The Latest From Iran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 17, 2009

How very inconvenient for the regime that its opponents are not going away:

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger in the disputed Iranian presidential election, plan a fifth day of protests in Tehran after the biggest rally in 30 years led to as many as 15 deaths. Mousavi called for a mass demonstration tomorrow to mourn those killed.

Two prominent Mousavi backers were detained, AFP reported. Iran’s supreme leader yesterday appealed for unity after meeting representatives of candidates in June 12 presidential voting.

Today’s protest follows a June 15 rally that was the largest anti-government demonstration since the Islamic revolution ousted Iran’s shah in 1979, triggered by opposition accusations of vote-rigging to re-elect President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Several people were reported killed. Tehran’s bazaar merchants, a group that backed the 1979 revolution, may strike to protest the election, the BBC said.

A bazaar strike would be a very big deal, as it was a favorite tactic of the revolutionaries against the Shah. At this point, I am betting that it will happen. Mousavi’s decision to call for a day of mourning for those killed in the protests–in addition to being quite proper and humane–will serve to ensure that the cause for which those protesters gave their lives remains at the forefront of international attention.

Meanwhile, the regime acts true to form:

. . . Reuters reported that Mohammadreza Habibi, the senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be executed under Islamic law.

“We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution,” Mr. Habibi said, according to the Fars news agency. It was not clear if his warning applied only to Isfahan or the country as a whole, Reuters said.

It’s despicable, of course, to threaten people with the death penalty merely because they want liberty and democracy for their country, but what else can one expect from the regime? It doesn’t know how to handle the current uprising. In past elections, the Iranian reformist population stayed home instead of participating in what it viewed as sham exercises in faux democracy. The view was correct, but the actions of the reformist population merely served to allow the fundamentalists to win elections easily.

This time, the reformists participated, and panicked the fundamentalists into clumsily seeking to perpetrate electoral fraud on the country. And they are continuing to participate through demonstrations–panicking the fundamentalists still further.

And this is the kind of society they are demonstrating against:

Back before the election and the ensuing pandemonium, some journalists stopped for lunch at a cafe in north-central Tehran, a place with pictures of Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett where the stern visage of the late Ayatollah Khomeini is more customary, and where the background music was American jazz.

What’s that record? a newcomer to town asked the proprietor. He held up a CD case of the great bluesman John Lee Hooker. Really? The singer known as the Boogie Man played jazz? “Hooooker!” he insisted.

Well, you never know. Worth a check. But back at the hotel, a Google search produced a yellow triangle with an exclamation point and a warning: Access to this site is denied.

What? Oh. Of course. “Hooker.”

Welcome to the Islamic Republic, where we protect you from yourself. You have much to learn.

The mind reels. Meanwhile, to round things out (at least for the moment), Robert Kagan properly takes the Obama Administration to task:

Obama’s policy now requires getting past the election controversies quickly so that he can soon begin negotiations with the reelected Ahmadinejad government. This will be difficult as long as opposition protests continue and the government appears to be either unsettled or too brutal to do business with. What Obama needs is a rapid return to peace and quiet in Iran, not continued ferment. His goal must be to deflate the opposition, not to encourage it. And that, by and large, is what he has been doing.

If you find all this disturbing, you should. The worst thing is that this approach will probably not prevent the Iranians from getting a nuclear weapon. But this is what “realism” is all about. It is what sent Brent Scowcroft to raise a champagne toast to China’s leaders in the wake of Tiananmen Square. It is what convinced Gerald Ford not to meet with Alexander Solzhenitsyn at the height of detente. Republicans have traditionally been better at it than Democrats — though they have rarely been rewarded by the American people at the ballot box, as Ford and George H.W. Bush can attest. We’ll see whether President Obama can be just as cold-blooded in pursuit of better relations with an ugly regime, without suffering the same political fate.

It is important to note that it in no way goes against the principles of realpolitik to seek to undermine an unfriendly regime–particularly when the people ruled by that regime have made it clear that they don’t really mind the undermining. Again, I know, we can’t have too heavy a hand. But we can’t have too light a hand either.

  • robspe

    Isn't it odd how blithely the Obama-bots completely ignore the lack of separation of church and state in Iran while complaining so bitterly about any contact whatever between state and religion in the West? Maybe not.

  • robspe

    Isn't it odd how blithely the Obama-bots completely ignore the lack of separation of church and state in Iran while complaining so bitterly about any contact whatever between state and religion in the West? Maybe not.

Previous post:

Next post: