The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski witnessed and wrote about dozens of revolutions in the course of his life. He has, perhaps, seen more revolutions than anyone in the history of the world. He knew, while he lived, revolutions better than anyone.
In his book Shah of Shahs, about the Iranian revolution in 1979, he describes the beginning of the end for the Shah Reza Pahlavi.
Now the most important moment, the moment that will determine the fate of the country, the Shah, and the revolution, is the moment when one policeman walks from his post toward one man on the edge of the crowd, raises his voice, and orders the man to go home. The policeman and the man on the edge of the crowd are ordinary, anonymous people, but their meeting has historic significance.
They are both adults, they have both lived through certain events, they have both their individual experiences.
The policeman’s experience: If I shout at someone and raise my truncheon, he will first go numb with terror and then take to his heels. The experience of the man at the edge of the crowd: At the sight of an approaching policeman I am seized by fear and start running. On the basis of these experiences we can elaborate a scenario: The policeman shouts, the man runs, others take flight, the square empties.
But this time everything turns out differently. The policeman shouts, but the man doesn’t run. He just stands there, looking at the policeman. It’s a cautious look, still tinged with fear, but at the same time tough and insolent. So that’s the way it is! The man on the edge of the crowd is looking insolently at uniformed authority. He doesn’t budge. He glances around and sees and sees the same look on other faces. Like his, their faces are watchful, still a bit fearful, but already firm and unrelenting. Nobody runs though the policeman has gone on shouting; at last he stops. There is a moment of silence.
We don’t know whether the policeman and the man on the edge of the crowd already realize what has happened. The man has stopped being afraid — and this is precisely the beginning of the revolution. Here it starts. Until now, whenever these two men approached each other, a third figure instantly intervened between them. That third figure was fear. Fear was the policeman’s ally and the man in the crowd’s foe. Fear interposed its rules and decided everything.
Now the two men find themselves alone, facing each other, and fear has disappeared into thin air. Until now their relationship was charged with emotion, a mixture of aggression, scorn, rage, terror. But now that fear has retreated, this perverse, hateful union has suddnely broken up; something has been extinguished. The two men have now grown mutually indifferent, useless to each other; they can now go their own ways.
Accordingly, the policeman turns around and begins to walk heavily back toward his post, while the man on the edge of the crowd stands there looking at his vanishing enemy.
Now take a look at this video uploaded from the city of Isfahan. A ferocious-looking unit of armed riot police officers is shown running away in terror from civilian demonstrators.
“Reza Shoja reports”:http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=25420 for The Media Line.
Car horn protests could be heard throughout the city, as could chants of “Bye bye dictator”, “Ahmadi Nejad is the biggest liar in Iran,” and “The president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him”.
Listen to the chants on Tehran’s rooftops in the middle of the night.
“Roger Cohen”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/15/opinion/15iht-edcohen.html in the New York Times:
I’ve argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it, although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama’s outreach must now await a decent interval.
I’ve also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness.
Defrauded opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi belongs to the establishment. The regime is coming apart and turning on itself. “Even clerics”:http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/06/an-ayatollah-dissents.html are turning against the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.
Grand Ayatollah Sanei in Iran has declared Ahmadinejad’s presidency illegitimate and cooperating with his government against Islam. There are strong rumors that his house and office are surrounded by the police and his website is filtered. He had previously issued a fatwa, against rigging of the elections in any form or shape, calling it a mortal sin.
Kevin Sullivan at “RealClearWorld”:http://www.realclearworld.com/blog/2009/06/iran_no_longer_a_theocracy.html:
What’s emerging here could be interesting. Iran hawks prefer to label the Iranian police state as simply “The Mullahs,” but the legitimate clerics in this dispute are the ones standing with Mir-Hossein Mousavi against ONE Mullah and his secular police apparatus. If the election has been rigged in such a fashion, then what you are in fact seeing is the dropping of religious pretense in the “Islamic” Republic of Iran. This is a secular police state in action.
Iranian poet Sheema Kalbasi “agrees with Sullivan’s analysis”:http://zaneirani.blogspot.com/2009/06/from-theocracy-to-junta-yesterday-even.html:
Today is the day that the Islamic Republic officially transformed from a theocracy supported by Pasdaran to a Junta supported by a handful of clerics.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “sounding like Baghdad Bob”:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/13/iran-demonstrations-viole_n_215189.html again today.
The situation in the country is in a very good condition. Iran is the most stable country in the world, and there’s the rule of law in this country, and all the people are equal before the law.
According to “a Twitter post from inside Iran”:http://twitter.com/IranRiggedElect/status/2166325738, the army announced it will not use force against Iranians, only foreigners. The army is made up of conscripts. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij Militia, though, are separate armed forces loyal to the regime.
I don’t like relying on Twitter feeds. Rumors are bound to get posted this way. But things are moving so fast. You can follow Twitter feeds yourself “here”:http://iran.twazzup.com/ “here”:http://twitter.com/IranRiggedElect and “here”:http://iranfeeds.tumblr.com/. (“Thanks to David Hazony”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/hazony/69592 at Commentary for the pointer.)
David also points to “a YouTube channel”:http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=ahriman46&view=videos where dozens of videos have been uploaded.
A reader comments “at niacINsight”:http://niacblog.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/mousavi-supporter-to-us-help-us/:
“I am in Tehran. Its 3:40 in the morning. I’ve connected with you [by hacking past the government filter]. It’s a big mess here. People are yelling from their houses — ‘death to the dictator.’ They are setting up a military government. No one dares to go out. No one has seen Mousavi today. Rumor has it that they have arrested him. I don’t have an email but I will contact you again.
“This isn’t encouraging”:http://niacblog.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/election-unrest-day-two/:
According to our private phone conversations with people in Tehran, hundreds of parents have gathered by a police station in Yousef Abad, now known as Seyyed Jamal Aldin Asad Abadi, with their hands raised to the sky saying “Obama, please help us, they are killing our young children.”
The United States will not help. Senator Joe Lieberman, though, “at least thinks we should say something”:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/13/iran-demonstrations-viole_n_215189.html.
[T]hrough intimidation, violence, manipulation, and outright fraud, the Iranian regime has once again made a mockery of democracy, and confirmed its repressive and dictatorial character.
We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.
For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.
Policemen aren’t massacring civilians in the streets. At least not yet. The police are restrained. Who can say if their hearts even warm to policing right now? Take a look at the video below. Riot police officers ride into a crowd on motorcycles. The demonstrators set one of the bikes on fire, then help a wounded policeman to safety.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see some defections in the ranks of the police. But what about Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Basij Militia? It will take something extraordinary to get them to back down.
There are widespread reports of police and security forces, around Tehran and other big cities where there have been demonstrations, who are not Iranian and either speak Persian with a very pronounced Arab accent or speak no Persian at all.
I’ve read reports for a couple of years now that the regime hires Arabs as mercenaries from outside the country because it can’t even pay enough Iranians willing to suppress their countrymen.
Reports are circulating that Venezuela has sent anti-riot troops to Tehran to help Ahmadinejad, joining Hezbollah members from Palestine and Lebanon who are employed by the Islamic government as anti-riot police — the reason such forces are being brought in is that some of the Iranian police are unwilling to hit people as ordered and some are even joining the protesters.
Maybe. It’s hard to separate fact from rumor right now.
The regime may well yet survive, at least for a while. I wouldn’t bet against it just yet.
Barry Rubin “nails the bottom line”:http://www.gloria-center.org/blog/2009/06/stealing-an-election.html if it does:
The only logical explanation for why the regime did this is that Ahmadinejad’s opponents got so many votes that it frightened the regime. It also shows that the regime is wedded to Ahmadinejad and his approach.
Is a regime that just committed itself irrevocably to the most extreme faction, most radical ideology, and most repressive control over the country going to compromise with the West on nuclear weapons or anything else?
Of course not, like Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s, Syria’s rulers in the 1970s, and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the 1980s (and many examples elsewhere in the world) it is going to use foreign adventurism and mobilizing hatred against the West and Israel to consolidate its hold on the country.
And finally, see my own piece just published in Commentary Magazine about the Islamic Republic regime in Iran: “An Enemy of the World”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/69651.
Over the next couple of days I’ll be posting “regular updates and analysis at the Commentary Magazine blog”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/category/contentions/contentions?author_name=totten.
Stay tuned for another long dispatch from Iraq after the weekend. And if anyone feels like hitting my tip jar today, I promise not to get mad.