The elections held by the Islamic Republic of Iran are not real. They are not free. They are not fair. And nothing changes as a result.
Iran had one such “election” last Friday, in which Ebrahim Raisi, the butcher of Iran, was elected as the new president. It was, as expected, a mockery of democracy. But it had one unexpected benefit: it made it easy for everyone to spot the duplicity of the Iran Lobby.
The “Iran Lobby”, a term used by many Iranian dissidents and Iran experts, is a loose network of apologists for Iran’s regime in Western academia, media, and think tanks. As I have explained before, its primary roles are to bury news unfavorable to Iran’s regime, emphasize news that harms the IRI’s adversaries, tightly limit the framework of debate on Iran (always leaving out options that see beyond the existence of the regime, one that many Iranians desire and seek), and viciously attack dissidents.
Their work was made much harder in recent weeks when the unelected Guardian Council disallowed the candidacy of regime loyalists such as Ali Larijani, all to ensure the “election” of Raisi, a man implicated in crimes against humanity.
The events obviously went against the narrative the Iran Lobby presents to the world about Iran being a thriving, albeit flawed, democracy with real competition between ideas that finds expression, representation, and change at the ballot box.
So, how did the network of apologists react? Much like the famed “seven stages of grief”, the Iran Lobby’s emotions went through several stages.
Stage 1: Depression
The first reaction of the Iran Lobby to the disqualification of their favored candidates was to express sadness at what has become of the regime they defend so vigorously, and how it would affect them personally.
Iran Lobby stalwarts literally talked about having nightmares at the prospect of losing someone they love.
Other members of the network suddenly remembered that it would be a tragedy if, under the new president, they could not see their families. (This has been the sad situation for thousands of people in the diaspora since 1979, whom the Lobby regularly disparages as having no standing to discuss Iran. The fact that dissidents have not been able to see their families for four decades was not much of a concern before.)
They then discovered that Iran’s regime may no longer be a “republic”. And that Raisi may represent only a minority. This is an odd take since Iran’s “election” in 2021 was not fundamentally different from those held in previous years. The same anti-democratic mechanisms used in this contest have been present in all previous contests.
So why are they depressed this year, unlike in the past? Because of this “election” cycle, the Iran Lobby’s favored faction of the Islamic Republic was not allowed to compete. The depression isn’t because Iran isn’t a republic or that the majority don’t have a voice. It’s because their favored mafia families have been muscled out by other mafia families.
The reaction of the Iran Lobby was entirely predictable, of course. But what should concern us is how the lie about Iran having been a functioning multi-party republic made its way into mainstream media. Widely-read outlets like The New Yorker and the New York Times framed the story as one about Iran becoming a “one-party state”. Has it been anything but?
Stage 2: Denial
The 2021 “presidential race” destroyed the false “reformist vs. hardliner” narrative so beloved by the Iran Lobby crowd. But they were not about to give up on it just yet. Clinging to hope, the Lobby members continued to peddle that lie, casting Abdolnaser Hemmati, the former governor of Iran’s central bank, in the role of “moderate”.
Stage 3: Blame
Unable to defend the Islamic Republic on its own terms, the Lobby decided to adopt an anti-anti-Islamic Republic posture on “election day”. The same analysts who, rightly or wrongly, defend violence by protesters elsewhere in the world (including but not limited to the US, Palestine, etc.) were clutching their pearls at the fact that on “election day” protesters in the West were exercising their freedoms and voicing their concerns, which included shouting rudely at those individuals who, despite enjoying the freedoms of Europe and North America, were going to cast ballots for literal murderers and oppressors of Iranians in undemocratic elections.
A few very small skirmishes aside (and it is unclear who began the fights), there was no violence against those who decided to participate in the sham elections of a regime that continues to commit great injustices against Iranians. But that didn’t stop the Iran Lobby from asserting moral equivalence between a regime implicated in the destruction of a nation and protesters. They tsk-tsked ordinary Iranians for “intimidate[ing] Iranians who want to vote” and claimed that the protesters display the same “authoritarianism and lack of tolerance for difference” as the regime itself.
The members of the apologist network who could not bring themselves to condemn the IRI’s attack on civilians during protests, or the killing of innocent Syrian children by the IRGC, spent all of election day condemning protesters for shouting too loudly.
Of course, the blame game can never be complete unless the Iran Lobby takes issues that are solely the responsibility of Iran’s regime and tries to pin the blame on the Trump Administration. Trita Parsi, one of the main players within the Iran Lobby, and his cadre of apologists were in fine form, writing tweet after tweet, blaming Trump for what had happened in Iran. They were joined in this by useful idiots like Code Pink, the American organization that has seemingly never met a dictator it didn’t want to promote.
I have asked members of the Iran Lobby about whether Trump was also to blame for the disqualification of candidates for the past 40 years, but they have not yet provided comment.
Once more, Iran’s people were let down by America’s mainstream media, like CNN, which decided to regurgitate the Iran Lobby’s deflection of blame away from Iran and onto America. The media bias in this case is surprisingly easy to fix: give an equal platform to individuals and organizations, like NUFDI, that question the legitimacy of the Islamic regime.
Stage 4: Acceptance
Naturally, the Iran Lobby and the regime have decided to kiss and make up. Within a week of the election, the Iran Lobby has changed direction, arguing in major media that Raisi may be a little rough around the edges, but he’s someone America can do business with. This argument has been promoted by the likes of Ali Vaez and Dina Esfandiary in the New York Times, Vali Nasr in Foreign Policy, and Esfandiar Batmanghlidj (via another author) in Bourse & Bazaar, the journal dedicating to promoting trade with the regime, no matter how many die, are oppressed, or imprisoned.
It’s difficult to know what the next stage will be for the Iran Lobby. But I anticipate that it will involve continued promotion of Raisi as a pragmatist whom the Lobby can forgive and whitewash for a Western audience. Because, after all, what is a few thousand lives and a ruined country among friends?
Kaveh Shahrooz is a lawyer, human rights activist, and a Senior Fellow at Canada’s Macdonald-Laurier Institute. He tweets at @kshahrooz.