On February 26, the ayatollahs have scheduled two “elections” in Iran: one for the parliament and one for the Assembly of Experts, a body that is supposed to monitor the supreme leader and choose a replacement when the time comes. Some in the West tout this as the potential start of a new era of moderation. After all it is the first election since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers.
But the nuclear deal cannot be the only criteria by which the West determines the prospects for moderation in Iran. Equally or more important is the domestic record of the current Iranian government, including its record on human rights, censorship, and criminalization of dissent. As the child of Iranian Christians, I am keenly aware of at least one aspect of this record, and I recognize that Iranian-Christians have little hope of better treatment in the wake of the latest elections.
The existence of the Christian community in Iran dates back centuries and is a major part of the history of the country. For centuries, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians got along fine in Iran. We were all Iranians and our religion was not an issue at all.
After the ayatollahs took over in 1979 things changed for the worse. The religious persecutions began and restrictions became more and more institutionalized. Many Christians and Jews fled. But some stayed in their native country, where they are given token representation in parliament so the Iranian regime can maintain the illusion of legitimacy.
But these representatives are selected, not elected. In the ayatollahs’ method of governance, every candidate should be approved by four bodies, first and foremost the notorious Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). Afterwards, the Council of Guardians, a watch dog body selected by the supreme leader, has the final say in the selection process. At every step of the way, unwavering loyalty to the Islamic Revolution and the supreme leader is the key criterion by which prospective candidates are judged.
In light of that fact, it is hard to imagine how any certified candidate could represent the views of a diverse and largely progressive population, much less the views of Christians and other minority religious communities. Calling this charade an election is delusional, and few Christians can be expected to succumb to that delusion.