Iran’s regime: Heading into isolation by force

2009/12/31

Published in “Tageszeitung” on December 31 2009
Source (German): http://www.taz.de/1/politik/nahost/artikel/1/mit-gewalt-in-die-isolation/

Protests against the regime in Tehran come to a head. Photo: AP

With the bloody unrest last weekend, altercations in Iran have reached a new peak. Is the government still in control?

By BAHMAN NIRUMAND

BERLIN taz | For reconciliation with the opposition it was too late anyway, and now the Iranian regime apparently has decided to rule out every compromise with the opposition and with might and main squelch the protest movement.

However, the use of force poses risks for the rulers as well. For even large parts of the Islamic establishment disapprove of this approach. Major religious bodies and several Grand Ayatollahs have long ago distanced themselves; some even openly criticized the reactions of the government as incompatible with Islamic principles. Even many members of the state apparatus will probably not support a policy of escalation.

Many long-serving men of the Islamic Republic, who for decades have been controlling the state – two presidents, a prime minister, a parliamentary speaker, MPs and holders of key positions – have already sided with the opposition. Ever-larger segments of the population, religious believers, who have been faithfully serving the Islamic state, are outraged by the brutality used against the demonstrators by the regime. Thus, it is striking that fewer and fewer people attend the Friday prayers. Previously there were tens of thousands, now a few thousands attend at the most, despite all propaganda.

The more violence the regime applies, the more it becomes isolated. By now the government mainly draws upon military and paramilitary forces. Even then, however, the question is to what extent the government can rely on the loyalty of soldiers and militias. The Revolutionary Guards as well as the Basij militias are organizations that emerged from the revolution. Their families are part of the population. Therefore, it is questionable whether they will be ready for prolonged action against their own countrymen and shoot at their own brothers, sisters, and parents. Already there are unconfirmed reports about refusals to obey orders, even on middle command levels.

The use of force implies big risks for the opposition as well, though. First, it takes more and more courage to assume the risks in the face of violence. Already today, all protesters attending a demonstration risk either their lives, or being tortured and detained. And the violence causes an increasing radicalization of the opposition, as it could be observed during the unrest of last weekend, which in turn could result in a division of the protest movement itself.

For it is known that the current opposition leaders, above all the reformists Mir Hossein Mussawi, Mehdi Karrubi, and Mohammad Khatami, do not want a regime change, but reforms within the framework of the constitution of the Islamic Republic. The slogans, however, that were chanted by a larger part of the protesters on Sunday, are targeting the entire system. The slogan “Freedom, independence, Iranian Republic” that has been adopted by many supporters of the “Green Movement of Hope” shows that a part of the protesters does not strive for reforms, but for a new, democratic state. If the movement, as in recent months, does not manage to agree on demands like free elections, lift of censorship, freedom of press and speech, it will sooner or later be split.

On the other hand, a graveyard peace enforced by weapons will not solve the social, political, cultural, and first of all, the economical problems that brought about the protests.

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