December 7th was National Student Day in Iran. It was created to commemorate the deaths of student protesters back in the shah’s day, but now it’s an occasion for protests against the Islamic Republic. The consensus of the Iranologists was that nothing much would happen, both because security on the country’s many university campuses was extremely tight, and because –according to many experts — the opposition was pretty much out of gas.
It’s a tough life for Iranologists; once again they zigged when the Iranian people zagged. Have a look at this collection of videos from around the country, or this one, and you’ll see substantial resistance, quite a bit of fighting, and plenty of protest. At my last count, 56 students had been arrested, and you can expect that number to rise in coming days and weeks.
This was not a monster confrontation, but it was certainly a significant demonstration of the viability and determination of the opposition. And, as I’ve been saying for quite a while, it demonstrates the failure of the regime to impose order on this very fractious society. If you were able to talk to some of the top leaders in the security forces, you’d no doubt be surprised to hear them say that the country is like a volcano and could erupt most any time. They know that their own ranks are riddled with men who want an end to the Ahmadinejad/Khamenei tyranny, and would enthusiastically turn on the regime if circumstances made it possible.
As the Iranologists ponder future scenarios, they typically imagine that the end of the regime will come in the streets, amidst nationwide protests. But it’s quite clear that the Green Movement’s leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, have a different idea. They are trying to sustain popular pressure on the president, the supreme leader, and the parliament, hoping that the intense internal conflicts will bring about a Soviet-style implosion. Instead of chants of “death to the dictator” (which were again heard ringing from the rooftops in recent nights), they think they can provoke a loud sucking sound of the sort heard in Moscow in the last days of the Empire.
If you listen carefully, you can hear some air leaving the big balloon these days. My favorite is the vicious crackdown on enemy pigeons, identified by the regime’s crack counterintelligence forces as agents of the satanic forces arrayed against them. Two of these diabolical creatures were captured in the area of Natanz, one of the country’s nuclear sites.
One of the pigeons was caught near a rose water production plant in the city of Kashan in Isfahan province, the Etemad Melli newspaper reported. It said that some metal rings and “invisible” strings were attached to the bird, suggesting that it might have been somehow communicating what it had seen with the equipment it was carrying.
“Early this month, a black pigeon was caught bearing a blue-coated metal ring, with invisible strings,” a source told the newspaper.
The source gave no further description of the pigeons, nor what their fate might be.
I wonder if the birds will be dragged in front of an Islamic tribunal and forced to confess to espionage. Whatever awaits the pigeons, a regime that mobilizes against birds with “invisible strings” is in the grips of a significant wave of paranoia. And it’s a quite comprehensible paranoia. The leaders know they have tens of millions of enemies, awaiting Judgment Day. And they also know that their enemies are spread throughout the society, from the students to the highest levels of the clergy. Khamenei has made several trips to the holy city of Qom in recent weeks, trying to gin up support among the “Grand Ayatollahs,” but without notable success. He would like to spend less time in Tehran (who wants to hear chants calling for his death every night?) and more in the two centers of Iranian Shi’ite authority: Qom and Mashhad. He is unhappy that the Iraqi city of Najaf, and its spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sistani, are more popular than himself and the Iranian holy cities, in the region generally, and among many of the Iranian faithful.