Still think China's going to sign on to a new round of tough sanctions against Iran? Think again. China has most likely already passed the European Union to become Iran's No. 1 trading partner, the Financial Times reports:
Official figures say the EU remains Tehran’s largest commercial partner, with trade totalling $35bn in 2008, compared with $29bn with China.
But this number disguises the fact that much of Iran’s trade with the United Arab Emirates consists of goods channelled to or from China. Majid-Reza Hariri, deputy head of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce, said that transhipments to China accounted for more than half of Tehran’s $15bn (€10.9bn, £9.6bn) trade with the UAE.
When this is taken into account, China’s trade with Iran totals at least $36.5bn, which could be more than with the entire EU bloc. No definite conclusion is possible because it is unclear how much of Iran’s trade with Europe is channelled via the UAE.
Iran imports consumer goods and machinery from China and exports oil, gas, and petrochemicals.
Today, China depends on Iran for 11 per cent of its energy needs, according to the chamber.
Look at it this way: Would the United States support hard-hitting sanctions against Saudi Arabia, which in November supplied nearly 8 percent of U.S. oil imports?
In case you just thought that Iran launched a rocket today just to remind everyone about their rockets, they also sent up some unfortunate animals on a scientific mission:
On Wednesday, Press TV said, the Iranian Aerospace Organization said live video transmission from latest launch would “enable further studies on the biological capsule — carrying a rat, two turtles and worms — as it leaves Earth’s atmosphere and enters space.”
I'm pretty sure Laika already covered this ground in 1957. Then again, if the rat starts training the turtles in martial arts, it will all have been worth it.
There's no two ways about it: The last year of foreign policy had more drama than a Scorsese epic and enough thrills to put Avatar to shame. From the fearsome battle in the Afghan hills to the U.S.-China love-hate relationship, and from the serious al Qaeda threats in Yemen to the hard-to-take-seriously pirates off the Somali coast, 2009 was arguably a much more interesting year for global politics than for movies. So with Oscar nominations due tomorrow, we're taking nominations for our own FP Oscars.
Who would you pick for the best actor of the year? Is President Barack Obama holding his own in an unfriendly world, or does the ubiquitous Brazilian President Lula deserve an Oscar? Is Muammar Qaddafi's persona just too good to be true, or do you prefer the smooth, suave diplomacy (and wacky domestic antics) of France's Nicolas Sarzoky?
You tell us what scandals, dramas, tragicomedies, and personal stories are your picks for the history books in 2009. Listed below are the categories and a few sample entries. Send your own nominations to Joshua.Keating@foreignpolicy.com or paste them in the comments below. May the best news win!
Best picture: What one story encapsulates the year?
Best drama: Spies, dissidents, treachery, and truth. Were the adrenaline-pumping protests following the Iran elections the most dramatic event? Or perhaps it was the long, drawn-out U.S. decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. If you have a humanitarian bent, the crises in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan might come a heart-wrenching first.
Best comedy: If it isn't a tragedy, the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress is certainly good for a laugh. Then again, how about the Copenhagen Climate conference that ended in a collective shrug? Or the British MPs who used their expense accounts to buy fancy rugs and re-dig their backyard swimming pools?
Best romantic comedy: Gordon Brown requested meeting after meeting with the U.S. president; Obama just didn't have time. Brown gave him a romantic antique biography of Churchill, and Obama gave him a DVD box set. Let's just say the special relationship isn't all it used to be. But then again, there are other comedies in Europe these days ... Berlusconi anyone?
Best romantic drama: Unclear whether this should be a drama or a comedy, but the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladamir Putin certainly have a relationship worth noting -- as their press photographer has shown time and time again...
Best action: A U.S. ship is seized in the Gulf of Aden and devious pirates take the Maersk Alabama captive on the high seas, demanding a ransom for their deed. But lo and behold! A brave captain sacrifices his freedom to save his crew. And the U.S. whacks three pirates in the end, bringing everyone home safely! Phew!
Best special effects: Hmm, how about that missile launch in North Korea? It hit right on target: the Pacific Ocean.
Best director: Nicolas Sarkozy is a whirling dervish of diplomatic activity.
Best actor: Very few world leaders can also claim their own daily television shows -- and surprisingly humorous ones at that. "Alo Presidente" hasn't exactly skyrocketed Hugo Chavez to fame (his coup attempt back in the 1990s did that), but man has this guy mastered media in the Drudge Era.
Best actress: On a more serious note, few women leaders have been more powerful this year in asserting political freedom than Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. Or does Hillary Clinton have your vote? As one FP staffer put it, "she's the queen of 'the show must go on.'"
Best supporting actress: Is Carla Bruni the perfect companion for a perfectionist French president?
Best supporting actor: Let's be honest: One man whose entire year has been a story about other people's interests is the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. For all his posturing and pontificating, he was never running the show.
Best costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes.
Worst costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes. You decide.
Lifetime achievement award: Fidel? Kim Jong Il? Mubarak? Most of the longest-lasting players on the world stage aren't particularly savory characters. Got someone better?
We'll post a full list of nominees based on your e-mails and comments on Monday, Feb. 8 and give you a chance to vote. The final winners will be announced at the end of the month.
We promise to keep the musical numbers short.
A new documentary shown on Iranian state TV claims that the death of Neda Agha Soltan, who became an international icon of the Iranian opposition movement, was a hoax. Radio Free Europe's Golnaz Esfandiari reports:
The program says that Neda threw blood on her own face before being shot dead in the car that was taking her to the hospital.
"Neda for a moment realizes their wicked plan and struggles to escape, but they quickly shoot her from behind," the narrator claims.
Among participants in the "plot" identified in the documentary are Arash Hejazi, a writer and physician who tried to save Neda and later said a Basij militia member shot her and was briefly detained by onlookers, and Neda's music teacher, who was with her at the time of her death.
Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The White House has posted the text of the statements U.S. President Barack Obama gave on the attempted terrorist attack on Northwest Flight 253 and the brutal Ashura crackdown on protesters in Iran.
the American people should remain vigilant, but also be confident. Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans. This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.
As a nation, we will do everything in our power to protect our country. As Americans, we will never give in to fear or division. We will be guided by our hopes, our unity, and our deeply held values. That's who we are as Americans; that's what our brave men and women in uniform are standing up for as they spend the holidays in harm's way. And we will continue to do everything that we can to keep America safe in the new year and beyond.
We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I'm confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.
The White House included translations of the Iran portion into Arabic and Persian.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
I've been one of those who have been skeptical that the Iranian opposition will be able to force the regime to accomodate its demands. Seeing few signs that the Islamic Republic's apparatus of control -- the security forces and the Basij militia -- are fracturing, I've said repeatedly that I don't think the Green Movement has the upper hand. I think that's still true, even after today's apparently massive protests.
That said, the dual radicalization that is going on helps the opposition more than it helps the regime. On the opposition side, the chants used to be about the election and ensuring a fair vote; now they're about "death to the dictator" and "death to Khamenei," the supreme leader. A friend of mine who monitors the Iranian media for a living told me a few weeks back that he's seeing increasingly radical rhetoric in the press as well. So it's not surprising that today's protests quickly turned nasty as demonstrators fought back with stones, clubs, fire, pieces of sidewalk, and anything else they could get their hands on.
Meanwhile, the regime is showing its willingness to do whatever it takes to maintain control, even killing people on the Shiite holiday of Ashura, something even the shah never dared to do. The nephew of Mir Hossain Mousavi, the defrauded presidential candidate, was either brutally assassinated outside his home today or killed during the protests, depending on which account you believe. Former President Mohamed Khatami, a broadly popular reformist, was assaulted while giving a speech inside a mosque formerly frequented by Ayatollah Khomeini. And there are dozens of pictures of regime thugs beating women on the streets, in full view of everyone else.
At some point, you'd have to think, some in the security forces will want to have no part of this dirty business, and start to defect to the opposition. So far, though, we only have unconfirmed rumors that this is happening:
There were scattered reports of police officers surrendering, or refusing to fight. Several videos posted to the Internet show officers holding up their helmets and walking away from the melee, as protesters pat them on the back in appreciation. In one photograph, several police officers can be seen holding their arms up, and one of them wears a bright green headband, the signature color of the opposition movement.
Keep watching for this phenomenon -- if it keeps up, a regime increasingly seen as illegitimate will have a hard time holding on. As Steve Walt warns us, though, the United States could very easily screw things up, for instance by implementing gasoline sanctions that will hurt Iran's people more than the regime. The U.S. Congress is gearing up to pass such sanctions after the holiday recess, and the Iranian government seems dead set against compromising over the nuclear issue, so I'm not very optimistic that the right decisions are going to be made.
In January, the U.S. military will hold its first simulation of an attack from a long-range Iranian missile on the United States, as opposed to a North Korean one:
It also would be more difficult testing the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system against a missile that would be faster and more direct as it races toward the United States than a simulated strike from North Korea.
"Previously, we have been testing the GMD system against a North Korean-type scenario," O'Reilly said.
"This next test ... is more of a head-on shot like you would use defending against an Iranian shot into the United States. So that's the first time that we're now testing in a different scenario."
His comments came the same day that diplomats disclosed concerns among intelligence agencies that Iran tested a key atomic bomb component as recently as 2007. The finding, if proven true, would clash with Iran's assertion that its nuclear work is for civilian use.
The test would fire an interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at a simulated incoming missile, launched from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. An aide to O'Reilly estimated the cost at about $150 million.
Iran's long-range Shahab-3 missile has a maximum range of about 1,200 miles. Long enough to hit Israel or even Greece, but well-short of hitting the United States.
ALI SHAIGAN/AFP/Getty Images
With Iran holding five British yachtsmen, who were en route to a sailing race in Dubai, for the last five days to determine if they have "evil intentions," it's worth revisiting Karim Sadjadpour's recent FP piece on why Iran keeps arresting foreigners it knows to be innocent -- in that case the Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh:
The over-the-top severity of the sentence makes it eminently clear that this case really has little to do with Kian, and everything to do with Iran's negotiating posture toward the United States. A disaffected contact in the Iranian foreign ministry -- the vast majority of whom were thought to have voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi -- bluntly confirmed my suspicions. "Eena daran bazi mikonan," he told me. "These guys are just playing."
While neighboring Dubai and Turkey have managed to build thriving economies by trading in goods and services, Iran, even 30 years after the revolution, remains in the business of trading in human beings. In addition to Kian, Iran is now holding at least five other American citizens against their will, including three young hikers -- Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal (an outspoken Palestinian-rights activist) -- detained in June along the Iran-Iraq border in Kurdistan.
In a talk given this afternoon at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, retired Gen. John Abizaid outlined his view of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He argued that it is foolish to approach issues on a country-by-country basis, complaining that "we look at Iraq through a soda straw. We look at Afghanistan through a soda straw." Instead, says Abizaid, the United States must develop a regional strategy that accounts for the roles of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
For the same reason, he suggested, the debate over whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan has been over-simplified; the discussion should be broadened to include the relative demands of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region at large.
Abizaid also emphasized the ideological nature of the conflict, and the need for soft power to address the root causes of radicalism. He noted that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader, is referred to as "the commander of the faithful."
"While we may chuckle at that title," Abizaid said, "the people fighting for him do not." When asked whether there should be a shift to a counter-terrorism approach in Afghanistan that relies more upon targeted strikes than nation-building, Abizaid responded that such a plan is impractical. Stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq is a precondition for effective counter terrorist operations, he argued, because it provides the infrastructure needed to develop the "superb, superb intelligence" needed.
The theme of the talk was that instability anywhere in the region is a serious threat to surrounding countries. With our "ground forces spread thin" and "our 24-7 forces totally engaged," the United States must more fully incorporate diplomatic, political and economic plans to get a handle on the region. A number of questions were directed to the resources required for such a broad regional approach, and towards the end of the talk, the retired general was asked if the situation would be better in Afghanistan had the United States not invaded Iraq.
"All's I know is that we did what we did, and we are where we are," he answered.
News today that the G-20 has officially replaced the G-8 as "the world's premier economic forum," in the words of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, was quickly -- and dramatically -- overshadowed by the revelation that Iran has a second, covert uranium enrichment facility.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking to reporters here in Pittsburgh, said that "we must have answers from Iran" about its nuclear program by the Oct. 1 meeting of the P5+1, the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Any decisions about what to do vis-a-vis Iran would not be made before that meeting, he said.
"It's the third time they've been caught red-handed," Brown said. "There has been serial deception over many years."
The prime minister wouldn't get into specifics about what sorts of penalities Iran might face should it fail to comply, but indicated that if sanctions are needed, they will "clearly be of a banking nature" and would "involve energy" and new restrictions on technologies that could be used for nuclear purposes.
"I think the IAEA will see that there is a breach of regulations," Brown said. According to the evidence he'd seen, "this could not have been for a civil nuclear facility," because the "level of production was not sufficient for a civil nuclear facility but could have been intended for a nuclear facility."
On the G-20, Brown made a more sweeping statement than either Korea's Lee or Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earlier insisted that "we are not replacing the G-8 with the G-20."
"The old systems of economic cooperation are over," Brown said. Canada is due to host both the G-8 and the G-20 next year, in cooperation with South Korea, and Harper said that the G-8 would become more of a forum for discussing development issues, security issues, and, "for lack of a better word, geopolitics."
Brown said that the G-20 today would be issuing a "very strong view on remuneration," a somewhat peripheral issue that has nonetheless dominated discussions surrounding the summit, on the insistence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"We cannot be soft on these issues," Brown said some passion. "We have got to be tough … we will not condone the old system of bonuses … there is no return to the bad old days."
Brown also announced that G-20 leaders had agreed that it would be "premature" to remove the fiscal and monetary stimulus measures put in place over the past year, saying that "millions of jobs" would be at stake if countries acted too quickly.
Nevertheless, he said, "The action that we took at the London Summit [in April] has worked."
Noted Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whom FP interviewed at the height of the unrest after the Iranian presidential election in June, has issued the following statement:
Citizens of the World
As someone who is in contact with prominent members of the Green Movement in Iran, and as someone who is intimately informed of their points of view, I declare to the world, particularly to the people and government of America, that the Iranian Green Movement does not want a nuclear bomb, but instead desires peace for the world and democracy for Iran. The Green Movement in Iran furthermore understands the world's concerns and in fact has similar concerns itself.Mohsen Makhmalbaf
I have been also entrusted with the responsibility of informing the world that any accord or agreement signed with the current coup-empowered illegitimate government of Iran is considered bereft of legitimacy by the Green Movement, which enjoys the support of a majority of the Iranian people; all such agreements will be subject to review in future.
STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images
After acquiring a massive following on the Iranian black market though Internet downloads and illegal DVDs, the U.S. sci-fi drama Lost has been approved for official distribution in the Islamic Republic. The Guardian reports:
Other long-running US dramas – including 24, Prison Break and Desperate Housewives – have been widely distributed on Iran's black market, but none has been given official approval.
Granting distribution and broadcasting rights to Lost would mark a policy reversal after officials previously criticised the series and warned media outlets against publicising it.
Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi, recently sacked as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's culture and Islamic guidance minister, lambasted it for displaying "Zionist concepts". However, others insisted the programme was suitable for an Iranian audience because it has "eastern" themes.
"The atmosphere of this story, due to our classic literature, is familiar to Iranian and eastern viewers," Saeed Ghotbizadeh, a TV and cinema critic, told the Tehran-e Emrooz newspaper. "Eastern viewers can understand it better and would naturally like it.
Granted I gave up on watching Lost after about the first season but the themes seemed pretty western to me -- lots of Christian redemption vignettes and characters not-so-subtly named after enlightenment philosophers. Guess I missed something.
The officially distributed Iranian version of the show will be edited to "exclude "un-Islamic" scenes such as those featuring scantily clad women or male-female physical contact" -- so the authorities' decision might be less about exposing Iranian viewers to Lost's exploration of spirituality than preventing them from seeing Evangeline Lilly in a bikini. Somehow I think the bootleggers are going to stay in business.
As a side note, I would love to hear an Iranian viewer's take on 24.
Newly appointed state prosecutor Hojjatol-Islam Mohseni-Ejei might be one of Iran's worst clerics, but you would think his official biography would at least say nice things about him. But RFE/RL reports that until a few days ago, the official bio on Mohseni-Ejei's Website contained this not-so-flattering passage:
As head of the special court for clergy Gholam Hossein Moseni Ejei bit journalist Issa Saharkhiz during a fight at the weekly meeting of the press advisory council. Saharkhiz‘s complaint against him has not been investigated yet.
Akbar Ganji (eds: a prominent investigative journalist who has published a number of books and articles about the murders of political activists and intellectuals in the late 1980s) implicated him in the serial murders of intellectuals in his books.
It's not clear where the passage comes from or if this was a case of hacking or incompetence. The Bush White House did something similar once, but at least it was for another country's leader.
The increasingly friendly relationship between Iran and Venezuela is hardly a secret. Just yesterday, Venezuela announced that it will begin exporting 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to the Islamic Republic. This followed a meeting on Saturday between Presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez during which the two leaders promised to stand together to defeat imperialist foes.
Legendary New York District Attorney Robert Morganthau explained his concerns about the link in a talk at the Brookings Institution today, sponsored by the the American Interest magazine and Global Financial Integrity. According to Morganthau, some of the most dangerous aspects of the relationship take place far from the cameras, in the shadowy world of illicit finance:
The ostensible reason the the Iranian owned Banco International de Desarrollo (BID) was opened in Caracas was to expand economic ties with Venezuela. Our sources and experiences lead me to suspet an ulterior motive. A foothold into the Venezuelan banking system is a perfect "sanctions-busting" method -- the main motivator for Iran in its banking relationship with Venezuela. Despite being designated by OFAC we believe that BID has several correspondent banking relationships with both Venezuelan banks and banks in Panama, anation with a long-standing reputation as a money laundering safe-haven.
This scheme is known as "nesting." Nested accounts occur when a foreign financial institution gains access to the U.S. financial system by operating through a U.S. correspondent account belonging to another foreign financial institution. For example, BID who is prohibited from establishing a relationship with a U.S. bank could instead establish a relationship with a Venezuelan or Panamanian bank that has a relationship with a U.S. bank. If the U.S. bank is unaware that its foreign correspondent financial institution customer is providing such access to a sanctioned third-party foreign financial institution, this third-party financial institution can effectively gain anonymous access to the U.S. financial system. [...]
There is little reason to doubt Venezuela's support for Ahmadinejad's most important agenda, the development of a nuclear program and long-range missiles, and the destabilization of the region. For Iran, the lifeblood of their nuclear and weapons programs is the ability to use the international banking system and to make payments for banned missile and nuclear materials. The opening of Venezuela's banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles.
Morganthau's office recently prosecuted British bank Lloyds for helping Iran move money through the U.S. financial system by stripping identifying information from wire transfers. He believes the cozy Chavez-Ahmadinejad relationship will only make such operations easier for the Iranians.
Morganthau stopped short of announcing specific prosecutions, but from the sound of it, some new revelations may be forthcoming.
Photo by David Shankbone. Used under Creative Commons license.
This summary from the transcript of today's State Department briefing reads like some kind of horrifying nuclear-diplomacy poem written by William Carlos Williams:
Not Expecting an Iranian Representative / Would Review Any Proposal Seriously If One Given / P5+1 Proposal is for Engagement / US Prepared to Respond to Some Kind of Meaningful Response / IAEA Report Shows that Iran is Noncompliant / Iran Have Been Provided a Path / Would Like a Response That Certain Obligations Must Be Met and they Welcome EngagementStill Waiting for an Official Response / All Iranians Need to Do is Response to Proposal
Not Certain if Iranian Leader Will Come
I suggest reading it out loud to your friends.
One of the big stories over the next few days, and, indeed, for the rest of this month, is going to be the (largely) Western drive to bring Iran's nuclear program to heel. Along with the war in Afghanistan, this issue could come to define Barack Obama's presidency, especially if Iran does weaponize or if the United States or Israel decides to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
Last week, the IAEA teed up a fresh round of debate by circulating a new report outlining Iran's technical progress since June 5 and its compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and various U.N. resolutions. You can read it here, though don't ask me to explain it all...
Commenting on the report, nuke wonk Jeffrey Lewis says, "Iran is not slowing its nuclear program, ok?" He then goes on to analyze Iran's recent expansion of centrifuges, which are grouped in "cascades" to enrich uranium.
"I continue to believe that Iran will install between 3-5 cascades a month for the next five years, barring some external intervention, until Natanz houses its complete set of 54,000 centrifuges," he adds.
The big news making headlines in Israel is the report's mention of "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear program, a murky subject the agency wants Tehran to clarify. This is important because to be in compliance with the NPT, Iran has to prove that its nuclear activities are peaceful. Israel's Foreign Ministry is hammering the IAEA for allegedly withholding information on the militarization issue, which presumably means that Israel has supplied the IAEA with intelligence that the agency didn't discuss in the report.
(It also sounds like the IAEA is trying to get member states to let the agency share some of the documents they've given it directly with Iran, so that the Islamic Republic can respond to whatever it is being accused of.)
Asked Friday about the report, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, "As the IAEA's report makes clear, the recent limited and overdue steps Iran has taken fall well short of Iran's obligations and do not constitute the full and comprehensive cooperation required of Iran."
"Absent Iranian compliance with its international nuclear obligations and full transparency with the IAEA," he continued, "the international community cannot have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iran's nuclear program."
On Wednesday, the P5+1, the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, are going to meet to talk over the report and figure out what to do next. Then, IAEA member countries will hold their annual meeting in Vienna, where Iran will top the agenda. Meanwhile, Obama has said that unless Iran takes him up on his offer of talks ahead of the U.N. General Assembly's opening session next month, he'll push for new sanctions that his secretary of state has said should be "crippling."
Then what? Stay tuned.
Photo by the Office of the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Getty Images
The President begs to differ with the Ayatollah:
Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke in front of thousands of government supporters gathered in a covered arena at Tehran University. The president appeared unafraid to effectively contradict the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Wednesday said he was not convinced that reform leaders had conspired in advance with foreign forces to orchestrate the post-election unrest. The supreme leader did, however, stick by the government’s claim that the protests were planned.
If Ayatollah Khamenei was hoping to blunt calls for revenge, more arrests and severe punishment, Mr. Ahmadinejad showed no signs of softening.
“We must deal with those who led these events,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “Those who organized, incited and pursued the plans of the enemies must be dealt with decisively.” [...]
His remarks were clearly aimed at Mir Hussein Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — some of the most important and influential figures in the Islamic republic’s 30-year history — whom the president has wanted to jail as enemies of the state.
In the past, Ahmadinejad has always backed down quickly from disagreements with the Supreme Leader. The president now seems intent on a confrontation and clearly thinks he's got the support and the muscle to get his way. It's seems pretty risky to say the least, but the rift is clearly coming to a head. As Stanford's Abbas Milani tells the New York Times:
“I honestly believe the cracks in the leadership are so severe, I don’t think they will be able to heal this.”
Update: Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, thinks “this might just be theater.” Reached by e-mail, he told FP that “Khamenei wants to try and rehabilitate his image as a magnanimous leader who stays above the fray, and hence he issues more conciliatory statements ... while giving [Ahmadinejad] free reign to be the attack dog.”
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Another great moment in compassion from Ahmadinejad's cronies:
A close aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist critic of the president, appeared so gaunt during his televised confession this month because he himself had decided to take off some weight.
"It's natural that when someone has become fat, in prison he understands that his fatness harmed his body and spirit," said Ali Akbar Javanfekr (left)."So maybe Mr. Abtahi took advantage of this opportunity to lose weight."
Not that I claim to really understand the forces at play in Iranian politics, but the "let-them-eat-cake" arrogance displayed by Ahmadinejad and his supporters (comparing opposition supporters to soccer fans, for instance) is confusing. Having dragged the Islamic Republic into the worst crisis of legitimacy in its history, does Ahmadinejad really have reason to feel cocky?
Given the apparent degree of frustration with Ahmadinejad among members of the clerical elite, do the Ahmadinejad loyalists really gain by mocking a prominent cleric, even a reformist one, like this?
So much for hopes that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would by chastened by the events of the last few months:
"A new period has begun," he told the Association of Basiji Scholars at a meeting in Mashhad last Thursday, according to a report by the news website Farda News.
"Let me take the oath of office, and wait for the government to begin its work," he told the Basiji members, who are affiliated with the militiamen clubbing demonstrators in the streets.
"Then, we'll seize them by their collars and stick their heads to the ceiling," he said.
Iran watchers are anxiously anticipating Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's upcoming prayer service at Tehran University. Some expect, or hope, the former Iranian president will come out strongly in support of opposition candidate Mir Hossain Mousavi, who has said he will attend along with former President Mohammad Khatami.
Kayhan, the mouthpiece for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned Rafsanjani to "avoid supporting the hooligans" -- meaning the opposition. We'll see what happens, but I'm skeptical that Rafsanjani will say anything too daring. After all, the man couldn't bring himself to stick his neck out when people were taking to the streets of Tehran in the tens of thousands. Why should he do so now, when it looks like the protestors, brave as they are, have been beaten into submission?
One interpretation of the former president's motives, a version of which Geneive Abdo explains here, is that this is all about Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He's only out for No. 1, and is using the reformers to get a leg up on Khamenei. Or, he's simply in a fight for survival -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has all but accused him of gross corruption and is clearly out to get him and his family -- and is hedging his bets. Either way, it's clear he's no reformist himself.
But this could be a defining moment for Rafsanjani. As Carnegie Endowment analyst Karim Sadjadpour puts it, "This Friday is probably the most important speech of his career. He's nearly 75 years old, and his legacy has always been important to him. If he complains about personal slights and electoral improprieties but submits to the will of the Leader 'for the sake of the 'glorious revolution', history will remember him not only as a crook but also a coward. I've learned to have low expectations of the courage and integrity of Iranian officials, and hope that I'll be pleasantly surprised."
One other interesting aspect of Rafsanjani's speech will be how the crowd behaves. Mousavi supporters are planning to turn out in large numbers, but so are Ahmadinejad's people -- and it could get ugly. These are not very nice people.
UPDATE: It's not completely clear from this Reuters account just how assertive Rafsanjani was, but it does look like he called for called for those arrested to be released, called the current situation a "crisis," and said that many Iranians had doubts about the election's validity.
"Today, we are living bitter conditions due to what happened after the announcement of the election result," he said. "All of us have suffered. We need unity more than anytime else."
The LA Times' Barzou Daraghi says that Rafsanjani criticized the Guardian Council, the 12-member body that supervised the elections. But the bottom line seems to be this: "Rafsanjani's long-awaited sermon neither poured water on the ongoing fire of protests or added fuel to the dispute within the ruling establishment and Iranian society over the election results." Developing...
"Death to America" and "death to Israel" chants may be a widespread feature of politics in the Middle East, but Iran's leaders seem unique in the degree to which they detest the British. This week Ayatollah Khamenei described Britain as the "most evil" of the Western nations interfering in Iran's internal affairs. It does seem a little odd that Khamenei should find Britain -- a country with which the regime does have some (albeit strained) diplomatic relations -- more "evil" than Israel and the United States, two countries where actually attacking Iran has recently been a topic of mainstream public debate.
But Iranian Anglophilia is nothing new. Ali Ansari gives some needed background in the Times:
Perceptions of Britain as the “wily fox” run deep in the Iranian political class - some are even convinced that American foreign policy is dictated by Whitehall - and, if this is tinged with admiration, it nonetheless betrays a profound anxiety about the role of Britain in modern Iranian history.
Britain, or more accurately England, has enjoyed relations with Iran stretching back to the beginning of the 17th century, longer than those it has with many European states. But formal diplomatic relations were not established until the beginning of the 19th century when Britain sought to secure Iranian friendship against the ambitions of Napoleonic France and, later, Tsarist Russia, in defence of British India.
These relations crystallised at a time when Iranian power was in decline and the British Empire was in the ascendant, so it was never a relationship of equals. The Iranians felt this loss of power acutely.
Iranian politicians often struggled to balance the demands of Russia and Britain as the two imperial powers struggled for dominance in the region. Russia was always the more brutal of the two, but Britain left deeper political scars. Quite why this should be so is a matter of some debate - but the meddling of the British Imperial Bank of Persia, and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company played a part. It was the nationalisation of the oil company in 1951 that led ultimately to the Anglo-American coup against the nationalist Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. This last event, in particular, has left a deep impression among Iranians, although its exploitation by the Government in recent years has been opportunistic.
That is not to say that those who push this anti-British agenda do not believe in it. President Ahmadinejad's world-view, largely supported by the Supreme Leader, is deeply antithetical and suspicious of the West. But Britain, not America - whoever is in the White House - has been the target of their wrath.
An interesting report on EurasiaNet.org, written without a byline, alleges that former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is making headway in his attempt to mount a clerical challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:
A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s -- has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull," said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. "They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets." [...]
A reformist website, Rooyeh, reported that Rafsanjani already had the support of nearly a majority of the Assembly of Experts, a body that constitutionally has the power to remove Ayatollah Khamenei. The report also indicated that Rafsanjani’s lobbying efforts were continuing to bring more clerics over to his side. Rafsanjani’s aim, the website added, is the establishment of a leadership council, comprising of three or more top religious leaders, to replace the institution of supreme leader. Shortly after it posted the report on Rafsanjani’s efforts to establish a new collective leadership, government officials pulled the plug on Rooyeh.
The article, if the sourcing is solid, builds on analysis by FP contributor Geneive Abdo, who writes:
Given the tools at Khamenei's disposal, it should be no surprise that during this past week there have been few clerics either permitted or bold enough to express their views on the present crisis. Nevertheless, some are likely working behind the scenes against Ahmadinejad. Clerics such as [dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali] Montazeri oppose the president not only for his repressive policies used against the Iranian people, but because he believes in ideas that theologians view as heretical -- such as the return of the hidden imam who will come to Earth after a world war in which Islam is victorious.
We'll have to see what happens on the street tomorrow and over the next few days, but I would be very surprised if Rafsanjani does pull the trigger at this point. The protests have died down, especially outside Tehran, and the organizers are being rounded up. As Steve Walt says, the security forces show little to no sign of breaking with the regime. Even Mohsen Rezai, one of the losing candidates and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, is reportedly withdrawing his complaints about fraud. And keep in mind that most Iranians aren't getting their news from the Internet and Twitter -- they're watching state television that is doing its best to discredit Mousavi and his supporters. And there are signs that the regime is laying the groundwork now for Mousavi's arrest.
So it strikes me as highly unlikely that Rafsanjani would make his move now, with all the momentum seemingly with the regime. He's nothing if not a canny political operator. Moreover, it's worth pointing out that plenty of clerics have opposed the concept of a supreme leader and velayat-e-faqih for a long time now, with little discernable consequence for Khamenei.
One interesting historical footnote. During the Iran-Iraq war, Mousavi and Montazeri were considered among the hardest of the hardliners, and Rafsanjani and Khamenei were considered pragmatists and allies. Now, Mousavi, Montazeri, and Rafsanjani are all seemingly on one side, with Khamenei on the other. But at least for the time being, it seems the supreme leader has the upper hand.
With euphoria about the magic of Twitter starting to wear off, analysis of Iran is turning toward what will actually happen to the regime.Two key questions are: 1) Will the security forces unflinchingly support the regime? and 2) When (if ever) will they shoot at demonstrators?
Unsurprisingly ahead in the first line of questioning, National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev wrote yesterday about what he has not heard out of Iran, essentially, information about the things that actually matter for revolution: police defections, army sympathies, behind-the-scenes talks, and economic impacts.
Protests are the energy behind any “color revolution” but what makes them successful in the end is when the security services say they will be neutral and key elites negotiate the terms of change—as happened in Georgia and Ukraine and Lebanon.
As Neil McFarquhar reported in the New York Times, very little has emerged so far about potential divisions in the security services. And, as FP blogger Stephen Walt wrote after reading the NYT article:
If the Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and other security elements remain willing to follow orders -- and that seems to be the case so far -- then Iran's current leaders will remain in charge.
Iran's military and theocratic leaders knew some time ago that regime survival could eventually depend on military control. AEI's Ali Alfoneh observed in a report from September, 2008 (via Andrew Sullivan) that Iran's leaders took explicit steps for "internal security" issues more than a year ago. Specifically, the elite Revolutionary Guards, tasked with protecting Iran's government, became more focused on internal deployments than external security. Additionally, the less-vetted but politically loyal Basij militiamen were increasingly integrated into normalized forces.
Assuming that security forces remain loyal and that protests continue, the next question is will confrontations turn even bloodier? Shadi Hamid observes that while Iran's crackdown on protesters has been vicious,
it has not reached the level of brutality that we've seen elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly in countries like Syria (1982) or Algeria (1991-2), where the opposition was literally massacred en masse or rounded up and put in desert concentration camps.
In the calculation of the current regime, Hamid concludes, the costs of such explicit violence still outweigh the alternatives.
A final point, however, is that as Iranian forces try to disband and discourage protests, the regime may not be able to dictate exactly how violent its enforcers get, even if it does not order them to open fire. Ohio State political scientist John Mueller argued in a relatively well-known article in International Security, "The Banality of Ethnic War" (.pdf), that mass violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia was less the result of "ancient hatreds" than was often previously alleged.
[Instead] the violence seems to have been the result of a situation in which common, opportunistic, sadistic, and often distinctly nonideological marauders were recruited and permitted free rein by political authorities.
Tasked with harming civilians, Mueller notes, formal security agents like those in the army and police often refuse, as they did in Yugoslavia, and it is paramilitary groups that do much of the damage.
Applying this to Iran, while joining the Basij may open some social and political doors (and not as many as the Revolutionary Guards), it may also be an outlet for the more violent and power-hungry types to feel important. Does anyone really think the regime ordered a sniper to shoot a nonthreatening unarmed girl? Or that it ordered other beatings to go as far as they have? The more Iran's current rulers rely on and arm paramilitary groups like the Basij, the less hierarchical and organized control they have over what happens on the streets. No matter what Obama says.
Another anonymous dispatch from Tehran:
22 June, 2009
There are two main areas in Tehran that are full of good bookstores:
the area around Tehran University and Enqelab Square and the Karimkhan Bridge – just down the street from Haft-e Tir Square. Enqelab has been the site of the biggest demonstrations and most violent protests since the elections; Haft-e Tir has also seen its share of action. The huge street battles that took place on Saturday that you saw on the news happened around Enqelab. At any rate, today I decided to speed up my book buying because if the situation keeps deteriorating here I won’t stick around; I headed down to Enqelab.
To say that there was an eerie calm on the street would be an understatement. People walked by the stores and carried out their daily business under the gaze of a massive security presence. Every block on Azadi Street had dozens of baton-wielding police officers standing alongside the road, some twiddling their thumbs, others
staring you down, others staring off into space. The side streets
around Azadi were full of Basiji militiamen wearing helmets and
holding batons. Inside the stores business had obviously slowed down and there was a clear reluctance by some to talk about what’s going on. Perhaps they thought I was a journalist:
“Anything going on here today?”
"It was pretty bad a couple days ago, though, huh?”
“Yeah. You were here?”
“No. I saw pictures.”
“It was bad.”
And that was it; nothing more from this man. I thanked him and left. The few other places that I stopped by weren’t much better. One man told me that he was planning on closing at 1:00pm today, like he had the past two days.
“It was chaos a couple days ago,” he said.
“Is there going to be something today?”
“Yeah, now at Firdousi Square and they just announced Haft-e Tir.”
One of the random emails that I’ve been receiving in the past four or five days said that everyday there will be a protest at Enqelab at 5:00pm. Perhaps that’s why the police presence was so heavy. I don’t know who sends these emails and who else receives them.
Perhaps one of you is sending them? They come from cryptic email addresses with names like “Free Iran”, “Payandeh Iran” (Iran Forever), “A Friend”. They contain announcements that apparently come from Mousavi or Karroubi, information about where demonstrations are being held, how to access the web via proxies and filter breakers (none of which work anymore, by the way), how to treat gunshot wounds, why you should bring cigarettes with you to protests as a means to fight the effects of tear gas and other things. Where and who these come from remains a mystery to me.
It was nearly 5:00 when I left and still no signs of anything on the
street. There were so many police and militia men standing around that one would have to be rather stupid to stage a protest there.
Leaving Enqelab I got into a shared taxi going towards the Sayyed
Khandan Bridge, where I get another one to go further north where I’m staying. The taxi took off making its way through streets that started crowding up just before rush hour. Near the Karimkhan Bridge traffic came to a total standstill. I asked the driver what was going on, he didn’t know. The other passengers were just as clueless or were acting they didn’t know like I was. The helicopter circling above our heads made it impossible to think that it was simply bad traffic or a car accident. As we inched forward, I, like many of the other passengers in the taxis around us, got out and started walking towards the square. Hopefully there I could catch another taxi and go up to Sayyed Khandan. I was maybe a half mile away from the Square when I used a pedestrian bridge to cross the street and hopefully get a glance at what was going on further ahead. You could see that people had gathered, but that was it. You needed to get closer if you wanted to see what was happening.
It was at that moment when I heard men chanting…screaming “Ma’ sha’ Allah! Hizbollah! Ma’ sha’ Allah! Hizbollah!” (What God wants! The party of God!). I turned around and saw maybe 40 men wearing
camouflage vests, helmets and carrying batons heading towards Haft-e Tir, ostensibly coming from the direction of Enqelab or Valiasr
I hurried down the steps and made my way forward, gaining another few blocks when people starting screaming and running back towards my direction. I asked what happened and in response received “Run! Go! Run, Run! They’re beating people!” I looked at the street and saw a young man trying to flee from two older, much bigger men who had grabbed him by the neck and were screaming at him to stop moving. The young man kept trying to run away but the other two wouldn’t give. It was now apparent that they were plainclothes police or part of some other security apparatus. They were both wearing earpieces and had revolvers at their side. One started kicking the man, who by now had his shirt ripped off. He kicked him in his stomach and he keeled over. The crowds kept running back, there was more screaming. I ducked into a bookstore and the owners shut the door and pulled down the metal gate down. Students were walking back, all dressed in black and telling others standing on the sidewalk and the street to go to the university. They were going to take their mourning there; this was one day after a young woman was killed.
About a half an hour later I left the store and made my way to Haft-e
Tir Square. The traffic and slowly started to make its way down the street and taxis were picking people up. I hopped into one heading in my direction and looked at the massive security presence at the
square. There were dozens of Basij in the square itself, and probably
hundreds on the streets. Trucks full of men in camouflage, all with
batons standing around the square, some stopping cars. The riot police in full body armor and armed where stationed along the other side of the street. The woman in the back of the taxi asked if the driver or I had seen what just happened. Did they beat people? Did you see the man being pounded by the police? Did the basijis start beating people? Will there be a strike tomorrow? The woman was talking and taking pictures on her phone at the same time.
I looked back at her, “Be careful with that! They’ll kill us all if
they see you.”
I turned my head around and saw that our car had been stopped. There was a Basiji in front of us screamed at us to stop taking pictures. He opened the front passenger door where I was sitting and started screaming at me, “What are you taking pictures of! Get out of the car! What’s in your bag!?! Get out!” I remained seated. A second later someone else had opened the back door and screamed the same questions at the passengers seated in the back. “It was the woman! That woman!” one of them said. They pulled her out of the car. I still didn’t get up. The man who had opened my door looked the other way for a split second and I pulled by camera out of my bag and tossed it under the seat. I didn’t take any pictures, but I didn’t want to deal with questions and I don’t think that my excuse of being an American student studying in Iran was going to fly over so well with these people. They pulled the woman over to the sidewalk and the driver sped off. “Oh God! She’s going to be stuck there until night…God knows what they’re going to do to her.”
That's all for now. There was a call for a strike today, but I don't
think it happened, though I have no idea since the media here would
never talk about it and most other news outlets have been scrambled or blocked. Apparently there is also a protest planned for tomorrow in front of the Guardian Council's building. Again - I don't know if it's true. I don't even know who told me as it came from one of those emails. The sense that I get from people about what is going on now and where, when and how this will all end can generally be summed with the sentence "I don't know."
Call me a cynic, but I somehow doubt most of the experts and pundits on the other side of the Atlantic have a much better sense of what's going to happen.
The blog Art We Love has a great post on Mir Hossein Mousavi's art career, as well as that of his (better known in this respect) wife Zahra Rahnavard:
A believer that art plays a secondary role to political engagement, Mousavi once wrote that “the paint brush will never take the place of the communal struggle for freedom. It must be said that the expressive work of any painter or artist will not minimize the need to perform his social responsibilities. Yet it is within the scope of these responsibilities that his art can provide a vision for a way of living in an alternative future.” A press release for one of Mousavi's exhibitions in Tehran described his work as an "exploration in designs, motifs and a kind of dreamlike intuition of lines, volumes and ascending forms on the context of an Oriental and poetic aesthetic.... The paintings have both the touch of primordial memories and look upon modern milieus and innovative experiences."
(Hat tip: Marginal Revolution)
Trust The Nation's "Deadline Poet" Calvin Trillin to find it:
The Private Thoughts of a TV Anchor as He Observes the Iranian Election
A president like Moussavi
Would fill me to the brim with glee:
For anchors not completely lame,
It's easy to pronounce his name.
But this was not to be. Oh, God--
I'm stuck with Ahmadinejad.
In a surprising capitulation to Iranian tyranny, Newsweek (who recently redesigned the interior of the magazine) boldly and officially renamed their magazine NewsAyatollahs, starting with the cover of the June 29th issue.
With crafty image editing, Dernavich decides to rename several magazines in a similar fashion and to create his own. The images are a must see. My favorite is Ayatollahs Illustrated.
As the world watches Iran, one unexpected country is paying particularly acute attention: Uganda. That country's oil-exporting future lies -- for now at least -- in the hands of whoever sits in power in Tehran.
The country's President Yoweri Museveni recently concluded talks with Iran's President Mahmood Ahmadinejad for the construction of an oil refinery in the East African country. At least some of the funding for the refinery will come from Iran (reports vary on how much -- for example here and here). Tehran also promised to instruct Ugandans at its University of Petroleum Studies and invest throughout the oil pumping chain.
Uganda is a newcomer to the world of oil export. Its resources, now estimated at 2 billion barrells (Iran, by comparison, has reserves of about 130 billion), are just now beginning to come online. The deal with Iran is aimed at making the country's oil industry self-sufficient and value added; unlike other exporters on the continent such as Nigeria, crude oil will be refined in country and sent as a finished product for export. In theory, that could save the country some money -- and the need to ironically re-import its own gasoline. But some wonder if the refinery, at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, will really be cost effective for a country looking to pump out just 100,000 barrels per day.
Either way, it's somewhat disconcerting to imagine Uganda following in Iran's path as an energy giant. The behemoth of oil revenues failed to improve the country's lot last year; and instead, economic calamity set in. If Uganda looks to that example, Iran's election outcome isn't the only gamble in the country's future.
I'm beginning to think that the real Obama effect is the process by which any issue, international or domestic, comes to be discussed primarily in terms of how it relates to the president.
I'm glad Obama publicly stated his support for the protesters in Iran today. It was the right thing to do. But I don't really anticipate either action significantly changing the dynamic of the situation in Iran. It's not as if the demonstrators were waiting for Obama to tell them they are "on the right side of history.” And the Iranian government obviously doesn't really care much about winning Obama's approval.
When Fox News's Major Garett asked Obama "What took you so long?", I had to wonder what he (or John McCain) thinks would have transpired differently if Obama had made a similarly strong-worded statement a week ago.
I haven't yet seen any indication that the Iranian opposition really wants Obama to say more. Mousavi's international spokesman may have criticized Obama in an interview with FP last week for comparing Mousavi to Ahmadinejad, but he never said that more vigorous support would be welcome, despite how some others have characterized the statement.
The heads of a number of states, including France, Germany, and Canada, have already publicly questioned the elections results and voiced support for the protesters, but I haven't seen any examples of opposition leaders or protesters mentioning this support.
On the other hand, the argument of Obama's defenders that stronger support would imperil the protesters seems a little unconvincing as well. Iran's leaders have never lacked for pretexts under which to blame foreign meddling for internal dissent. The government was blaming the U.S. for interfering in this election before Obama had said a word. I'm not sure I understand why they're any more or less likely to crack down or make concessions based on what the U.S. president says.
The fact of the matter is that the United States doesn't have a whole lot of diplomatic leverage or ability to influence what's going on in Iraq right now. The Obama administration still has to face the question of whether the likely fraudulence of Ahmadinejad's victory should change the approach to nuclear negotiations, but that seems like a question that can be addressed down the road. This latest round of the engagement vs. confrontation debate is becoming becomign increasingly tiresome and less pertinent to events outside the beltway.
(For the record, inviting Iranian diplomats to a White House Fourth of July party is a terrible idea. The White House might not be able to talk the regime out of abusing their own people, but that doesn't mean they should have them over for barbecue.)
From the scattered, fragmented reports coming out of Tehran today, it seems the Iranian regime was successfully able to prevent demonstrators from assembling en masse. Riot police, like the ones shown above (who may also be Rrevolutionary Guards in riot gear) beat back or tear-gassed the protestors in the streets. In some cases, like that of this woman shown here (warning: graphic), demonstrators were shot in cold blood. It looked a lot like chaos.
U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement calling on the Iranian government to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people."
"Martin Luther King once said," he continued, "'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."
It's hard to tell who has the upper hand, but it seems like there are still plenty of people willing to beat, maim, even kill their fellow Iranians. That's bad news for the good guys. Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist who's in Tehran, tells of a police commander who pleaded with demonstrators to go home because, "I have children, I have a wife, I don’t want to beat people." From what I can glean from Twitter and various reporting, the regular police aren't quite as eager to beat heads, in contrast with the hard-line Revolutionary Guard and basij militiamen. If we start seeing cracks in those forces, or the regular army, then the regime will really be in trouble. But it will take sustained pressure -- more demonstrations, strikes, and smart politics -- to get there.
As for Mir Hossain Mousavi, the unlikely leader of this uprising, he has reportedly declared his readiness to become a martyr and sent a letter to the Guardian Council demanding a new election. In it, he sounds reluctant to admit that he's past the point of achieving redress through the system. All he seeks, he says, is the restoration of the Islamic Republic -- not its destruction. That makes sense for political reasons, since he needs as broad a coalition as possible and can't afford to alienate potential conservative supporters. He's still hoping to attract the support of the clergy, who could lend his movement enormous weight.
But the clear implication of Mousavi's actions is that he no longer sees the supreme leader as the legitimate, unquestioned ruler of Iran. I'm sure an increasing number of Iranians feel the same way, even if the regime ultimately beats them into submission as we watch helplessly, glued to our monitors. And that will spell the end of the Islamic Republic in the long run.
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