Violent protests in Iran are now entering into their ninth day. The mid-level cleric cum Supreme Guide Khameini's decisions to approve of - if not initiate - massive election fraud in support of Ahmedinejad and then bet the legitimacy of the theocracy on the election results is now causing or exacerbating multiple faultlines. Those faultlines are spinning out from the center like the strands of spider's web. Indeed, five senior clerics have protested, with varying degrees of severity, at the manner in which the elections were conducted and the violence that followed. Ayatollah Montazeri, the former heir to Khomeini, who was pushed aside following political disputes, has been the most explicit in his condemnation of the elections. . . . Also see Henry Newman, writing at the Guardian, covers this faultline in detail. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; As we watch the faultlines in Iranian society become ever more pronounced, it is clear the center cannot hold. The only question is what will follow the anarchy. In 1979, Iranians revolted against the Shah, expecting freedom. What they got instead was a regime every bit as repressive and corrupt as the Shah's. Let us wish them better fortune this time, for everyone's sake.
Khameini's decision has pitted the regime against the Iranian populace and has horrified those with a vested interest in seeing the theocracy survive. And indeed, as those that took part in the 1979 revolution surely realize, if the regime does not survive, there is a good chance they will not survive long afterwards.
There are numerous reports that Khameini's decision has split the IRGC and members of Iran's security apparatus. Yesterday, Michael Ledeen wrote about "cracks in the regime’s instruments of repression," noting reports that "many [IRGC] commanders" have refused to carry out orders. Further, he reprints an extraordinary appeal from several former IRGC soldiers who, on their farsi blog, accuse the regime and the IRGC of having become wholly corrupt and "calling on their brethren to defect, and join the revolution." This is perhaps the most critical of all the faultlines, for if the security apparatus fails, there can be no doubt that the theocracy will be swept away soon after.
CNN is reporting this morning that Ali Larinjani, the Speaker of Iran's Parliament, has taken the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing, on Iran's official news stations, "some members" of the Guardian Council for "sid[ing] with a certain presidential candidate." He thus implies that there was in fact fraud in the election and corruption at the highest levels of government. This is no doubt the tip of the iceberg amongst the many senior officials who are feeling the stress from the threat to the viability of the regime that Khameini has created. It is not clear, though, what if anything the senior officials could do to effect this situation short of a coup, replacing Khameini and the majority of the Guardian Council, then allowing for another election with the hopes that, one, the protests die out and two, the regime survives. All of those events seem to have next to no chance of coming to fruition, but they do indicate a very serious split in the apparatus of government itself.
Another fault line that has today opened up considerably is that between the Khameini-Ahmedinejad axis and the Mousavi-Rafsanjani axis. Rafsanjani is a deeply corrupt Ayatollah, a former President, a member of the Guardian Council, an enemy of Khameini and the wealthiest person in Iran. Ahmedinejad has made of Rafsanjani the public symbol of corruption that he promised to clean up. Rafsanjani has followers throughout Iran, and it was likely he that bankrolled Mousavi's run for the Presidency, if for no other reason than out of survival instinct. You can read a detailed explanation of the byzantine maneuvering of these two axises from Reul Marc Gerecht. Although this fault line long existed, the stakes were upped considerably during the campaign. But today the were upped to existential levels when Rafsanjani's daughter, his grand daughter and two other relatives were arrested by Iranian police, ostensibly for protesting the election. Clearly this is a thug like move to neuter Rafsanjani.
And yet another faultline appears to be among the Shia clerical class whose spiritual home is in Qom. (I mention that because you will often hear the leadership of Iran's clerical class identified in shorthand by reference to Qom.) The very existence of a theocracy in Iran has been opposed by many Shia clerics, most notably Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, because it violates the ancient Shia tradition of keeping politics seperate from religion. Beyond that, there is clearly discontent brewing at Qom over Khameini's handling of this situation. This from Ali M Ansari, Head of Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews:
Neither Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor Ahmadinejad are popular in Qom. The latter's unorthodox millenarian views are regarded with contempt by most senior clergy, while Khamenei has never been accepted as a scholar of note. The clerics may bide their time, but their intervention, which may come sooner rather than later - especially if violence spreads - could be decisive.
What do all these faultlines mean? There is a famous poem by Yeats, The Second Coming, apropos to that question. As Yeats wrote:
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned . . .
21 June 2009: When The Regime Will Fall
20 June 2009: The Regime Turns On Its Own People (Updated)
20 June 2009: Life, Death & Terrorism On Iran's Streets - Neda
19 June 2009: Countdown To High Noon
19 June 2009: An Iranian Showdown Cometh - Liveblogging Khameini's Speech At Friday Prayers
18 June 2009: Iran Update
16 June 2009: Iran 6/16: The Fire Still Burning, An Incendiary Letter From Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, State Dept. Intercedes With Twitter & Obama Talks Softly
16 June 2009: Breaking News: Vote Recount In Iran, Too Little, Too Late
15 June 2009: Iran Buys Time, Obama Votes Present, Iraq's Status Is Recognized
15 June 2009: The Fog Of War - & Twitter
15 June 2009: Chants Of Death To Khameini
15 June 2009: Heating Up In Iran
14 June 2009: Heating Up In Iran
14 June 2009: Tehran Is Burning; What Will The Iranian Army Do? (Updated)
13 June 2009: The Mad Mullah's Man Wins Again - For Now
15 April 2008: The Next Moves In An Existential Chess Match (Background On Iran's Theocracy)
Indeed, five senior clerics have protested, with varying degrees of severity, at the manner in which the elections were conducted and the violence that followed. Ayatollah Montazeri, the former heir to Khomeini, who was pushed aside following political disputes, has been the most explicit in his condemnation of the elections. . . .
Also see Henry Newman, writing at the Guardian, covers this faultline in detail.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
As we watch the faultlines in Iranian society become ever more pronounced, it is clear the center cannot hold. The only question is what will follow the anarchy. In 1979, Iranians revolted against the Shah, expecting freedom. What they got instead was a regime every bit as repressive and corrupt as the Shah's. Let us wish them better fortune this time, for everyone's sake.