The Revolt Against the Supreme Leader Begins
First things first: so far as I know, the bazaars are still on strike. And yes, I know that the Los Angeles Times said it was over a couple of days ago, but for once I think they have it wrong. As of Sunday night, Iran time, the grand bazaar in Tehran, and those in Isfahan, and above all Tabriz, were all closed. Indeed, even many stores outside the bazaar in Tabriz were shut, and I have been receiving reports for several days claiming that a merchants’strike is spreading throughout East Azerbaijan. In the last few days, the bazaar in Mashad -- a city of enormous religious importance to the regime -- has also shut down, at least in part.
It takes a lot of nerve for the bazaaris to go on strike, since they and their families have been repeatedly threatened by regime thugs. Not, mind you, in a general way, but very directly and personally; their houses are visited by security officials and their families are called to warn of dire consequences if they do not open their stores. So far, the threats have failed.
Moreover, in the city of Zahedan — where the murderous suicide attacks took place last week (the best coverage, as usual, was from Banafsheh, who was first with the pictures of the killers) -- the Revolutionary Guards control things during the day, but once night falls, anti--regime forces, many of them armed, take to the streets. In short, the people have lost their fear. The regime may very well arrest them, beat them, torture them, and kill them, but it is getting more and more difficult to control them.
Very few news stories noticed the two most significant aspects of the bombing at the Zahedan mosque. The first was the regime's panicky reaction: at first they announced, correctly, that the attack had been carried out by Balouch fighters. Then they realized that this was bad for the regime, since they had bragged for some time that the Revolutionary Guards had shut down all possibility of protest, following last year's devastating suicide bombing of a big RG meeting in the region. So they quickly changed their story, reverting to the party line that anything bad in Iran is the fault of the Satanic forces embodied in the United States and Israel.
The second key feature of the attack in Zahedan was the day on which it occurred: it was Pasdar day, the occasion of celebrating the great strength and virtue of the Revolutionary Guards. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei himself had delivered the official tribute that very morning in the capital. The suicide bombing showed that the regime is not in control of the situation, and that the people have not accepted its authority.
Not that the regime has stopped trying; in a spasm of repressive regulations that would make even the mayor of New York City jealous, the mullahs announced a new crackdown on un-Islamic dress for the women (leading one commentator to remark that it is now officially a crime to be female in Iran), stipulated permissible hairstyles for the men, forbade smoking in executive branch offices, and, in one of those executive orders that leaves you breathless, banned sexual intercourse during daylight hours. Sex in Iran is now kosher -- sorry, halal -- only during the night. Apparently, the authorities have not contemplated the political consequences of sexual frustration among a famously young population, but then this regime has already had devastating effects on the psychology of the Iranian people. According to an Iranian research institute, Aria, an amazing 58% of Tehran residents suffer from depression, and the chief of police there announced that nearly half a million are addicted to drugs, while unemployment, which is particularly severe among young people and college graduates, is now at 14%.
This is the background against which we must evaluate the future of this regime. After Zahedan, in an action unprecedented during Khamenei’s years in power, three members of parliament resigned, complaining publicly about the government's failure to maintain proper security, at the same time they let it be known that the Balouch had been treated abominably, and it was no surprise that the RG had been targeted. The regime knows that the whole issue is dynamite, and Parliamentary chief Ali Larijani refused to accept the resignations. The mullahs don't want to debate the "minority question."
While we're on the subject, notice that at least half of the population is non-Persian. Notice also that Mousavi and Karroubi, the two leading figures in the opposition Green Movement, have been working very hard to solidify ties with the ethnic and religious minorities, and Mousavi alluded to the regime's cruel repression of the Balouch in his first comments on the Zahedan attack.
At the same time the leading reformist group issued what the Los Angeles Times correctly called a "daring statement" that put the blame for the catastrophe squarely on the shoulders of the government (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/07/iran-reformist-opposition-daringly-blames-ahmadinejad-government-for-terror-attacks.html). Such things happened, they said, because of the unfair treatment of the local population.
We believe that such crises are rooted in those kind of policies which classify Iranians unequally and consider different rights for them..This leads to an increase in discrimination and intensifies a sense of inequality so that dependent terrorist agents will become able to abuse people's dissatisfaction.
Their criticism was directed primarily against the government, which is to say against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has also been under fire for the many failed social and economic policies for which he is responsible. But he’s been criticized for years; what’s new in the latest round of the regime’s Hobbesian war of every man against every man is that the supreme leader was not spared in the recent outbursts of criticism.
The revolt against the supreme leader has long been active in the Iranian streets; Khamenei's picture has undoubtedly been burned in protest tens of thousands of times by now, and the nightly rooftop chants of "Death to the Dictator" are directed against him. But the recent attacks are different, since they come from members of the elite:
--The well-known intellectual exile (in the United States) Mohsen Kadivar has written a lengthy letter, “Impeachment of the Leader”, to Hashemi Rafsanjani, in his capacity as head of Assembly of Experts;
--A lesser known religious teacher and writer, Ahmad Ghabel, accuses Khamenei of undermining the security of the Islamic Republic. Ghabel has been in and out of prison on charges of "acting against national security"; in a remarkable display of wry humor, Ghabel admits that the strongest evidence against him is his vote for Khamenei as president more than twenty years ago;
--Finally, there is the brave journalist Isa Saharkhiz, on trial for participation in anti-regime demonstrations and writing reports critical of the regime. Saharkhiz refused to testify in court, instead submitting a long statement which both documents his torture in the infamous Evin prison and lays out the case for the removal of Khamenei.
In all three cases, Khamenei is accused of failing to respect the Constitution. And that is the basic charge that the Greens have leveled against the regime overall. Those who have been saying that the Green Movement is crushed should reflect on the twin facts that characterize this fascinating moment: the opposition is gaining strength and coherence, while the regime itself is fracturing and seemingly lacks an effective strategy to quench the flow of public criticism and rebelliousness.
There could be no greater sign of the regime's mounting insecurity than the fatwa issued today -- Tuesday the 20th -- by Khamenei, asserting that he rules in the name of the Prophet, and that obedience to the supreme leader is the same as obedience to Mohammed. Dictators only do such things when they know they are not being obeyed.
Having failed to win the loyalty of the Iranian people, Khamenei and his cronies are now trying to indoctrinate the young by imposing a catechism of faith in the schools. Textbooks are being rewritten (among other things, references to pre-Islamic Persia are being removed), clerics are being placed in classrooms, and of course the dress codes, the haircut rules, and the no-sex-by-daylight regulations are enforced by the use of whips and chains. It's all more likely to reinforce the leaders as objects of ridicule than to spark a revival of Shi'ism in the public square. They've tried and failed to use radio and television to spread the faith, after all. Just ask the top guys:
A member of the Iranian regime’s Assembly of Experts confessed in a thinly veiled statement on Monday that the Iranian people despise state-run TV programs and do not watch them. According to the state-run Fars news agency, Haeri Shirazi pointed to the failure of the regime’s suppressive policy of preventing free access to information through satellite channels...
“We are saying that the current situation is not so much in our favour. Our [TV] productions do not have any viewers. They are not attractive enough. It is just like our soccer. Our soccer team is ranked 70th in the world just like our cultural, TV and film productions.”
Remember that line: "Our productions do not have any viewers." It's the perfect epitaph for the Islamic Republic.
And all of this comes as sanctions are having a real effect. Some forty Iranian companies have been shut down in the UAE, the Europeans are talking about adding some of their own sanctions, and the Revolutionary Guards are finding it harder to move money. You might think it was a good moment for the American government to step up political pressure on the regime, and, at long last, start helping the opposition.
You would be right, but our elected and appointed leaders think otherwise. They think it's a great time to sit down with the Iranian tyrants and work things out. In the past few days, the Swiss Ambassador to Iran (who was briefly arrested, apparently because she was traveling around the country without her Iranian intelligence handlers) conveyed an offer for meetings from American congressmen to their Iranian counterparts.
They got the usual spittle from the Iranians:
"Under the current conditions there is no room for negotiations," (Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi) told FNA following the meeting, elaborating on his talks with Agosti who has just returned from a visit to the US.
He reminded the United States' inimical measures against Iran, including its aid and support for the terrorists which, he said, caused the Zahedan blasts as well as its unilateral sanctions and its role in sponsoring UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Tehran, and reiterated, "It is natural that under such conditions, there is no room for negotiations and discussions."
Who were the Americans who asked for the meetings? Maybe some journalist could find out, so that we can vote against them all in a few months.