Some More (Quick) Thoughts on Iran

The best sites to follow continue to be: Andrew Sullivan, Michal Totten, The Lede @NyTimes, and Nico Pitney (@HuffPo).

  • Today’s events have for the moment swung momentum to the side of the revolution/reform.
  • The biggest news being that Supreme Leader Khameni reversing himself has ordered The Guardian Council
  • Mir Hossein Mousavi (and his wife Zahra Rahnavard) has turned out be a brilliant tactician with some serious guts in a way that former Reform President Khatami never had.
  • So far the riot police and the National Army appear to be holding off.  On this hand it’s more like Russia 1991 than China 1989.
  • BUT there is still the unknown of the Basij (paramilitaries) and counter-revolutionary vigilante thug groups like Ansar e-Hezbollah.  They have already perpetrated violence (including probably last night’s bloody attack on Tehran University students).  This makes this unlike the examples of Russia and China.
  • Elements of the clerical regime are now clearly in a fight with each other.  Rafsanjani is leading the pro-Mousavi crew.

–Ok here’s some wild (educated guess) speculation on my part.  What would cause the reversal from Khamenei?  He twice came out and immediately endorsed the election–going so far as to call it a divine act.  Now he switches…what gives?

[Read the Update below].

One possible answer comes in the form of Akbar Rafsanjani, the old cagey pol. There were rumors (and that’s it rumors…so far as I know) that Rafsanjani as head of the Assembly of Experts had gone to Qom (the clerical home but also a pro-Mousavi region) and was in essence counting clerical votes.  The Assembly of Experts can dismiss The Supreme Leader.  It’s never been done, but the potential power is there.  If (and this is a big IF remember, I’m speculating) Rafsanjani had the votes to impeach Khamenei, maybe he takes that proof to Khamenei and forces him to call for an investigation or they pull the plug on him.

It’s not that hard to imagine that possibility.  Ahmadinjead is a populist who has run against the power of the clerics since the beginning.  Ahmadinejad’s power comes from the Basij, the rural poor, and the Revolutionary Guards.  He’s pissed off a lot of the old guard clerics.

–Everything could change. The hardline forces seem to have been caught off guard today.  There were initial reports that today’s massive rally was going to have to be canceled/postponed due to potential violence, but it has clearly happened.  The longer this goes on the worse obviously it is for the hardliners.  It starts to become a snowball rolling down the proverbial hill.  But do not underestimate the potential for renewed mass violence.

–Andrew, at one point, called the EU recognition of the Ahmadinejad “victory” (sorry can’t find the link) “inconceivable.”  I think it was gutless but not inconceivable.  Europe, unlike the US, gets a large amount of its oil from Iran.  So the fear of oil cutoff I think explains it.

–As I mentioned in the comments to this post, there has been talk for some time now about what happens after Khamenei.  He’s older and has been sick apparently at points.  The main theory floating around was the ending of a single Supreme Leader and instead a Council of Clerics–perhaps the powerful Council of Guardians would takeover.

In scientific terms, Iran has entered a state of nonequilibrium dynamics.  Whatever comes out as the new equilibrium on the far side of this period of chaos will not be what it was before.  Whatever Iran is going to become, for better and very possibly for worse, there is no going back to the status quo ante.  At this point there are only so many ways in terms of political structure this can go.

1. The hardliners regain power through extreme violence. The country will at that point no longer be an Islamic Republic but will have shifted totally into a Totalitarian state with only the penumbra of being a theocracy.

2. Something like the above scenario occurs, whereby Khameni retires, is fired, or essentially neutered (though perhaps keeping the title) and a council like entity takes over.

3. Mousavi comes to power and becomes the Iranian Gorbachev. Beginning a process of opening the country up both politically and economically that will lead to the eventual ending of the clerical illiberal regime.

Update I:
An important update on the decision to review the election via Andrew.

Update II:  Taken as what they are (no way to know either way), the live Tweets on Andrew’s site talk about violence coming from paramilitaries.  Exactly the scenario I described above and feared.  Again this is all very nebulous but it appears like the Army and Police are standing down.  If the paramilitaries really start organized (instead of sporadic) violence, who knows.   Would there be fights between members of the various forces?

Update III:  What would be really helpful reporting at this point is the makeup and if anyone knows the ideological leanings of the makeup of the Guardian Council since they have now be tasked with review of the election.  Of course they may have been told to do a coverup. But you can easily imagine  the CoG saying the elections were fair and correct and mass protests again erupting.

Update IV:  The crowds in Tehran shouted Armed Guards Support us.  This links up with what I hypothesized in Update II.  Forces potentially fighting forces within the regime.  There are reports in some places of the police attacking, though again all of this is very unclear.   The major fear I think must continue to be the paramilitaries.

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