A Schedule for the Opposition

2010/03/06

Published in German daily newspaper “Tageszeitung” on March 5, 2010
Source (German) http://www.taz.de/1/debatte/kommentar/artikel/1/fahrplan-fuer-die-opposition/
English translation kindly provided by Josh Manning. Edited by germantoenglish.

Commentary by Bahman Nirumand

Following the mass arrests of reformist politicians, journalists, and students, the ruling powers in Tehran have now started to reach out for popular creative artists as well. On March 2, internationally renowned film director Jafar Panahi was arrested along with his wife and 14 year old daughter. After the regime succeeded in halfway quieting the stage with its February 11th national celebration of the 31st anniversary of the revolution, the regime now wants to further demonstrate its strength.

In these days, the streets may have become quieter, however, the situation is ready to inflame the entire country any moment. The millions, who after the elections sided with the protest movement throughout the country and did not give up despite being challenged by substantial force, did not disappear. And they have already accomplished much.

Important members of the elite, journalists, artists, a predominant majority of students, and the civil populace have turned their back on the regime. Almost all of the Grand Ayatollahs have distanced themselves from the establishment, while the conservative camp is experiencing a deep rift. With the disclosure of crimes committed in the past months such as torture, rape, show trials, and forced confessions, the regime can no longer maintain its status as an Islamic state. It has lost its legitimacy. The turban bearing religious men and their civilian companions can now only assert their will by force of arms. This is deadly for a state that calls itself an Islamic republic. It is no wonder the regime had to transport people from the provinces with thousands of buses, trains and trucks in order to simulate broad support from the people. This is a large success for the opposition.

Nevertheless, the opposition is still far from achieving their goal of implementing far reaching reforms or triggering a regime change. The fact that it did not succeed in mobilizing millions for country-wide protests is indeed a setback which forces them back to sober thinking.

The lesson to be learned: Tactics to convert all official celebrations and mourning days into protest days can no longer be continued. If a date is well-known over a long period of time, it gives enough time for the security branches to prepare against it. However, the opposition should not abandon road protests altogether, but rather carry them out in short notice.

But even then, demonstrations are not sufficient in order to bring the regime to concessions. In my opinion, these goals can be reached in two ways: a long and short way. The long-term strategy would be an old-fashioned one. It would consist of winning and mobilizing the broad masses towards the goals of the movement. Much would be won by succeeding in country-wide strikes in production, service centers or in bazaars. The catastrophic economic situation would favor such a strategy with its high unemployment and the lack of rights of workers and employees. Also, it should be easy to get schools and universities, which have already participated actively in the movement, on board for strikes. With this long-term strategy, much like in the times of the Shah, it would be possible to cause a cleavage in the armed forces, even within the Revolutionary Guard and the Basiji militias. Unlike the regular army, the two latter organizations were not founded as government forces, but as a “force of the people” and thus feel associated with them.

The disadvantage of this old strategy is that it requires much patience. It is vulnerable particularly to the young, who are largely the backbone of the movement and lose patience easily while further and further withdrawing themselves.

Mobilization of the Pious
But the special situation in Iran suggests a second path which could lead to results much faster: The acceleration of the process of disintegration of the state, a process that is already quite advanced. If the reformers play this short-term strategy, all the key players, such as Khatami, Mir Hossein Moussavi, and Mehdi Karroubi, will play an important role. They, as accomplished statesmen, were the key elements that triggered the process of disintegration from the inside. For this strategy, there are as many battlefields as there are contradictions in the system. The demand for free elections, which is based on the contradiction between a theocracy and a republic, could be supplemented, for example, by restricting the powers of the Revolutionary Leader, the Guardian Council, and other figures in branches or positions that are not chosen by the people but instead get appointed. Additionally, the demand for an independent ministry of justice would find broad support. The fact that the Ministry of Justice is led by those appointed by the Revolutionary Leader and not by an administration official, scoffs the idea of independence.

Such demands, that have the potential to mobilize not only reformers, but even parts of the conservative camp, could accelerate the increasing isolation of the radicals. Also, the contradiction between the self-concept of Islam and the Islam as it is being practiced by the state, offers favorable possibilities for further mobilization of pious believers such as the Grand Ayatollahs, who form an integral pillar of the Islamic Republic.

If both strategies were pursued at the same time, the goal would come within reach. One year from now, parliamentary elections will take place. If it can be achieved that hardly anyone takes part in these elections, the fate of this state would be sealed.

About Bahman Nirumand
Nirumand was born in 1936 in Tehran. Today he is an author and journalist in Berlin. He has recently published “Iran: the Imminent Catastrophe”, Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2006, and “The Undeclared World War”, a booklet in 2007.

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