The Iranian Circus III
Iran doesn't have elections, it has circuses, and this was proven once again on Friday, when the regime announced that Ahmadinezhad had been retained--call him "landslide Mahmoud" please--as president of the Islamic Republic. So much for the remarks of various pundits claiming that Iran was some sort of "democracy." There isn't a single educated Iranian who thinks that the official numbers represent anything more than a brazen insult to the opponents of the regime. Supreme Leader Khamenei rubbed it in when he called the outcome "divine," but the subtlety was no doubt lost on American commentators, who were mostly concerned that the ugly circus might be good for neocons, or for Israel (yes, much the same thing, I know). Maybe Roger Cohen still believes in Iranian democracy (albeit "incomplete"), but that in itself tells you how silly the idea was.
Ever since the proclamation of Ahmadinezhad's "triumph," the streets of the cities have been boiling with anti-regime demonstrations, with the predictable violent crackdown from the security forces. There is hardly a city anywhere in the country where demonstrations are not taking place, and you can gauge the seriousness of the situation by the regime's response:
- Mousavi and Karrubi, the two "reformist" candidates in Friday's "elections" are under house arrest, along with dozens of their followers;
- "Reformist" journalists and activists have been rounded up and jailed;
- Cell phones (including, after a day's delay, international cell phones) have been blocked, access to internet has been filtered, facebook is unreachable, and you can't tweet (can the silencing of Western reporters be far behind?);
- In Tehran, student dormitories are surrounded by security forces.
Stalin would be proud. But even his Soviet Union eventually succumbed to the dissidents, and while the regime has most all of the guns, the chains, the clubs, the tear gas cannisters, and the torture chambers, there are tens of millions of Iranians who hate the regime. The question is whether they are prepared to face down the Basij, the police, and the Revolutionary Guards. It is usually a matter of numbers in these cases: if a million people gather in front of the Supreme Leader's palace and demand freedom, while half that number make the same demand in front of the government buildings in Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz and Mashad, they might win.
Until quite recently, the Iranians did not believe they could do such a thing on their own. They believed they needed outside support, above all American support, in order to succeed. They thought that Bushitlercheney would provide that support, and they were bitterly disappointed. But nobody believes that Obama will help them, and they must know that they are on their own.
Any hope they might have had in the Obama White House was quickly dismissed in the administration's two statements on the matter. The first came from the president himself, anticipating a Mousavi victory (it is too soon to speculate on the source of this happy thought), and of course, in his narcissistic way, taking personal credit for it:
``We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran and obviously, after the speech that I made in Cairo, we tried to send a clear message that we think there's a possibility of change and, ultimately, the election is for the Iranians to decide but just as what has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well, is that you're seeing people looking at new possiblities, and whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.''
I've reread the Cairo Sermon, and I can't find a single word calling for freedom for the Iranian people. Au contraire, Obama's words about Iran were penitent, apologizing for the American role, back in 1953, in removing what the president called an elected government (Mossadeq, that is. Except that he was appointed by the shah, not elected at all). But then, history is not his strong suit.
Once it became clear that Ahmadinezhad was staying, the White House, while expressing skepticism about the accuracy of the vote count, nonetheless insisted that it might be good news after all:
The dominant view among Obama administration officials is that the regime will look so bad as a result of whipping up Iranian hopes for democracy and then squelching them that the regime may feel compelled to show some conciliatory response to Obama’s gestures of engagement.
I suppose that might be true if the regime were interested in winning a few points in the next Gallup poll, but these guys are currently fighting for survival. Everybody now knows that most Iranians hate the regime, and a lot of them are not quietly going home and getting ready to soldier on for the next four years of brutal repression, seeing their oil revenues sent to Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda, and to the nuclear weapons program rather than to their own increasingly miserable circumstances. They are making a stand, at least for the moment.
There are many videos on YouTube, and this description from Marie Colvin, a first-class reporter at the (London) Times gives you an idea of the earliest demonstrations in Tehran:
In the Iranian capital’s most serious unrest for 10 years, thousands of liberals who claimed the election had been rigged vented their fury in running battles with police.
They fought officers armed with batons and stun grenades, set fire to police vehicles and threw stones at government buildings.
I saw police in camouflage uniforms and black flak jackets respond by firing the grenades from motorcycles into a crowd that chanted “Down with the dictator” and denounced what it called a stolen election.
In a stand-off near the interior ministry, which oversaw the count, opposition supporters formed barricades of burning tyres, sending plumes of smoke over the city. Helmeted police chased protesters who became detached from the main group and beat them with truncheons.
The first wave of repression failed. By all accounts, as of Saturday/Sunday night the demonstrations had grown. There were demonstrations all over Tehran, from the "good neighborhoods" to the slums, as in every other major city.
If ever there were a time for an American president to speak out in behalf of freedom, this is it. And Steve Hayes called upon Obama to do it:
Obama could tap into the enthusiasm and frustration of the protesters with a few well-chosen words about democracy, the rule of law, the will of the people, consent of the governed and legitimacy. He could choose a compelling story or two from inside Iran to make his points most dramatically, perhaps an anecdote about sacrifices some Iranians made to vote or an example of post-election intimidation.
Not bloody likely. As Allah knows, anything said by Obama on behalf of freedom in Iran would sabotage his utopian vision of negotiating a Grand Bargain with the mullahs, and he's not a favorite to do that simply because seventy million people are being crushed by an evil regime that vows Death to America, and moves closer to building an arsenal of atomic bombs every day.
No, it's up to the Iranians. Can the green revolution succeed in the face of "the dictatorship of lies"? Unlikely, to be sure. But life is full of surprises. The end of the mullahcracy is not impossible.
UPDATE: Khamenei scheduled to meet with Mousavi late Sunday night. Karrubi issues statement calling for continuing protests.
Lots of arrests, perhaps a thousand or so in Tehran alone. According to Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, the infamous section 209 of Evin Prison (solitary confinement, torture cells) has been emptied to make room for new arrivals.
Foreign reporters beaten and detained. One Belgian reporter, two others (unidentified as yet).
Reports that some of the thugs doing the "crowd control" are foreigners, who speak Arabic, not Farsi. These seem to be Hezbollah people, from both Lebanon and Syria.
Rumors that Venezuelan security personnel are also participating, although this is unconfirmed.
It does seem that some Revolutionary Guards have refused to participate in the crackdown; some have reportedly gone over to the protestors. This of course is a key indicator, but it will be extremely difficult to get accurate information.
UPDATE II: Sunday night, my time. Just got this from a fine source: