The Death Spiral of the Islamic Republic III
Marx would have delighted in the events of the 18th, all over Iran. Groucho, that is, for on the 18th the supreme leader and all his co-conspirators were transformed from figures of awe to objects of ridicule. As Machiavelli likes to remind us, the most dangerous thing for any leader is to earn the contempt of his followers, and the Iranian people made it luminously clear that they would no longer be intimidated. The regime had launched a vicious repression following the challenges to the "election results" of June 12th. For a hundred days they had killed, raped, tortured and threatened. In the runup to the 18th, the stern face of the leader of the Revolutionary Guards had appeared on television and his confident voice had been heard on the radio, warning that anyone who dared wear green, or carry protest signs, or chant criticism of the Islamic Republic, would be treated "very harshly." His words were like so much spittle in a storm; among the many chants in the streets that day, you could hear "rape, murder and torture will not silence us."
When a tyrannical regime dies, you can see the symptoms in the little things. Late Friday afternoon, after millions (yes, millions--this according to Le Monde, France 2, and L'Express, with the BBC saying that the demonstrations were bigger than those at the time of the Revolution) of Greens mobbed the streets and squares of more than thirty towns and cities to call for the end of the regime, there was a soccer game in Azadi Stadium in Tehran. It holds about a hundred thousand fans, and it was full of men wearing green and carrying green balloons. When state-run tv saw what was happening, the color was drained from the broadcast, and viewers saw the game in black and white. And when the fans began to chant "Death to the Dictator," "Death to Russia," and "Death to Putin, Chavez and Nasrallah, enemies of Iran," the sound was shut off. So the game turned into a silent movie.
But the censors forgot about the radio, and the microphones stayed open, so that millions of listeners could hear the sounds of the revolution. And in Azadi Stadium, as in most parts of the country, the security officers either walked away or joined the party.
You will not have heard such stories, nor read about them in our "media," which have raised denial of the day's major events to an art form of late. Rather like the Iranian regime, which used to have an enormous influence on the way citizens thought, the major broadcasters and dead-tree scribblers have also become objects of ridicule. On Sunday morning, Supreme Leader Khamenei proclaimed that the demonstrations had been an enormous success for the regime, but anyone looking at the pictures could see that he was short on sleep. So would you if you had heard the thunderous shouts of "Death to the Dictator" during the night. Khamenei's claim was greeted with ridicule.
Sunday also brought open contempt from some of the most revered leaders of the Shi'ite world. Khamene'i had declared Sunday the end of Ramadan, a day of feasts and prayers, one of the most joyous of the Muslim year. Such a proclamation is supposed to be canonical, for Khamene'i speaks in the name of all Muslims. But fifteen Grand Ayatollahs like Sistani (from Najaf, Iraq), Montazeri, Taheri and Sanei rejected Khamenei's reading of the moon, and said that the feast could not begin until Monday. No one could get away with such an open challenge to the supreme leader's theological authority unless there were a considerable consensus that his rule was illegitimate. And it's even worse for him: across the country, many mosques were closed on Sunday. The faithful were told to go home and fast, and come back the next day for prayer.
No wonder Khamenei looks tired. And in keeping with the avalanche of errors, today the Revolutionary Guards' favorite newspaper kept the whole thing going, insisting that the supreme leader was right after all. Stupid and irrelevant, a classic example of people in a hole who keep digging deeper.