Though the masters
Make the rules
For the wise men
And the fools
I’ve got nothing, Ma
To live up to – Bob Dylan, “It’s alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding)” (1965)
PARIS – It’s now “divine assessment” (copyright Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) versus (green) people power – no holds barred. For Iranian state power, not only people power is to blame. It’s official: blame it on “Washington” and the “foreign media”.
On the other hand, here’s the upgraded voice of the Tehran street, where the new top rallying cry is “Seyyed Ali Pinochet, Chile Iran nemishe” (Seyyed Ali Pinochet, Iran won’t be like Chile). A seven-point list of demands has been Twittered and passed hand-to-hand (here in its original Twitter English version) since Tuesday afternoon.
1. Remove Khamenei from supreme leader because he doesn’t qualify as a fair supreme leader.
2. Remove [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad from president because he took it forcefully and unlawfully.
3. Put [Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali] Montazeri as supreme leader until a review group for the ghanooneh asasi [constitution] is set up.
4. Recognize [losing presidential candidate Mir Hossein] Mousavi as the official president.
5. A government by Mousavi and start a reform of the constitution. 6. Free all political prisoners without any ifs and buts, right away.
7. Call off any secret organization such as gasht ershad [morality police].
Montazeri, on his own website, has answered the call since Tuesday. He endorsed peaceful, civilian protests to “claim rights”; condemned the state-sponsored, mainly Basiji (paramilitary) violence; and questioned the election outcome as a whole. He called for three days of mourning for the reported 10 protesters killed on Monday. (Some Iranian sources have put the total at 32 dead.)
Montazeri should have been Khomeini’s successor; but he questioned in profound detail Khomeini’s notion of velayat-e-faqih (the ruling of the jurisprudent) and was isolated in house arrest in the holy city of Qom. Khamenei, a mere hojjatoleslam, was installed in a white coup after ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death in 1989.
Cracks in the mullahcracy are now becoming visible. As Rooyeh has reported, Rafsanjani, the head of the Council of Experts (86 top clerics, no women) has called for an emergency council meeting in Qom. This is supremely crucial. The future of Khamenei – which means the future of the foundations of the Islamic Republic itself – is to be discussed in full.
Khamenei is ill. (Please see An ill wind in Iran Asia Times Online, March 2, 2007.) Most, if not the whole current drama, is about his succession. Rafsanjani, as chairman, can not only steer the votes but install his own candidate as supreme leader. The Ahmadinejad faction’s candidate is apocalyptic, Mahdist, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who is also a member of the Council of Experts. A showdown is inevitable.
Cracks all over
The key question now is whether the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) – the main beneficiary of this new Islamic revolution set up as a military dictatorship of the mullahtariat – will be pushed to the brink by unarmed people power in the streets and literally come out all guns blazing to safeguard its (unlimited) privilege and bring the widespread protests to a swift end. (See The IRGC shakes its iron fist , Asia Times Online, June 18).
There are cracks in the IRGC monolith as well. According to the Cyrus news agency, in Farsi, no less than 16 senior IRGC commanders – three of them “veterans of the Iran-Iraq war [of the 1980s]” – were arrested because they were blatantly supporting (green) people power. It’s fair to assume many are supporters of losing presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, who was an extremely respected head of the IRGC.
Whatever the strategy behind the decision of the Guardians Council to order a partial recount of some votes, Mousavi’s supporters and the wider people power don’t believe in it. Spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai said the council was “ready to recount the disputed ballot boxes claimed by some candidates, in the presence of their representatives”. The Fars News Agency, talking about the recounting now underway, points out that in Kermanshah, a Kurdish province, there was “no irregularity”. Ahmadinejad is as popular with Kurds as Palestinians are with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
Moreover, Iranians know the 12-member Guardians Council, six ayatollahs and six jurists, will never allow another poll. The council is headed by ultra-right winger, Ahmadinejad-friendly Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.
The regime’s crackdown betrays fear. Mohammad Asgari, responsible for the security of the IT network in the Ministry of Interior, and who had leaked crucial evidence about election rigging in the provinces, may have been killed this past Tuesday in a car accident (no full confirmation at the time of writing). According to his figures, Mousavi won the election with almost 19 million votes – a number very similar to informed messages coming from Iran from Saturday to Sunday.
Moreover, former foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi was arrested on Wednesday in the Pars Hospital in Tehran, and with around 100 other intellectuals was taken to Evin prison.
The level of agonizing at the very top must be unbearable. One can almost palpably feel the silent panic. The previous regime – the shah dictatorship – fell exactly like this. Yes, it is 1979 all over again. The bazaaris – who were essential for Khomeini in 1979 – are now overwhelmingly against the axis of the supreme leader, Ahmadinejad and the IRGC.
Iran’s historical pendulum of monarchy and clergy now seems to be heading towards a third way, which happens to be the same way Iran was heading to in 1953, when the US Central Intelligence Agency staged its anti-democracy coup. After prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh was done with, there was supremacy of the monarchy (the shah – self-proclaimed gendarme of the Persian Gulf) and supremacy of the clergy (the Islamic revolution).
People power now yearns for democratic freedoms – pure and simple. And by the composition of the huge, “illegal” daily rallies in Tehran, that does not mean only the urban, north Tehran middle class, students and intellectuals, but vast sectors of the lower middle class and the working class as well.
You have the right to agree with us
As it stands, the regime would love nothing better than a subdued Tehran as a totally Basiji-occupied territory, a militia version of the classic hip hop anthem “the Man controls the day, we control the night”; but in this case it’s unarmed civilians who are driving events day and night.
In desperation, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has ordered foreign media to back off from covering “illegal demonstrations”; forced everybody to work from their bureaus; canceled all press passes; and expelled journalists. In sum, it has decreed “you have the right to report nothing”. The IRGC is already deploying a full crackdown on the Internet.
That may be irrelevant. As much as corporate media – from anywhere – has been rendered mostly irrelevant. Iranians are deploying an absolute non-stop, 24/7 thriller; a guerrilla communication redux, an ultra-raw version of history in the making via blogs – this is a nation of young bloggers – YouTube and Twitter, battling by all means necessary ultra-slow or shut down Internet, jammed phone lines going in and out, blocked chats, blocked SMS.
Civilians, for their part, are being shot at by Basiji, but they don’t back off either. This is a revolution of sorts in real time – shot in real time by actual citizens. And all this has been reverberating all over the world. Here in Paris, cable TV has been discussing the cyberwar in depth. In the case of the US, formidable websites and blogs such as the National Iranian American Council liveblogging, Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post or The Daily Dish’s Andrew Sullivan have been spreading the word. Even the BBC news website felt the need to turn green.
“Where is my vote?”, in both Farsi and English, is now a worldwide battle cry. “Down with the dictator” is now being replaced by the hilarious “2+ 2 = 24 million”, a shot at Ahmadinejad’s constant distortion of inflation and unemployment data.
Respected Iranian intellectual Ebrahim Nabavi spelled it all out in his website: “A president that has received 24 million votes doesn’t need to imprison hundreds of people and cut all lines of communication.” In Tuesday’s monster worker strike – offices in Tehran were virtually deserted – doctors and nurses, in their lab coats, chose to take to the streets. Iranian soccer players at their World Cup qualifier match with South Korea on Wednesday wore green wrist bands.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that all this extraordinary drama – at least for now – is being played out within the limits of the Islamic Republic system. The outstanding Tehran protest on Wednesday – with at least tens of thousands of people – was essentially silent, and extremely peaceful, while at night people all over Iran scream “Allah-u Akbar” (God is great) from the top of their lungs. This is about Iran. This is not – and never was – about the West.
And just like a bossa nova song playing on an elevator on fire, while people power was still driving events, Ahmadinejad showed up at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia, this Tuesday, proclaiming “the international capitalist order is retreating” and the age of empires has ended. That’s entirely possible, of course – but maybe there are some other old orders ending as well.
President Barack Obama, wisely, has said, “something has happened in Iran” – whether it’s Tiananmen in Beijing, a new Wenceslas Square in Prague, or a new Selma, Alabama. In fact, something’s happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Mahmud?