I believe the answer is “yes”. It has to do with the breaking of the aura of divine authority coming from the ruling mullahs and casting doubt, among the people, on the belief that the theocracy is divinely sanctioned.
Fareed Zakaria offers an excellent summary of the point:
CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall?
Zakaria: No, I don’t mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may — I certainly hope it will — but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime.
The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound.
CNN: How so?
Zakaria: When the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran’s supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.
CNN: There have been protests in Iran before. What makes this different?
Zakaria: In the past the protests were always the street against the state, and the clerics all sided with the state. When the reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, was in power, he entertained the possibility of siding with the street, but eventually stuck with the establishment. The street and state are at odds again but this time the clerics are divided. Khatami has openly sided with the challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, as has the reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. So has Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and a man with strong family connections to the highest levels of the religious hierarchy. Behind the scenes, the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of the Assembly of Experts, another important constitutional body, is waging a campaign against Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader himself. If senior clerics dispute Khamenei’s divine assessment and argue that the Guardian Council is wrong, it is a death blow to the basic premise behind the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is as if a senior Soviet leader had said in 1980 that Karl Marx was not the right guide to economic policy.
Once the genie is out of the bottle in this sort of a situation it is pretty much impossible to get it back in. The split among the mullahs, who have, in the past, always sided with the regime, is a critical point. Someone comes out of this being declared “wrong” (whether they actually are or not). And the split will remain even of those declared “wrong” are replaced. As Zakaria points out, the very fact that some mullahs have acknowledged that there may be some credibility to the charges of vote fraud and are willing to investigate it is a huge blow to the legitimacy of “divine authority” (which originally supposed “approved” this election), the power of the mullahs and Ahmadinejhad.
I agree with Zakaria that it is indeed a mortal blow to the basic premise behind Iran’s government. How long it will take for that blow to finally kill the regime is, as of yet undetermined. But I think the assumption that it is merely a matter of time is basically correct.
Certainly the regime may muster the force necessary to put the protests down at this moment. But the powder keg will remain, just waiting for the proper detonator event to blow it sky high. I don’t think these protests are going to stop any time soon. And at some point, if the protesters keep the pressure on, the tide is going to begin to turn. The ability of the regime to muster the will and the thugs to do this over and over again is, at some point, going to fail.
It always does.
My question is, will whatever government eventually takes the helm there see the US as a supportive ally in their quest for freedom or a country that sat on the sideline, mouthing platitudes and trying to keep their options open with the oppressive regime now gone (on this particular question, Fareed Zakaria and I seem to disagree)?
That seems to be the outcome based on the limited information about today’s events in Iran that has trickled out to the West.
Reports seem to indicate that police and pro-government militias deployed early and in great numbers to block access to the public squares where planned demonstrations were to be held. Limiting access and turning back would-be protesters seems to have taken the impetus away from the protesting groups. Additionally, given the warning issued to opposition leaders contending they’d be held personally responsible for any bloodshed as a result of protests, those that attempted to gather we’re seemingly leaderless (Mousavi officially canceled protest rallies for today).
As an added measure, the government took down cell phone service in the areas in which the protests were planned.
It appears, for the most part, that regime chose to avoid the spectacle of a bloody shootout with protesters opting to drown the protests through the use of water cannon and tear gas instead. The tactic of intercepting protesters, piece-meal, as they approached Tehran’s “Revolution Square” and other announced protest sites and driving them away in small groups seems to have successfully dispersed them and prevented them from massing, at least for today.
The only mention of numbers I could find was in a Fox News report which said police battled a crowd of 3,000 in Revolution Square. Far below what was hoped for by the opposition I’m sure. Also included in that Fox News article was a report that 50 to 60 protesters had been badly beaten by police and pro-government militia (the “Basij”- if you’re unfamiliar with them, read this – more here.) and taken to a local hospital.
CNN reports that the government is saying 7 have died in the protests, Amnesty International puts the number at 15 while another source is saying 32.
Indications are the government isn’t going to act with restraint forever (although they clearly understand the world is watching):
“We acted with leniency but I think from today on, we should resume law and confront more seriously,” General Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam said on state television. “The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable. I want them to take the police cautions seriously because we will definitely show a serious confrontation against those who violate rules.”
It seems obvious the regime is very wary about a brutal repression of the protests, but seem to be signaling their patience isn’t infinite.
That leaves the ball in the protesters court. Do they continue to try to rally protests and ignore the government ban? Further protests will either call the regime’s bluff or force them to turn to brutality. The hope then has to be that such an act would inspire even more massive protests, leading to, at a minimum, a change of leadership.
We’ll have to see what Sunday brings and whether the protesters can figure out a way to get around the tactics the government has deployed.
The lines are drawn. “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it pretty clear where he stands on this “democratic” election:
“Nothing can be changed. The presidential campaign is finished,” he declared.
Meanwhile, here, the mealy-mouthed and fearful “support” from the President remains an embarrassment.
UPDATE: Speaking of the president – his latest:
The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.
Martin Luther King once said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.
For once, Joe Biden was right – he prophesied that within 6 months of taking office Barack Obama would be tested on the world stage.
Well, we’re a bit early, but thus for his performance has been underwhelming as it pertains to Iran. Even Biden and Hillary Clinton want to see a stronger response.
Instead we got silence, then a mealy-mouthed response and recently a bit stronger but still using language that vaguely supports the Iranian regime.
Today the House and Senate passed resolutions concerning Iran.
The Senate version “”condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones.”
It seems the House version now sounds like the Senate version, because apparently the White House was not pleased with the original version of the House resolution (it was too strongly worded for their taste), and helped the House “tone down” the resolution. Robert Gibbs then said the resolutions were consistent with the administration.
“We made it clear that we didn’t want to make the U.S. a foil in a debate that has nothing to do with us,” a senior administration told me this morning. “This is a debate among Iranians.”
The dangerous naivete? The belief that a totalitarian regime that has made the US their “foil” for 30 years wouldn’t do it at the drop of a hat when there was trouble?
And guess what? They have.
So the US has silenced itself based on the false presumption that Iran would only blame them for meddling if we said something.
Naive. Dangerous. And a sure way to loose any moral leverage in any future negotiations should the regime survive tomorrow.
We may be getting ready to see a repressive regime underestimating the power of the people or we may be on the cusp of another Tiananmen Square.
Ayatollah Khamenei didn’t budge an inch in his speech today:
Addressing Friday prayers at Tehran University, the bearded septuagenarian offered no concessions to the millions of irate Iranians who have taken to the streets this week. Instead he issued an unmistakable warning to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated candidates.
“Those politicans who have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner,” he said. “This extremism will reach a level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos.”
“The Supreme Leader has drawn a line in the sand, and he has the muscle to back it up,” one Iranian analyst said. “His speech was a polite way of saying ‘Hey – there’s a coup and we’re in charge.’ It was an absolute declaration of power.”
Indeed it was. And Fox just had a correspondent on now in Tehran who has been seeing armed militias setting up at all the key intersections in the city.
Ayatollah Khamenei demanded the demonstrations stop. “I want to tell everyone these things must finish. These street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders but we will not bow in front of them,” he said. “I call on all to put an end to this method…If they don’t they will be held responsible for the consequences and chaos.”
“Consequences and chaos” seems a pretty clear indication that Khamenei plans on taking action of some type should the planned protests materialize tomorrow.
And the opposition?
But protestors said they would attend today’s rally come what may. “If the crowd is large enough there’s nothing they can do,” Bahrooz, an engineer, said. “If they start killing people that would bring about the fall of the regime.”
“All my friends are coming and they’re bringing their families,” Taraneh, an office worker, said. ”How many people can they arrest or kill?”
Brave words. Courageous intent. I wish them well and pray for their success.
But the bottom line is the guy who presently enjoys the monopoly on the use of force in that country has, in a somewhat nuanced way, announced he’s willing to use it.
But then the protester has a point as well. I believe we’re going to see a violent crackdown. The question then is do those who will have to inflict the violence upon the protesters have the will to see it through to completion – completion being killing and/or arresting enough protesters necessary to completely gut the protest movement.
I’m not sure, but I’m afraid we’re going to find out.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the all powerful Guardian Council, gave his much anticipated speech in Iran today.
He effectively closed any chance for a new vote by calling the June 12 election a “definitive victory.”
The speech created a stark choice for opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters: drop their demands for a new vote or take to the streets again in blatant defiance of the man endowed with virtually limitless powers under Iran’s constitution.
This also leaves Mousavi with a very stark choice – back off and essentially support the regime, or put himself in a position to become an enemy of the regime. But what seems fairly clear is Khamenei isn’t going to sanction a new vote nor is he going to accept a different outcome. As proof of that, Khamenei essentially waves away the charge of voting fraud:
Khamenei said the 11 million votes that separated Ahmadinejad from his top opponent, Mousavi, was proof that fraud did not occur.
“If the difference was 100,000 or 200,000 or 1 million, one may say fraud could happen. But how can one rig 11 million votes?”
Of course we all know the arguments against this probability – i.e. Iran uses all paper ballots, polls were open until midnight and within hours the final results were announced (with skeptics pointing out it was physically impossible to count those ballots that quickly).
As was expected, Khamenei echoed the Ahmadinejhad charge of foreign (external) interference:
Khamenei blamed foreign media and Western countries of trying to create a political rift and stir up chaos in Iran.
“Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory,” he said, according to an official translation on state TV’s English-language channel. “It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it.”
Khameni’s speech sets up the possibility of a real confrontation between the regime and protesters:
Amnesty International said it was “extremely disturbed” by the speech, saying it indicated the “authorities’ readiness to launch violent crackdowns if people continue to protest”.
Amnesty says latest reports suggest that around 15 protesters have been killed and hundreds more injured or arrested by security forces.
A protest is scheduled in Tehran for tomorrow:
Demonstrators calling for a new election earlier vowed to stage fresh protests on Saturday.
But the governor of Tehran province, Morteza Tamadon, has said no permission has been given for such a rally and he hoped it would not be held.
The question, of course, is how will the regime react. Allahpundit at Hot Air has posted some interesting information about a rumored purge supposedly happening within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. If true they indicate that the regime is planning a violent and lethal crackdown of the protesters.
Some fascinating stuff here:
The state owned Data communication Company of Iran (or DCI) acts as the gateway for all Internet traffic entering or leaving the country. Historically, Iranian Internet access has enjoyed some level of freedom despite government filtering and monitoring of web sites.
In normal times, DCI carries roughly 5 Gbps of traffic (with a reported capacity of 12 Gbps) through 6 upstream regional and global Internet providers. For the region, this represents an average level of Internet infrastructure (for purposes of perspective, a mid size ISP in Michigan carries roughly the same level of traffic).
Then the Iranian Internet stopped.
One the day after the elections on June 13th at 1:30pm GMT (9:30am EDT and 6:00pm Tehran / IRDT), Iran dropped off the Internet. All six regional and global providers connecting Iran to the rest of the world saw a near complete loss of traffic.
Graphically, here’s what happened –
Here’s a detailed look at the abrupt stop noted above –
There’s no question, obviously, that internet traffic was almost totally blocked. And you don’t have to be a North Korean rocket scientist to know why.
So why has limited bandwidth been restored since?
I can only speculate. But DCI’s Internet changes suggest piecemeal migration of traffic flows. Typically off the shelf / inexpensive Internet proxy and filtering appliances can support 1 Gbps or lower. If DCI needed to support higher throughput (say, all Iranian Internet traffic), then redirecting subsets of traffic as the filtering infrastructure comes online would make sense.
Unlike Burma, Iran has significant commercial and technological relationships with the rest of the world. In other words, the government cannot turn off the Internet without impacting business and perhaps generating further social unrest. In all, this represents a delicate balance for the Iranian government and a test case for the Internet to impact democratic change.
Events are still unfolding in Iran, but some reports are saying the Internet has already won.
It would seem so, at least in this case, but I’m not so sure that a country which really didn’t care about maintaining the mirage of a “free” country, as does Iran, couldn’t and wouldn’t keep it shut down for a while longer than did Iran. China for instance.
What it does prove is how incredibly powerful and important the internet has become throughout the world, and how, as communications technology expands and networking options become more available (Twitter carried the day after Inet cutoff to the point that it can be asserted that there was no longer any positive reason to keep the Inet shut down), the ability of totalitarian regimes to control communications is degraded to the point of impotence. Someone is going to get the word out by some means, like it or not. And for the most part, Iran likes it not. But the ability of the communications network to bypass governmental blocks by other means may have been instrumental in making the mullahs finally take the sham election seriously and forcing them to finally address the alleged voting irregularities.
While I’ve been monitoring the upheaval in Iran, I’ve also been fascinated by the debate (and commentary) over what President Obama should or shouldn’t say about what is going on there.
Politico makes the point that the administration doesn’t want to become is part of the story. Consequently the State Department has been studying the situation, the White House was “monitoring” it and Obama had been silent. Finally, when the silence had become awkward, and other world leaders had spoken out, Obama finally commented:
“I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television,” Obama said Monday, more than two days after protests began to break out Saturday in Tehran. “I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent — all of those are universal values and need to be respected, and whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they are rightfully troubled.”
Not exactly the strongest statement in the world. Certainly better than silence, but not much.
You know, here’s a chance to show a little leadership, call on the ruling mullahs to do a careful investigation, invite in election monitors from around the world and have a run off so the world can see “the democratic process” actually works in Iran. Not that any of that would happen, but putting it out there as what should happen calls Iran’s hand, and puts pressure on the regime to respond.
Instead we get a statement that is more philosophical than practical, more general than specific. Something that can easily be waved away by Iran. Obama went on to say:
“I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views,” he said.
Again, little of substance, carefully avoiding any condemnation or judgment concerning the events of the election. More talk about a process instead of the claimed irregularities.
The closest he got to actually criticizing the regime came when he talked about the desire to talk with Iran:
Obama reasserted a promise for “hard-headed diplomacy” with any Iranian regime and stressed that he wasn’t trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics, but he also expressed sympathy with the supporters of the opposition, describing “a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy, who now feel betrayed.”
Again, very nuanced, and, at least in my opinion, very weak. Certainly I appreciate the concerns about being perceived as “trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics”, but condemning violence, election irregularities and arrests don’t really do that, do they? And while he hits around those things, he never does, in fact, condemn them. He’s “troubled” by the violence, he’s “sympathetic” with the “opposition”, and he hopes that those with dissenting views won’t be “stifled”.
Meanwhile other world leaders have spoken out more forcefully and specificially:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for an investigation of the election results, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said flatly that there were “signs of irregularities” in the results.
“Expressions of solidarity with those who are defending human rights, with students and others, are important,” former Czech President Vaclav Havel said Monday.
“We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.”
Really? The US has been the “issue inside Iran” for 30+ years. It has been the “Great Satan” since the revolution. It can’t escape being the issue even when it remains silent.
Leaders who claim to represent democracy step up when a crisis dictates a strong response. Apparently Rahm Emanuel’s “never let a good crisis go to waste” only applies domestically in the Obama administration. With the hope of engaging who ever comes out on top in Iran, Obama is content to only give tepid support to those actually engaged in trying to establish democracy in Iran.
That’s not leadership. But it isn’t unexpected either.
The Iranian government has started making moves to quell the protests that have arisen in the wake of the contested Iranian presidential election.
Move one was for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to meet with Mir Hussein Moussavi and agree to investigate his allegations of election irregularities. This will again provide the veneer of legitimacy when the “investigation” returns its verdict of minor irregularities but none serious enough to invalidate the election within 10 days.
In the meantime, Khamenei apparently got Moussavi to help stop the protests:
The protesters gathered in Tehran despite a government ban on further demonstrations, and at one point Mr. Moussavi apparently called off the rally. As originally planned, the rally was to begin at Tehran University and reach Azadi Square several miles away.
But it apparently never got under way.
The other reason has to do with what we talked about on the podcast last night. Most of the protests are coming from university student groups. Those groups have been thoroughly infiltrated by police informers. Last night, police moved on the information gathered:
Opposition Web sites reported that security forces raided a dormitory at Tehran University and 15 people were injured. Between 150 and 200 students were arrested overnight, by these accounts, but there was no immediate confirmation of the incident from the authorities. There were also reports of official action against students in the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.
In addition, leaders of the opposition were rounded up:
The opposition members arrested late Saturday and Sunday were from all the major factions opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami, opposition Web sites reported. Some were released after several hours.
Meanwhile Ahmadinejhad wrote off the opposition protests as “unimportant” and likened them to disappointed soccer fans. He also invoked the external threat:
He suggested the accusations of fraud were the work of foreign agitators and journalists.
Classic police-state tactics, with a twist. For whatever reason the Iranian mullocracy finds it desirable to have at least the veneer of democratic legitimacy associated with their authoritarian rule. So they will go through this charade of an investigation in an attempt to maintain it. But if anyone thinks that the outcome will be any different than that announced previously by the Interior Ministry, there’s a well-known bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in buying.
Seriously, if George Bush hadn’t existed, the left would have had to invent him in order to have someone to blame the world’s ills on. CBS has republished a piece by Laura Secor that ran in the New Republic and calls Ahmadenijhad Iran’s “George Bush”. (This on the heels of the Bonnie Erbe piece calling for right-wingers to be rounded up before they can hurt anyone.)
Secor’s comparisons are strained at best, and are a rather simple attempt to fit a very round peg in an extremely square hole (no mention of the mullah’s control, which, of course, completely kills the comparison). Apparently Secor pins her premise on this line:
Ahmadinejad has made a mess of the economy, clamped down on political dissent and social freedoms, militarized the state, and earned the enmity of much of the world.
And in Secor’s world, that essentially makes Ahmadinejhad and Bush twins.
Of course, not to be outdone, “conservative” Andrew Sullivan manages to find even more parallels to the Bush years. If you think Secor’s attempt is strained, you’ll howl when you read Sullivan’s:
Ahmadinejad’s bag of tricks is eerily like that of Karl Rove – the constant use of fear, the exploitation of religion, the demonization of liberals, the deployment of Potemkin symbolism like Sarah Palin.
As an interesting aside, an article mostly ignored by the left has a fairly interesting take on the Bush era in the middle east. And by none other than Thomas Friedman. Even though he can’t bring himself to describe what has happened in complimentary terms, he finds he must give some credit where credit is due:
There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
In Benen’s piece today, he ends up calling Ari Fleisher a “shameless hack” (as if Benen has any room to call anyone else a “hack”) for essentially saying the very same thing Friedman said. Apparently, Benen and the left are content to believe in the fantasy that it was more likely the “Cairo speech” that determined the results in Lebanon and spurred the protest vote in Iran – because we all know that movements such as those are easily developed within a week of someone like Obama speaking.
Steve Benen is “shocked, shocked I tell you”, that some on the right are trying to hang the Iranian election shambles on Obama. He entitles his post:
“WHEN IN DOUBT, BLAME OBAMA…”
Of course, for 8 years, Benen and company made a cottage industry of substituting the name “Bush” for “Obama” while doing the very same thing. Apparently that’s gone the way of an Alzheimer patient’s memory of breakfast and they’ve awakened in a new world which began on January 20th of this year.
It would be funny if it wasn’t so insufferably hypocritical.