Those who analyze the protests that have gripped Iran since the perpetration of voter fraud in the country oftentimes point out that while the Islamic regime has a definite leadership class, the opposition movement is relatively leaderless. This lack of leadership supposedly makes it more difficult for the opposition to achieve its political aims.
I am sure that this is an appealing theory for some. I’m just not sure how right it is:
. . . Mr. [Mir Hossein] Moussavi issued a statement on his website, Kaleme.org, which took a broad swipe at the government for its use of force against civilian protesters. It also criticized the government’s handling of the economy and foreign policy and its failure to address institutional corruption.
Mr. Moussavi offered a prescription for the government to restore its lost legitimacy that called for the release of political prisoners, the repair of electoral laws, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and the press.
Then he addressed head-on those who in recent days have called for his arrest — and execution — along with other opposition leaders, like the cleric and former parliament speaker, Mehdi Karroubi.
“I’m not afraid of being one of the post-election martyrs who lost their lives in their struggle for their rightful demands,” he said in the statement. “My blood is no different than that of other martyrs.”
But Mr. Moussavi also acknowledged what has become increasingly evident during recent events, that neither he nor Mr. Karroubi is actually in charge. Presenting himself as more of an analyst than a participant, Mr. Moussavi framed Iran’s internal conflict as one between the leadership and the people. It was a tactical move that apparently sought to take the opposition’s weakness — its lack of organization and leadership — and present it as a strength.
“I say openly that orders to execute, kill or imprison Karroubi and Moussavi will not solve the problem,” he said in the statement.
I recognize that this is spin on Mousavi’s part. But the spin has the virtue of being correct. It is clear as day that neither Mousavi nor Karroubi can control the actions of the Iranian opposition movement. At best, the two of them can try to play the “there go the people; I must follow them for I am their leader” game as best they can, but quite obviously, playing that game does not imply the exercise of actual leadership in any way, shape, or form.
Which means, of course, that the regime can garner no amount of satisfaction from the following, entirely trenchant observation:
“In terms of longevity, this could go on for some time but could also unravel quite quickly if the government loses its nerve,” said Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at St. Andrews University in Scotland. “In this respect Khamenei is the key, he’s the equivalent of the Shah and is similarly weak.”
The regime cannot hope that opposition leaders lose their nerve; precisely because there are no real leaders of the opposition. The opposition is a clever and calculating mass. It need only wait until those at the top of the regime finally fall apart. The regime can try to prevent the opposition from winning by continuing its brutal tactics, and hoping that the opposition is intimidated into silence. But how has that plan worked so far?