THE BLOG
01/23/2012 03:06 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2012

The Obsessions With a "Dear Leader"

The death of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, who died a month ago, interestingly looks like a continuation of what has swept many countries who are witnessing the disposal of their dictatorial leaders. Nevertheless, Kim Jong-Il died of natural causes -- far different from the situations in the Middle East -- and the North Korean people (as depicted on state TV), deeply mourned the loss of their "dear leader."

The North Koreans who grew up loving the founder of North Korea, who passed away on Dec. 17, and his son, don't have that much information about the outside world. Their daily life and behavior is heavily controlled by the state intelligentsia, with heavily censored state media as their only source of information. Millions of North Koreans have died from hunger and starvation, and North Korea is one of the world's most isolated nations and has no real assets except for a nuclear bomb.

Nuclear capability is used in North Korea as a source of national pride, and it is the only card this country has to play to successfully threaten the world and abuse its people. As Iran's isolation from the world community continues to grow, many are asking what sort of world standing the Islamic Republic is looking to achieve. Do Iranian leaders want Iran to be as cut off from the world as North Korea has been?

Though the political realities inside Iran and North Korea are far too unique and complex to actually be compared to one another (in fact, they are quite different), there is one similarity between North Korea and Iran: each country's obsession with a "dear leader."

Anti-westernism and anti-imperialism have made two very different countries -- Iran and North Korea -- become close.

Much like North Korea, where criticizing and talking about the country's "dear leader" is banned, any public affronts to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is sometimes referred to by fans as their "dear leader," is also prohibited.

The commonalities stop there. Whereas North Korea prepared itself in advance for the death of its 'dear leader' by appointing Kim Jong-Il's younger son as successor, Iranians have no idea who will replace their own supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once he too has passed. According to Iran's constitution, the supreme leader must be chosen by the Assembly of Experts after his death. Therefore, no one can be sure who will become Ayatollah Khamenei's replacement unless, before his death, he or his supporters decide to change the Iranian constitution.

Like its neighbors in the Middle East and North Africa, Iran is in a transitional phase -- but Tehran is not experiencing a kind of "Arab Spring" movement. There are great differences between Iran and countries such as Syria or Tunisia. The residents of these nations each act according to their own histories and cultures. Today, Iranians prefer a peaceful movement for change. The 'dear leader' of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has his own clan of supporters and allies in the military who, if necessary, will crush any uprisings that could threaten the supreme leader and the legacy of the Islamic Revolution.

The Iranian people tested the waters with their protests in the summer of 2009, and after being so harshly crushed, will not swim in that same pool again because they find it so dangerous.

In my opinion, Iran's coming parliamentary elections, due to take place in March 2012, will be the most important elections Iran has had since the country's 1979 revolution. These elections are so important because it will be this parliament that will ultimately shape the leadership in Iran if and when the country loses the elderly Ayatollah Khamenei, who is in his mid-70s, as supreme ruler.

Already, Iranian leaders and elite politicians are busy ganging up on one another and sending their own loyal allies to run for parliament in order to secure their own future interests, which are becoming completely detached from the realities that surround them. The uncertainty among policy makers in Iran has mounted, and is visible even at the highest levels of government, including the office of the president, the heads of Iran's judiciary and parliament, and even the supreme leader himself.

Nevertheless, the changes taking place in Iran are very important. They will be ever more important because one day, we will wake up to hear that Iran's "dear leader" is also gone.

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