Let’s review the bidding, shall we? The “election circus” took place a week ago Friday, and demonstrations began that night, June 12th. Ten days have passed. What have we learned?
–First, that a significant number of Iranians hate the regime and are prepared to die to bring it down;
–Second, that the fanatical religious zealots that hold the guns, chains, knives, tear gas cannisters, high-powered water hoses, sniper rifles and (perhaps) chemical weapons (said by some to have been deployed from helicopters), are prepared to order the killing of any number of Iranians in order to maintain their own power and preserve the Islamic Republic;
–Third, that women are playing a key role in the insurrection (a central element of any good analysis of events in Iran, which is invariably overlooked, even by some outstanding scholars). This was already clear in the “election circus,” in which Mrs. Mousavi played a leading role, thereby threatening the Islamic Republic at its sexist and misogynistic core). The regime knows this, as was confirmed by the verbal attacks on Mrs. Mousavi by Ahmadinezhad during the televised presidential debate with her husband, and by the shooting of Neda by a sniper who had a choice of targets. He picked a girl wearing a very loose scarf.
By the way, the celebrated writer Paolo Coelho reports on his blog that the doctor who tried so desperately to save Neda is a friend of Coelho’s. That doctor’s revolutionary credentials are in good order; he served on the battlefield during the Iran-Iraq War. An interesting footnote to a terrible story.
Meanwhile, the Iranian Women’s Movement has issued a very strong statement:
Alongside civil and political rights activists, labor activists, students, journalists, and ethnic rights activists, a large spectrum of women’s rights activists from several campaigns and tendencies also participated in the election in order to say “no” to a government with a discriminatory orientation and to demand an end to gender discrimination…
We, the undersigned activists of the women’s rights movement, condemn the violence and humiliation that has continued to be perpetrated against Iranian women and men in recent years and which is aimed at repressing them. We emphasize our continued commitment to achieving the demands of the women’s rights movement, which has had a profound role in educating the public and in civil struggles in recent years, and we express our solidarity with those who protest the results of this election. We demand that those arrested in recent days be released without condition and we call for securing and protecting civil and political freedoms.
–Fourth, that there has been an unexpected and paradocial reversal of roles. In recent days, Khamenei delivered an almost totally political sermon at Friday prayers, and Mousavi addressed his followers in fundamentally religious language, dressed in the white of martyrdom, and proclaiming his willingness to die to preserve the values of the Islamic revolution;
–Fifth, that there are cracks in the regime’s edifice, ranging from declarations of small groups of Revolutionary Guards calling on their brothers to defect to “the people,” to a phenomenon that is just beginning to be discussed here and there, mostly on the Net but originally in an Arab newspaper. Steve Schippert posted on it and did a first-class analysis. Steve starts with a report from al Arabiya that says senior ayatollahs have been meeting secretly in Qom to discuss significant changes in the structure of the Iranian state. In addition to the Iranian clerics, there was a foreigner: Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.
If this is true, it is, as Steve says, huge. Because it means that senior religious leaders in Iran are talking to the representative of an Iraqi Imam who believes, as most Shi’ites did before Khomeini’s heresy, that the proper role of religious leaders is to guide their people from the mosque, not from the political capital. In other words, they are talking about the most serious form of regime change.
Watch that story.
There are other rumors, reported on the Guardian‘s indispensable daily blog, that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has been involved in these talks, and that he now has a signed document that will be presented to Supreme Leader Khamenei in the near future. These stories go hand in hand with reliable accounts that Khamenei has left Tehran for a mountain retreat, and has given orders to his people to go all-out in the coming days, not only against the dissidents in Iran, but also against any and all American, British, French and German targets.
This sort of frenzied reaction bespeaks a certain degree of panic, and a willingness to bring down the temple if he can kill the Philistines at the same time. If you follow Twitter, you can see that many Iranians on the streets see this. They are contending with the sadistic foot soldiers of Khamenei’s war of destruction against his own people.
The Mousavi movement has changed its tactics. Instead of large-scale confrontation, they are using hit-and-run attacks on the Basij in the streets and alleyways of the major cities.
Here’s a scene described in a letter from Tehran to an Israeli web site:
Two Basiji motorcycles are burning. People have learnt how to do it fast. They lay the motorcycle on its side, spilling the gasoline and lighting it on fire. We climb up a pedestrian bridge and watch. People shout from the bridge, “Down with Khameni” and “your aura is gone for good’. A Basiji is caught: He soon disappears under the crowd beating him. As if in a Roman coliseum those on the bridge shout, “Beat him up!” I shout with them before coming to my senses. What is with me? He staggers away as a group of ten people kick and punch him.
They know the terrain better than the security forces, and generally have the support of the people. This is taking a toll on the morale of the Basij and whoever else is out there (I have heard the same reports as you have, about Arab-speaking thugs in Tehran and elsewhere, but I can’t get reliable confirmation that these are from Hezbollah or Hamas or Islamic Jihad. It’s certainly plausible, but as yet unproven). Whether it will seriously weaken the forces of repression remains to be seen. As of Monday night, there were reports of two long convoys of Revolutionary Guards headed for Tehran. As if there were not enough slaughter already.
The other main move by the dissidents is the call for a general strike on Tuesday. This reportedly includes workers in the oil fields and in the transportation sector, and the bazaaris who have thus far tried to remain neutral. Successful, it would move the confrontation to a new level, and demonstrate just how unpopular the regime has become.
Those who think they can foresee the outcome of this revolutionary war have greater confidence in their prophetic powers than I. I don’t think Mousavi or Khamenei has any such confidence; they are fighting it out, as they must. Victory or defeat can come about slowly or rapidly, the result of cunning, courage or accident, and most likely a combination of all three. One thing seems certain: the Iranian people were right when they realized that nobody in the outside world would help them. They’re on their own.
Which is indeed a great pity, and a terrible stain on our national virtue.
UPDATE: Welcome Instapunditeers, spend some time with the comments, some of which are really thoughtful.
UPDATE II: Anne Applebaum, the terrific historian and columnist for the WaPo, has noticed the importance of “the women.” You’d expect her to understand this sort of phenomenon better than others, given her deep involvement with the Polish underground resistance to Communism (and she may benefit, in this as in other regards, from her marriage to the Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorsky). One quibble: I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that Mousavi “uses” his wife, heh.
UPDATE III: The newly-converted Roger Cohen (how long before Andrew Sullivan brands him as a disgusting ‘neocon’? After all, he looks Jewish) also gets it:
UPDATE IV: Should have linked this yesterday, story of a senior IRGC commander arrested for refusing to attack peaceful demonstrators.
UPDATE V: From Twitter, says British Govt has blocked an account of Khamenei’s of some 1.6 billion dollars. Hope it’s true.
UPDATE VI: Mousavi calls for demonstration Wednesday afternoon.
UPDATE VII (and last): London Times says that the account blocked in London consists of “Iranian assets,” so I don’t think it’s Khamenei’s personal fortune. He certainly has one, but it’s most likely someplace like China…