A few days ago National Spiritual Assembly members from around the world gathered in Haifa at the 11th International Baha’i Convention to elect the members of the Universal House of Justice. The occassion also marked the 50th anniversary of the first election of the institution in 1963.
The new members of the Universal House of Justice are (in order of votes):
Paul Lample, Firaydoun Javaheri, Payman Mohajer, Gustavo Correa, Shahriar Razavi, Stephen Birkland, Stephen Hall, Chuungu Malitonga, and Ayman Rouhani.
The two vacancies made available due to the retirement of Dr. Farzam Arbab and Kiser Barnes were filled by Chuungu Malitonga and Ayman Rouhani. Not surprisingly, the new kids on the block were International Teaching Center Counsellors and they got the least votes. The other seven incumbents were easily re-elected as has been the trend since the creation of the institution.
See below for an updated historical membership infographic for the Universal House of Justice.
Chuungu Malitonga Previously Mr. Malitonga was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Zambia. He served on the NSA until November 2008 when he was appointed a Continental Counsellor and subsequently promoted on March 2010 to the ITC. He was appointed to the International Teaching Center (along with Praveen Mallik from India) to replace the vacancies created in that institution by the election of Stephan Birkland and Stephen Hall to the UHJ in the 2010 by-election.
Ayman Rouhani Previously Dr. Ayman Rouhani was a Continental Counsellor for Asia (since 2005). In 2008 he was appointed to the ITC along with eight other Bahai’s – see full list below.
Due to several factors, the Universal House of Justice that we have today is one which we haven’t seen before. It is both young and blindered.
I say a ‘young’ Universal House of Justice both in the sense of age as well as in the degree of seniority in membership. The member with the most seniority is Javaheri with 10 years (having been elected in 2003). In aggregate, the current membership of the Universal House of Justice has been in that post for only 3.4 years.
Compare this incarnation to the 1983 one. Back then the membership of the Universal House of Justice was not only much older in age but they also had on average been members of the institution for 17.9 years.
And I say blindered because they are an extremely homogeneous bunch. The nine men are the second iteration ITC members. That is to say, the nine members were appointed by a Universal House of Justice which (for the most part) itself was comprised of members who were themselves appointed to the ITC. The trend began in 1987 with Peter Khan and has only accelerated since.
To those fellow Baha’is new to this realization allow me to explain. The appointment of male Counsellors to the International Teaching Center has come to act as a de facto nomination. Since Baha’is elections are devoid of campaigning or official nominations, such tacit nudges have an asymmetrical effect. As a result, the highest institution of the Baha’i Faith is now populated by a tiny subset rather than being drawn from the wider population. Whereas before they were elected from the large membership pool comprised of the worldwide National Assembly members, it is now exclusively drawn from the ITC. When these individuals are elected to the UHJ, they in turn appoint a fresh batch of nominees for the next round in 5 years time. And we go around in a closed loop once more.
To see this closed loop take shape before our eyes we need not look further than the other two newest members of the UHJ: Stephan Birkland and Stephen Hall who were elected in a by-election in 2010 when two other members retired.
It was only 5 years ago, in 2008, that a new batch of ITC members were appointed by the UHJ: Uransaikhan Baatar, Stephen Birkland, Stephen Hall, Joan Lincoln, Juan Francisco Mora, Rachel Ndegwa, Zenaida Ramirez, Ayman Rouhani, and Penelope Walker. To fellow Baha’is who have not awakened to this phenomena this is not the only shocking element. It is the speed of this process that one marvels at.
Of the nine, four were men (and therefore eligible for membership to the UHJ) and five were women (ineligible for membership to the UHJ). Of the four eligible, only Juan Francisco Mora has not been elected.
And that isn’t due to any fault of Juan’s. There has simply not been an opportunity for a third member to be elected! But he’s an obvious choice for the next opening and would perhaps had beaten out his peers had he combed some talcum powder into that youthful and thick crop of hair.
The consequence is a self-reinforcing process which is only gaining speed. Only those who have bought in to the Ruhi program and are ready to double-down have a prayer of being appointed/nominated. Anyone else who does not share this viewpoint is marginalized. This is the essence of the group-think strangling the current Baha’i Administration.
The sad part of all this is that the current structure of the Baha’i Administrative order in no way resembles that which was laid down by Abdu’l-Baha. Instead of twin, parallel but distinct institutions at the top we have a melding of the two under the aegis of the Universal House of Justice.
What are your thoughts on this? I’m eager to hear the views of others, especially if they differ from mine.
Below you will find the updated historical membership infographic for the Universal House of Justice. Click on the square button on the bottom right hand corner to see a full screen version of the infographic: