military attacks on the refineries of a neighboring country, sea piracy in the Strait of Hormuz, proven participation in terrorist attacks across the world, taking foreign citizens hostage and so on.
In such a situation, the whole government establishment cannot be viewed as a nation-state or a constitutional government. The closest political model for the Iranian regime is a criminal state or a mafia state.
The Islamic Republic as a Mafia State
Robert J. Bunker, an American professor of strategic studies, says that criminal states are a new form of dangerous state: “It is a by-product of belligerent non-state entities and their networks at war with the nation-state form.” He identifies various forms that have originated from jihadi insurgency, including lawless zones (anarchy) as a result of state failure, criminal takeover (illegal business) and oligarchic regimes (dynastic).
The Islamic Republic has an undeniable resemblance to these three models. The Iranian regime has put an end to rule of law, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which functions as a criminal organization, has monopolized all the tools of political, military and economic power.
The oligarchy has put all the means of power and wealth in the hands of a small group of individuals close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who consider the ownership of all the individual and collective affairs of the society as their inherent right and have no responsibility toward society and no obligation to be accountable.
Perhaps we can arrive at a more accurate definition of the nature of the Iranian regime if we borrow and expand the definition of mafia state as specified by Moisés Naim, a journalist, writer and former Venezuelan Minister of Trade and Industry. He defines a mafia state as a state in which criminal gangs have taken over parts of the system of government.
However, what we mean in this article by the concept of mafia state is the complete change in the nature of a nation-state or a constitutional state to a criminal super-organization that controls the legislative power as well.
In such a definition of mafia state, we are not dealing with a criminal organization which is hiding behind the façade and the machinery of a constitutional state but with a government that uses the methods of criminal organizations to seize and control power at all governmental levels.
In Moisés Naim’s definition of mafia state we are dealing, for example, with the Chinese triad gangs in Myanmar who are hiding behind statesmen who pretend to obey the rule of law and have changed their modus operandi from torturing and mutilating their competitors and opponents to arresting, trying and punishing them through legal channels.
In Iran, however, the political system has abandoned all legitimate tools of political control and, like a criminal gang, tries to keep its control on society through threats, extortion, kidnapping, terror and by showcasing cruelty and torture.
The purpose of this endeavor is not to administer the country and society but only to obtain money from the society and expand its money-making power. A government that uses chemical attacks on girls’ schools, not during a military confrontation but as a tool to spread terror among the people, must be viewed not as a nation-state but only as a criminal super-organization that has captured the instruments of government.
It is only through this lens that the self-contradictory, malignant and destabilizing foreign policy of the Islamic Republic can be understood as an integrated and coherent whole because from the point of view of a nation-state that is focused on national interests, the logic of the Islamic Republic's hostile and isolationist behavior in the international arena cannot be understood.
These policies can only be understood from the point of view of a criminal organization that controls the instruments of government, focuses on the interests of a particular group, and only thinks about expanding the sphere of influence of this group and enriching it.
In the face of such a criminal model of governance, any normal political, economic and cultural relations would practically mean empowering a mafia state that naturally seeks to replicate itself by connecting with other criminal organizations in the world and empowering them with instruments of government.