One Iranian exile who watched video of the huge demonstration in Tehran last Monday reacted: “Now they know how the Shah felt”.
One can indeed find at least a few parallels with the climate before the 1979 revolution, especially if reports that large sections of the bazaar closed Tuesday in protest are true: the bazaar was a key factor in the Shah’s downfall.
Khamanei’s wavering over the legality of the election result is interpreted by many as simply a ruse to buy time. But it could also be construed as the wavering of a weak man intent on preserving his position at all cost, in much the same way the Shah twitched back and forth between a tough stance and concessions that were invariably too little too late. It has certainly done nothing to enhance the reputation of the “Supreme leader”.
And now, if the opposition has its wits about it, the likelihood must be that it will take another leaf out of the 1979 revolutionary manual and continue protesting on the significant anniversaries of the death of supporters – if my memory serves me the seventh and 40th days after death were the significant ones.
Much of the western analysis now dismisses the opposition movement. This particularly devastating critique in the New York Times suggests the real outcome of the election is the consolidation of a takeover by the Revolutionary Guards – that what we have witnessed is nothing short of a military coup. The theocracy has given way to the thugocracy.
That may in the short term be true, but I don’t think it is that simple. Perhaps if Mr Ahmadinejad had had his way earlier the universities would have been closed and Iran would not have a growing population of educated young people, but it does and the Revolutionary Guards cannot shoot them all (can they?).
Even if they try, they will destroy entirely any legitimacy the revolution might enjoy, for they will have demonstrated beyond doubt that they are worse than the worst nightmare of the Shah’s time. (In fact an impartial observer might conclude that that is already true: repression is of a much higher order under the current regime and far more people have been consigned to meet their maker by various authorities than during the Shah’s time).
Don’t forget that even if Ahmadinejad and his ilk are bent on clearing Iran of the “corrupt clergy” – which many might think is actually no bad thing – he is still a deeply religious man and so are those with the guns. Can they really live with the damning judgment that Islam is a religion that consumes its children in blood?
To write the opposition off now is extremely premature. The overthrow of the Shah didn’t happen in a weekend! For a considerable period the opposition was regarded as no more than an irritant (shurely shome mishtake!). It is that which must give the opposition hope. They have to continue showing the bravery they did last Monday and challenge the authorities to gun them down. It is of course a huge ask, but it is no less than the original revolutionaries did when they traded stones with tear gas and bullets against the Shah’s troops 30 years ago. (I note by the way reports that the regime has simply dispensed with some bodies of dead protesters rather than handing them back to their families. At least families got the bodies back in the Shah’s days, even if they did have to pay for the fatal bullet first!)
Iran looks to be at a dividing point, where one road takes it eventually back into the bosom of the West, the other down a road to bitter isolationism (albeit one that trades with the likes of India and China). This is where people, including President Obama himself, remind us that in fact Moussavi and his ilk are not much better than Ahmadinejad – they are all cut from the the same revolutionary tree and all have blood on their hands. True enough, but if Moussavi did eventually triumph I do not believe he could possibly return to the “bad old days” for he would be forced to heed the aspirations of the millions that supported him just as much as anyone else.
And while Ahmadinejad and his gunmen seem to rule the roost with impunity, do we seriously imagine the clergy are simply going to retreat to their mosques and click their worry beads? One might question where Rafsanjani got his money, but he certainly has plenty of it. We surely have not yet seen the last of the man who can claim to have made Khamenei in the first place.
It is suggested that Rafsanjani, who was a big player behind Moussavi’s candidacy, realises the mullahs cannot continue to screw Iran down politically if the tensions building within it are to be released safely. Thus I think it inevitable that a Moussavi triumph would have been the first phase in a dramatic shift in Iran’s alignment.
In my mind as I write this is the memory of Ayatollah Taleghani back in those heady days after the revolution who, before he was worked to his grave, tried to warn his fellow clergymen of the dangers they were bringing upon themselves by dirtying their hands with politics. And so it came to pass.