Monday, January 4, 2010

Iran & The Next Demonstrations

Iran awaits its next major holiday - and thus likely its next major demonstration - in February. A former intelligence offer who worked directly for Supreme Guide Khameini tells why he thinks Iran's theocracy will soon fall. Time weighs in with their own analysis. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton loudly condemns Iran. But first, writing at the NY Daily News, Amir Fakhravar tells us why the demonstrations in Iran are, in fact, a revolution in progress:

. . . What we are witnessing on the streets of Tehran and other cities is nothing short of a revolution - a carefully orchestrated, years-in-the-making attempt to overthrow a corrupt and repressive regime and replace it with something fundamentally more free, democratic and secular.

Watching the events unfold, I am taken back 15 years, when I was a student activist in medical school. In my first speech on campus, on Jan. 7, 1994, I simply said that in our country we don't have freedom the way the Supreme Leader says we do.

For saying this, I was sentenced to three years in prison. None of my schoolmates dared talk to me anymore; a combination of fear and religious beliefs had made even thinking ill of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a taboo.

Today, when I see Iranians fearlessly shouting "Death to Khamenei" and "Khamenei is a murderer" with police and members of the Basij militia present, I know that the Green revolution has found its correct course.

I know it is strong enough not only to survive, but to succeed.

Iranians have come a long way to arrive at this moment. More than 70% of the population is younger than 30; young people's disappointment with previous empty promises of reform led to the student uprising of July 9, 1999 - beginning to transform appeals for reform into more profound calls for democracy. . .

The only question now is how long it will take. Three elements can affect this time line. The first is Iranians inside Iran, who are already doing their part. The second is a coalition including different Iranian opposition groups to synchronize future protests and help shape the foundations of a new democratic and secular government upon the downfall of the Islamic Republic. The third is Western governments, who must impose hard sanctions on the regime to dramatically reduce the inflow of money, thus freeing the region and the world of a tyrannical and dangerous government.

Time Magazine offers there analysis, noting that the theocracy appears to be preparing for a massive crackdown, using Tianamen Square as a model. However, as Time notes, the difference between Iran in 2010 and China circa 1989 are greater than the similarities.

. . . China's 1989 democracy movement and the current Iranian uprising share some common threads. Both were youth-driven popular movements demanding change, led by loose coalitions of disparate factions that lacked strong leadership. And in both cases, the protesters' demands grew as the regimes clamped down.

But there are important differences between the two that may result in different outcomes. In Iran, the catalyst was the charge that the authorities had stolen an election that the opposition believes Mousavi won; the Chinese protestors had no history of voting in competitive elections and were mobilized by the death of Hu Yaobang, a reformist member of the communist leadership. China used maximum force relatively early; it contained the challenge within seven weeks. Iran's regime is losing momentum after seven months; demonstrations late last month spread to at least 10 major cities. China banned the foreign press and tightly controlled state media; Iran has been unable to prevent eyewitness accounts of citizen journalists from reaching the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.

The biggest difference may be that Iran is historically more democratic than China, where public participation in politics has been restricted for centuries. Iranians have had a growing role in politics since the 1905-11 Constitutional Revolution produced Asia's first parliament; they've voted for decades under both a monarchy and a theocracy. Also, China has long been a closed society; Iran's Indo-European population has long had exposure to Western ideas and education.

Rather than Tiananmen, Iran's opposition is hoping to repeat a different event from 1989 — the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Eastern Europe's communist regimes. Despite the regime's growing threats, opposition leaders remain defiant. Mousavi warned over the weekend that the crackdown will not succeed. "I say openly that orders to execute, kill or imprison Karroubi and Mousavi will not solve the problem," said a statement on his website. Mousavi's nephew was among those killed during the Ashura protests; opposition accounts claim he was assassinated.

Iran's uprising appears to have entered a new phase after the Dec. 19 death of dissident cleric Grand Ayatullah Hossein Ali Montazeri, and the Ashura protests a week later. The so-called Green Movement has proven both resolute and resilient, and appears to be gaining wider support from traditional and religious sectors of society once loyal to the regime.

The next key test for both sides will be the so-called 11 Days of Dawn commemoration of the 1979 revolution that begins on Feb. 1, marking the day revolutionary leader Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from 14 years in exile. The public celebrations, the most important political holiday of the year, end on the anniversary of the fall of the government installed by the monarchy, which paved the way for creation of the world's only modern theocracy.

At the Bangkok Post, Mohammad Reza Madhi, a former officer in IRGC's intelligence service, gives his opinion that Ahmedinejad is "crazy" and that the theocracy will soon fall:

[Ahmedinejad] has already destroyed international relationships with many countries and made them enemies of Iran,'' said Mr Madhi, who was forced to flee Iran in 2008 . . .

Iran's opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi said on Friday he was ready to sacrifice his life in defence of the people's right to protest peacefully against the government after the worst unrest since the disputed June presidential election.

Mr Madhi, who says he was once the right-hand man of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and passed on information to respected cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died last month, has been in regular contact with the opposition Green Path of Hope group since he left Iran.

He said while his country should remain the Islamic Republic of Iran, religion and politics must be separated. ''The good clerics should help the people and the government, while the bad ones should be ousted from government,'' he said.

Mr Madhi said a motivation for Iran improving international relations was the poor economic situation in the country and the need for it to be part of a globalised world economy.

. . . On Israel, he said: ''It is the Iranian government which doesn't recognise its right to exist, but the Iranian people might think differently.

''Israel's internal problems are its own affairs, not ours. We shouldn't get involved. It shouldn't concern us. My view is that Israel has the right to exist. We should recognise it.''

Mr Madhi was highly critical of Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a spiritual adviser to a group of hard-line fundamentalists closely connected to senior leaders in the current Iranian government.

''He is a very crazy man who hates Israel and the United States especially. Unfortunately, President Ahmadinejad is one of his big fans as well.''

The former intelligence officer said that instead of imposing sanctions, western nations should look to supporting opposition groups and not recognise the Ahmadinejad government.

And lastly, Sec. of State Clinton has now spoken up on the demonstrations and repression. This from Breitbart:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday slammed what she called the "ruthless repression" of demonstrators against the Iranian regime.
"We have deep concerns about their behaviour, we have concerns about their intentions and we are deeply disturbed by the mounting signs of ruthless repression that they are exercising against those who assemble and express viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear," Clinton said.

It is good to hear her weighing in. But words alone, while important, are not near enough. As I spelled out here and here, Obama needs to fully support this revolution on all levels,

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