There has been a lot of “expert analysis” in the past ten days saying that the Green Movement in Iran is all washed up, and that the regime is firmly in control of events there. This follows two earlier periods of “consensus,” the first claiming that there was no chance of a revolution in Iran — this was the conventional wisdom even after the explosion of anti-regime passion following the fraudulent election results announced on June 12, 2009 — and then a shorter, more recent, period when the success of the revolution was taken to be inevitable.
The first was decisively shattered by the eight months of ongoing fighting against the regime; the second is as much the reflection of a touching faith in vast impersonal historical forces as of empirical data. Iran is in a revolutionary crisis, and has been for many years, but the outcome will be determined by human decisions, many of which are unpredictable.
Meanwhile, as we’ve seen so often, there’s a lot going on that we don’t hear about. The events of February 11th — the massive repression in the streets, the bloody violence directed at Green leaders and their families — have been described as a serious setback for the opposition and a triumph for the regime. Thomas Erdbrink, the Washington Post’s man in Tehran, provides a textbook example. Yet the supreme leader did not see it that way, and he probably knew more about the events of that day than foreign correspondents — who, by the way, were contained in a small part of Tehran and were invariably in the presence of regime watchers. On the 12th, Khamenei spoke to several hundred of his aides and followers, and he chewed them out for what he saw as the great failure of the previous day. Why? Because Khamenei had called for a massive display of support for the regime, and it did not happen.
To be sure, regime leaders have been running around, proclaiming that tens of millions of Iranians demonstrated their fealty to the Islamic Republic, but the videos and the pictures from Google Earth show they were the usual lies. Khamenei’s rage was then taken out on his praetorian guard. In the past few days, two top officers have been replaced, with more likely to follow: General Ali Fazli was fired as head of the RG’s Tehran Brigade (his successor is General Hosseini Motlagh), and General Azizollah Rajabzadeh was purged as police chief of greater Tehran, after only six months on the job. At his retirement ceremony, Rajabzadeh went out of his way to blame the Guards for both the failures and the massacres of the past months. He said that the Tehran police “did not even kill a single person, and did not lose a single person and confronted the issue with the least amount of individual and financial losses.”
Which will certainly surprise the families of demonstrators and police, who lost scores of loved ones following the electoral fraud of last June.