Iran: looking ahead

In today’s NY Times, Roger Cohen observes that “Iran’s 1979 revolution took  full year to gestate”, and suggests that “the volatility ushered in by the June 12 ballot-box putsch of Iran’s New Right is certain to endure over the coming year”. He argues that the Islamic Republic has been weakened in five key ways as follows:

  1. The supreme leader’s post — the apex of the structure conceived by the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — has been undermined. The keystone of the arch is now loose. Khamenei, far from an arbiter with a Prophet-like authority, has looked more like a ruthless infighter. His word has been defied. At night, from rooftops, I’ve even heard people call for his death. The unthinkable has occurred.
  2. The hypocritical but effective contract that bound society has been broken. The regime never had active support from more than 20 percent of the population. But acquiescence was secured by using only highly targeted repression (leaving the majority free to go about its business), and by giving people a vote for the president every four years. That’s over. Repression will be broad and ferocious in the coming months. The acquiescent have already become the angry. You can’t turn Iran into Burma: The resistance of a society this varied and savvy will be fierce.
  3. A faction loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fiercely nationalistic and mystically religious, has made a power grab so bold that fissures in the establishment have become canyons. Members of this faction include Hassan Taeb, the leader of the Basiji militia; Saeed Jalili, the head of the National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator; and Mojtaba Khamenei, the reclusive but influential son of the supreme leader. They have their way for now, but the cost to Iran has been immense, and the rearguard action led by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a father of the revolution, and Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, will be intense.
  4. Iran’s international rhetoric, effective in Ahmadinejad’s first term, will be far less so now. Every time he talks of justice and ethics, his two favorite words, video will roll of Neda Agha Soltan’s murder and the regime’s truncheon-wielding goons at work. The president may prove too much of a liability to preserve.
  5. At the very peak of its post-revolution population boom, the regime has lost a whole new generation — and particularly the women of that generation — by failing to adapt. Thirty years from the revolution, the core question of this election was: Must Iran stand apart from the forces of economic and political globalization in order to preserve its Islamic theocracy? Or is it confident enough of its Islamic identity, and its now firmly established independence from America, to trash the nest-of-spies vitriol and an ultimately self-defeating isolation? The answer has been devastating.