The Iranian regime is attacking on all fronts, thrilled at the downfall of the hated Mubarak, and buoyed by the paralysis of the West. The failure to support democratic revolutions in the Middle East has convinced the mullahs in Tehran that they have no effective opposition, and they are trying to run up the score as fast as they can, on both regional and domestic playing fields.
Last Tuesday, lots of would-be demonstrators turned out in the streets of many Iranian cities, only to find themselves outnumbered by security thugs, both the usual collection of Revolutionary Guards, Basiji, plaincothesmen and women, Lebanese Hezbollah (increasingly an adjunct of the Quds Force) and the new ranks of very young boys from religious schools who are paid the significant amount of $50 for beating up anyone who walks down the street. This is the Chinese method: overwhelm your opponents, arrest lots of people, prevent demonstrators from gathering in significant numbers by striking first in the streets that lead to the big squares, jam communications so that the demonstrators don’t know which streets are safe, and block automobile traffic at all crucial intersections. And if some foreign journalist dares to report the truth, just throw him out.
It worked well on Tuesday, International Women’s Day, and the regime rubbed it in by focusing their attacks and arrests on women, who hold a special terror for the misogynists who rule the Islamic Republic.
But while these tactics prevent the Iranian equivalent of Tahrir Square, they have failed to defeat the pro-democracy Green Movement, and the regime was forced to take one step backward in its assault on Green leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were first put in isolation in their homes and then, a couple of weeks ago, dragged off to interrogation in some of the regime’s secure villas on the outskirts of Tehran. It is said, by people close to Mousavi, that the interrogators pushed hard for a confession of the Greens’ foreign support, but got none (Mousavi would have to invent it, since there is no foreign support, to the shame of the so-called West). Instead they got a defiant statement: “You have two choices,” he reportedly said, “you can hang me or shoot me. You have no other option from your standpoint.”
They did neither. Indeed, while the street fights were going on, they quietly returned Mousavi and his firebrand wife, Zahra Rahnavard–in my opinion the most interesting Green leader–to their home. And late Thursday, the lights in the Karroubis’ home were turned on for the first time since they were kidnapped. For the moment, the regime has adopted the “Burmese solution”: the leaders are not going to be killed, the regime has abandoned hope of an effective show trial or even confession under torture, and the Mousavis and Karroubis will be cut off from the world in solitary confinement in their own homes. For a useful reminder of how often this method has been used in tyrannical regimes, have a look at this short review from RFE/RL.
This suggests that the Greens will have to alter their strategy, as Mousavi had argued before the latest round of demonstrations. Committed as he is to a non-violent campaign, Mousavi envisaged a wide range of actions against the regime in order to produce its implosion. He did not believe that there was going to be an Iranian replay of the storming of the Bastille or the Winter Palace, and while he favored a continuation of demonstrations, he was working to expand the Greens’ activities. He had long said that the Green Movement had to enlist workers in its ranks, and he had been quite successful, as you can see by the wave of strikes (and also here) (and here) (and here, reporting on an anti-Ahmadinejad demonstration, with chants and banners of “we workers are hungry”) to which I previously called your attention. Workers are increasingly fed up with a regime that has condemned half the urban population of the country to pauperism below the poverty line. We can expect more of these, especially if Western workers’ organizations raise money for strike funds for their Iranian brothers and sisters, as they did for Soviet bloc unions in the decisive phase of the Cold War.