Newsweek's long-time Middle East reporter Christopher Dickey persuasively warns against the emerging assumption that the anti-Ahmedinejad views expressed by middle class and cosmopolitan Iranians and promoted by the Western press are representative of a majority of Iranians. In Brazil, if you ask middle class, professional and/or educated Brazilians what they think of President Lula da Silva, you would conclude that he is an intensely despised figure, when -- in reality -- he is profoundly popular among a majority of Brazilians largely due to the deep support from that country's poor and under-educated population (much the same way that you'd get vastly disparate responses if, in 2004, you went to Manhattan and then to rural Kansas and solicited opinions of George Bush). Dickey suggests that the same dynamic exists in Iran.If a visitor to Bangkok asked "middle-class, professional and/or educated" Thais what they think of deposed/convicted/exiled/fugitive Prime Minister Thaksin, of course, that visitor would likely conclude Thaksin was deeply unpopular. But he or she would be mistaken. Like Ahmedinejad, Thaksin seems to be loved throughout much of the countryside.
The comparison is very easily made. In fact, one can develop Iranian parallels with Thailand much further than one can carry any comparison between Iran and countries such as Brazil or the US.
The population and GDP of Thailand (62 million, $245 billion) and Iran (65 million, $295 billion) are strikingly similar. But it is the political similarities that are most intriguing. Both Thailand and Iran are "democracies" where considerable power -- many would say real power -- is vested in unelected, unaccountable bodies led by divinely-sanctioned heads of state. One might perceive certain similarities between the military-backed Iranian clerics and the military-royalist elite of Thailand. Iran has its "Revolutionary Guard," Thailand has its mysterious blue shirts.
Both Persians and Thais have experienced the censorship and self-censorship of websites and the press. In both countries you can end up in jail if you criticize the wrong people. Whereas Thailand has lese majeste (the crime of insulting the monarchy), Iran has Apostasy:
Apostasy convictions are meted out not only for openly renouncing the religion of one's birth, but also for criticizing clerical rule (as in the case of Aghajari), defaming Islam, conversion from Islam, attempting to lead others away from Islam, among other reasons.Both systems have their innocent victims: On one hand you have persecuted writers like Giles Ji Ungpakorn or Harry Nicolaides. On the other you have Hashem Aghajari or Taghi Rahmani. If Iran is the worse offender, it seems to be a question not so much of principle as of degree.
Stepping back, it would be an interesting project to compare the way the courts have functioned in Thailand and Iran. For example, both countries have experimented with operating a separate system of justice for dealing with drug crimes. Whereas in 2004 Thailand carried out a policy of extrajudicial killings of drug traffickers, in Iran secret Islamic Revolutionary Courts have covered "all crimes involving smugglings and narcotic items."
Even in terms of current political tactics there are parallels between Bangkok in April and Tehran in June. Just as in April the royal palace chose not to intervene directly when protesters filled the streets of Bangkok and gunfire rang out, so far at least, Iran's top cleric refrains from saying much of anything publicly about the street demonstrations. Elites in both countries appear at times of crisis to rule through a political class that acts within a democratic arena, but is inherently expendable. Democratic systems, elites with veto power. By this arrangement, it may even be possible for the real power brokers to shed a once-favored political party as a snake sheds its skin.