Friday, June 19, 2009

Iran update 5.0 (Friday, June 19th)

> Apologies for the lateness of today’s update, but here’s what happened today. As always, feel free to forward or post, but please take off my name/email.
> Unlike previous days I’m combining my interpretation with the updates:
> * Opposition protest called off: yesterday I wrote that today (Friday) could very well determine the future of Iran, given that the opposition was going to hold a protest and march to Friday prayers where regime supporters were being bused in for Khamenei’s Friday sermon. Musavi, Karrubi, and the opposition decided to call these protests off for two reason: 1) the ‘turnout’ for the Friday sermons and the corresponding protests would be used to show regime support, and the opposition didn’t want to inflate these numbers; and 2) the opposition wanted to avoid being provoked into violence and wait for Khamenei’s sermon to see how to react. As I’ll highlight below, given what Khamenei said in his sermon it now seems absolutely clear that the gauntlet has been thrown down and this watershed moment will now take place tomorrow.
> * Khamenei speaks: leading up to Khamenei’s speech, there was speculation that Khamenei might compromise, sacrifice Ahmadinejad for the sake of the regime, or heed to some opposition demands to save face for the regime. From his sermon, though, he is not backing down in any way, and has firmly thrown his support behind Ahmadinejad and conceded nothing to the opposition. The speech was full of usual scapegoating of Western media and enemies of the regime, claims that the huge turnout was a victory for the regime, but there are some very significant parts of it:
> o he explicitly chided Ahmadinejad for attacking family members of Rafsanjani and Nateg Nouri, but he also fully supported Ahmadinejad. Khamenei went as far as to say that the incumbent president’s views and opinions are the closest to his own than any other candidate, and that there was no fraud in the election—without any sense of irony, Khamenei actually said how is it possible to fake 11 million votes (Ahmadinejad’s winning margin;
> o Khamenei also made several points to woo Rafsanjani back to his side. He did so, as noted above, by reproaching Ahmadinejad for attacking Rafsanjani’s family, but also tried to co-opt Rafs by talking about his importance to the regime, his revolutionary credentials, his important positions within government, etc. Ahmadinejad, as well as some other senior regime members, were present at the sermon, but Rafsanjani was not, and speculation continues that he is in Qom rallying support against Khamenei;
> o Most seriously of all, Khamenei not-so-subtly said that any violence coming from future protests is the opposition’s fault and not the regime. He called the protests illegal, said they must stop, and again said that people must move on and accept the election results.
> * Opposition response: there was no immediate response to Khamenei’s speech from the opposition, but no one is backing down from holding a protest tomorrow at 4 pm. Reportedly Musavi, Karrubi, and Khatami will all be there, and again it will be a silent protest with a combination of mourning for those killed in the protests so far and a continuation of the ‘sea of green.’ I can’t overemphasize the importance of tomorrow’s events. As scary as it may sound, so far the regime has tempered its response to the protests, and is capable of far more brutal tactics. As Khamenei’s speech suugests, there is every indication that the crackdown will occur tomorrow. People were bused in from across the country for the Friday sermon, among them basiji members and reservist, who unlike the army and even some revolutionary guards, are almost uniformly pro-regime and will not hesitate to inflict violence on what they see as anti-regime activities. The basij numbers could be around 500,000, and their reserve forces 1 million. While all of these will not be mobilized, they will be in much stronger force than any other day. How the opposition responds to this violence and whether their momentum continues will be the most clear indication so far of where the movement is going. On top of this, after Khamenei’s sermon tomorrow’s protests are a direct challenge and rebuke of the Supreme Leader. Not that the opposition has in previous days been in any way pro-regime, but as I said above, Khamenei has essentially thrown down the gauntlet and dared people to demonstrate, and tomorrow, we’ll see their response. Lastly, Musavi called on people to again yell “allah-u akbar” from their roofs and balconies, and some people are saying it’s even louder than in previous nights.
> * Whither Ahmadinejad: I believe I noted yesterday about the conspicuous three-day absence of Ahmadinejad, but on late yesterday a recorded TV statement was broadcast on national TV where Ahmadinejad adopted a more conciliatory attitude and claimed his remarks about the protestors were taken out of context. He said that his previous words were not meant to insult or disparage any Iranian, and said that every single Iranian is valuable. The government is at everyone’s service.” This is quite a turnaround from his usual uncompromising stance. While on the topic, I should also note here why Khamenei has and continues to support Ahmadinejad despite the clear advantages of sacrificing the president for the sake of the regime. As I said yesterday. Khamenei’s religious credentials have always been suspect, and his religious authority and legitimacy is in no way comparable to Khomeini’s. Compared to his predecessor he’s fairly weak, and since taking the position of Supreme Leader in 1989 has tried to consolidate his power in the face of direct and indirect challenges to his rule. For example, when he became SL Rafsanjani was president, and the latter managed to abolish the position of Prime Minister, thus strengthening his position against the Supreme Leaders. That rivalry has continued behind the scenes since then, and is becoming more apparent now. When Khatami was president there were direct challenges to his authority that were not seen during the more moderate days of Rafsanjani. Khamenei was able to deal with these much more easily than the insider Rafsanjani, but his sense of vulnerability surely increased. With Ahmadinejad he found a base of support in the Revolutionary Guards, basij, and radical members of the clergy. Ahmadinejad’s supporters have been labeled Iran’s ‘neo-cons’, as they represent a new generation of regime supporters different from traditional conservatives, and Khamenei seized upon them and has used them to consolidate his grip on power. In summary, letting Ahmadinejad fall from power at this point could mean subjecting himself to the same fate.
> * Legal update: not much to report on the legal front, but the Guardian Council may recount votes in some districts, but in light of what Khamenei said today not much is to be expected from this. I haven’t heard whether Musavi, Karrubi and Rezai’i will meet with them as planned tomorrow, but I suspect they will continue to at least entertain legal channels in addition to mass movements.
> * Western response: some commentator, and I apologize that I forget who, made the point that the European and US response to Iran has essentially switched. European states have had a more critical response to events in Iran, while the US has been more silent and diplomatic. This could be an example of ‘good cop, bad cop,” and is significant in that these European states are the ones that, unlike the US, actually have economic and diplomatic ties to Iran. While I don’t doubt the necessity of these states adopting a more hardline approach, I think Obama should make a more explicit denunciation of what’s going on in Iran. This may not mean endorsing the election results, but at least taking a harder stance on human rights violations. The other day Obama unfortunately said that for US national security purposes, there is “no difference” between an Ahmadinejad or Musavi presidency, and while this may have been taken somewhat out of context, this is clearly not the message to be sending the Iranian people.
> * Finally, I wanted to quote in full an email (translated) from someone in Iran that underscores what’s at stake tomorrow:
> “I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”

1 comment:

Nada said...

This is amazing.