16 Jun 2009

Has the Counter-Revolution started in Iran?

Let me begin with a salute to the Iranian people who have shown great courage against the Iranian regime's thugs and have managed so far to out-smart the Mullah brigades and continue their display of popular anger and discontent. This is no mean feat, Ahmadenejad's supporters will go to extreme lengths to suppress this budding uprising, and the protesters can only fight back with courage and determination. They genuinely deserve our support and solidarity.

As the world watches the escalating situation in Tehran with anticipation, many are speculating that this could be the end of the road for the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Only the Iranian people can determine the outcome of this struggle, and their will can certainly overcome the Basiji and the Revolutionary Guard. But let's put this in perspective, this is not an outright challenge to the system itself but a manifestation of the friction between the competing factions that have existed within the ranks of the rulers of the Islamic Republic since its foundation. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the candidate whom the demonstrators believe should have won the elections, was Prime Minister of Iran throughout its war with Iraq in the 80s. He's certainly not a critic of the Islamic Republic itself, he represents a different outlook among the ranks of the Iranian establishment that is opposed to Ahmadinejad and his backers.

The difference between the two men and what they represent embodies the tension that was inherent within the Islamic Revolution since its early days. Should the revolution be exported to other countries or should Iran focus on sorting out its own affairs? Nation state or revolutionary cause, what path should Iran follow? The question has never been settled conclusively, and the response to it has largely shaped Iran's foreign and domestic policy and continues to do so. Today however, the commitment to exporting the revolution is not an active project, but it remains an important rhetorical and ideological device that Ahmadinejad and his allies within the regime draw their legitimacy from. But despite his loud proclamations, Ahmadinejad is not the mad figure that is portrayed in the West. His noisy rhetoric is partially an attempt to mask his incompetence at managing the economy and running the country smoothly.

Against this background, it is easy to understand the appeal of Mousavi, a wealthy and successful man but also one who ran the economy efficiently during his term as prime minister. He represented something more immediate to Iranian voters than overthrowing the regime, namely competent management of the country and the economy and mild reformism. Having said that, no one can say for sure what direction public anger can take and if the crowds in Iran get a measure of their own power they might attempt to topple the system. There is a real barrier against this, the opposition to the Islamic Republic is not organised and any challenge to the system itself will draw the reformers closer to their opponents within the regime in order to protect the Islamic Republic from collapsing.

Western intervention at this stage, particularly by the Americans, will certainly not be in favour of the opposition that is taking shape day by day. The regime will portray the public demonstrators as agents of the West and galvanize support among the hardliners whose numbers run in the millions as well. What is important to realize at this stage is that this is a matter for the Iranian people to decide upon and they alone are responsible for determining the kind of society they want to live in.

It is easy to get carried away when watching millions protesting, but let's not turn this into a personal fantasy. The most likely outcome of this episode is that the regime will back down and appease the protesters one way or the other, and desktop revolutionaries everywhere will have their hearts broken with yet another 'spring' failing to induce real political change. Real change can only come through political organisation, let's get busy with that.

1 comment:

  1. Nathan Coombs wrote:
    "Real change can only come through political organisation, let's get busy with that." Damn right, and you should have also added: real change needs more than an English speaking, middle class North Tehranese constituency. It needs the mass backing of the urban working class at least, and in collaboration with the totally undiscussed Iranian labour movement, who have been one of the most brutally suppressed organizations by the regime.


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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