The Current Discussion: Are we witnessing a pro-regime coup in Iran? What should the world do in response? How will the election aftermath affect Iran's projection of power into the Middle East?
The scenes from Tehran are beginning to remind us of the tumultuous period leading to the fall of the Shah over three decades ago. Yet it is still too early to eulogize the Ayatollah's regime. Who better than the clergymen to understand the structure and the history of revolutions in Iran?
Street protests, marches, and strikes make up the formula that has twice brought about regime change. It happened the first time in 1953: a large-scale strike of workers in the oil industry led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, who was swept into power and who forced the young Shah Reza Pahlavi to flee the country.
Later that same year, Mosaddeq was overthrown following riots organized by the CIA and British intelligence (MI6), and the Shah was restored to the throne. Mossadeq was placed on trial for treason and sentenced to three years in prison.
In 1979, the Shah was removed from power, thus marking the end of the Pahlavi dynasty. The Iranian revolution was characterized by massive demonstrations initiated by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers.
Mossad chief Meir Dagan asserts that the alleged voting irregularities in Iran are no different than the mishaps which occur in democratic countries. If he is correct, then the latest developments further highlight the notion that the current tensions have less to do with the election results per se. At the most, allegations of voter fraud are just an excuse, or a pretext.
The power struggle behind the scenes, which is important in and of itself, between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani does not lie at the heart of the matter. Khamenei and Rafsanjani are in a tug-of-war for influence, control, and power within the regime.
Indeed, Rafsanjani is perceived by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad as the individual backing Mousavi and the reformist camp. But Rafsanjani, Khamenei, and Mousavi are all products of the Islamic Revolution. They the founding fathers of the Islamic Revolution and are proteges of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini. Their goal is not to change the Islamic regime.
Still, the supporters that have rallied around Mousavi have other goals in mind. This is a coalition of students and young people whose future holds limited opportunities for meaningful employment, women who have been marginalized from the public landscape, and a middle class that has taken up the cause of human rights. They are not willing to settle for the crumbs that have been sent their way by Khamenei, who is now proposing a partial recount of the votes, perhaps even new elections. They want freedom and democracy. Some of them wish to go further, demanding that Iran become a full-fledged democracy.
Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guard, the pillar on which the regime's power rests, all understand the dilemma with which they have to deal: if they give the order to brutally crack down on the riots, which have already spread to other cities, they are liable to ignite an even bigger conflagration.
If they do not suppress the demonstrations, they will be perceived as weaklings who blinked first. In turn, this could whet the appetites of the demonstrators, perhaps moving them to issue more demands.
Iran has reached a crucial junction. The direction in which it turns depends only on the working class. The demonstrators today are those from the middle class, those who are not deprived and who are now working towards attaining freedom and liberty. If they gain the support of the working class, the weaker sectors of the society, the poor, the texture of the campaign will take on a completely new dimension. The demand for freedom will be coupled with the demand for bread. In this case, it is difficult to assess whether the regime can withstand such a development.
Please e-mail PostGlobal if you'd like to receive an email notification when PostGlobal sends out a new question.