The Beginning of the End of the Islamic Republic
There are many signs that reflect a definite end to the Islamic Republic. However, we can neither predict its time nor should we wait for this regime to fall apart by itself tomorrow. The political-economic-social crisis that has taken place in the aftermath of last year’s presidential election has fragmented the structure of power and crystallized the weaknesses of the regime that tried very hard to end this movement. It is obvious that the political illegitimacy of the regime along with the economic crisis will eventually once again strengthen the movement that on June 13, 2009 stood against the Islamic Republic.
Many saw an end to the rule of the Islamic Republic on June 12, 2009. But why has the people’s movement lacked momentum over the past year and during recent months?
To answer this question we should examine the mobilization of political and social forces inside the movement since June 12, 2009 and study the methods of resistance that each of these forces chose.
A Theatrical Play Consisting of Attacks and Counterattacks
Since two years ago, the Basij has had regular and organized riot control and urban warfare maneuvers and its riot control division has undergone major structural reforms. Military and intelligence forces became prepared to fight street protestors. They were prepared to use technological advances for espionage and control communications in a technological war between the protestors and the ruling power.
This piece of theatre developed as Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi’s campaigns reached a certain level of popularity before the presidential election of June 2009. Musavi’s presence strengthened and popularized the play for a number of reasons. Musavi was an appropriate choice for the reformists because he had a presence in the center of Iranian politics and had remained on the margins of political quarrels. The young generation did not know him and did not have recollections from his time in power, which coincided with the comprehensive oppression of opposition forces and political prisoners. In the final months before the election, the government eased internet restrictions and permitted the use of popular social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
However, the next development was the most remarkable of all. In an unprecedented move, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) organized and broadcast debates between presidential candidates, which were reported to have become the most widely watched television programs.
As such, before the tenth presidential election in the Islamic Republic a few different social forces with varying perspectives and approaches mobilized to confront each other.
The Greens: Musavi Supporters The economic-social base of this group consists of urban middle class and youth (mostly under 25). The demands of this group revolve more around social matters rather than economic matters and this was quite clear in Musavi’s platform and agendas. The Blues: Supporters of Sanctions This group, which primarily only had a chance to express itself in cyber space and collaborate with other social groups, reflects the part of urban society that fundamentally does not agree with the political and ideological system dominant in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Whites: Karrubi Supporters A fragment of university students, women, and independent political activists who were seeking serious change gathered around Karrubi’s platform to state and pursue slogans for gradual change with clear and practical demands. This group, too, includes a part of the urban middle class that is politically and culturally advanced.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei underestimated the level, depth, and potential of the protests and objections that took place after the election. Since the morning of June 13, 2009 protests broke out in large cities. At the same time, the judicial and intelligence forces arrested at least four thousand protestors, political and social activists, and journalists—a number they had thought would decrease the impetus and force of these protests.
But before the first night of Ahmadinejad’s alleged victory had ended, the members of the Supreme Security Council of the Islamic Republic realized they could not easily eliminate the protests. Even though, by arresting the main members of Musavi’s and Karrubi’s election campaigns, the government tried to interrupt the mobilization of these protests they did not know that the people would use every venue possible to make their voice heard in the world.
The countdown to the end of the Islamic Republic began when more than three million people came out on June 15, 2009 and resisted the armed forces of the ruling power that had come to the streets to violently suppress the protests with the direct order of the Supreme Leader. On this day, it became clear to everyone that the government would rely on cruelty and violence—and whatever else it took—to put an end to the protests. Meanwhile, every day the demands and objections of the people became radicalized to the point where in less than a week they began to chant slogans demanding an end to the regime. As such, during these days protests even surpassed the limits of Iranian reformist politics.
There are important characteristics worthy of attention in the post-June 20, 2009 era through December 27, 2009 (Ashura). Some of the most critical of these characteristics are as follows:
- understanding the importance of resistance and defense of one’s self against the aggressors in the streets, experiencing methods of protest, defense and resistance;
- the importance of communicating and spreading the news, images, and footage of protests at the earliest convenience;
- distancing one’s self from the reformist party and attracting the two reformists candidates;
- utilizing common sense in street protests and refraining from uncalculated and futile violence against repressive forces;
- the involvement of socially marginal forces, activists of previous decades and university students in street protests;
- giving depth to debates and cyber discussions about the future of the movement;
- distancing the movement from the platform of reformist abroad. These are political elements whose goals, tactics, and motivations are manipulative and lean toward eliminating diverse opinions and critics;
-eliminating the illusion of reforming from within the structure of the regime and refraining from accepting any reform proposition that is within the current political structure and conditions of the country;
- creating small and independent media and citizen journalism against the manipulation of the large media dominant by both the repressive ruling power and the politically defeated forces inside and outside of Iran;
- the attempts of the movement to find grassroots and organic ties with both the lower class and upper class who have played the role of sympathetic observers;
- proceeding towards democratic models of leadership and a spirit of cooperation within the movement;
- uniting the movement inside and outside Iran;
Given the numerous weaknesses of the movement, the collection of the aforementioned approaches and factors enabled the crisis/movement to last through the present day.
Resisting the Silence
The first sign of the movement’s temporary silence surfaced at the beginning of autumn in 2009 when to everyone’s expectation the reopening of schools and universities did not result in an increase in the movement’s potential to resist and mobilize. During this time, street protests that frequently took place during the summer of 2009 and that had decreased the strength of militant and intelligence forces suddenly declined. The street protests turned into student gatherings behind closed doors. This decline and change in political behavior of the masses were contrary to everyone’s intuition and estimation and ultimately resulted in disappointment for a large part of the middle class.
Perhaps for the sake of fighting this decline in street protests, the people took to the streets for a few hours on December 27, 2009 (Ashura), paralyzed militant and intelligence forces, and helped radicalize the movement. Unfortunately, religious reformists abroad began to once again neutralize the movement on February 11, 2010 (the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution) with their misconceived tactics for this day’s protests. This led to an important wasted historic opportunity and ultimately disappointed a large portion of the people.
The decline in street protests after February 11, 2010 along with Musavi and Karoubi’s announcement to revoke the protests that were to mark the contested election on June 12, 2010 clarified that we should not depend on the guidance of these reformist leaders. On the other hand, given the long gaps between street protests, the regime’s massive repression, and the mobilization and organization of resistance are not very clear, street protests alone will not suffice.
The Definite Ending
There are many signs that reflect a definite end to the Islamic Republic. However, we can neither predict its time nor should we wait for this regime to fall apart by itself tomorrow. The political-economic-social crisis that has taken place in the aftermath of last year’s presidential election has fragmented the structure of power and crystallized the weaknesses of the regime that tried very hard to end this movement. It is obvious that the political illegitimacy of the regime along with the economic crisis will eventually once again strengthen the movement that on June 13, 2009 stood against the Islamic Republic. This time the movement will mobilize with more strength, awareness, and organization in order to continue its battle in various aspects. This will expedite the process of the fall of the Islamic Republic.