Why did the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei decide to suppress demonstrations instead of ordering a new election to solve the crisis? What is the analysis inside the Khamanei/Ahmedinijad “war room”? Based on several assessments, it appears that the regime feels the protest movement is too wide and too determined to allow it to expand further.
The ayatollahs in charge of the “revolution” and the top commanders of the Revolutionary Guard as well as their financial operatives fear a popular shift inside Iran’s population along the magnitude of East Europe’s revolution against Soviet rule. The most cataclysmic parallel would be with the fall of Romanian communist dictatorship under Ceausescu. Even a change a la Gorbachev is too dangerous for the elite that ruled Iran with an iron fist for three decades. Hence, after a minute calculus, the top mullahs and their militia barons have decided not to open Pandora’s box to bring reform or democracy to their own world. And, the world should expect them to use all the power at their disposal to do away with the demonstrations and its leaders.
But how will the Khomeinist “war room” break up the uprising? What is its plan?
One would assume that the regime would proceed in several directions — after a thorough review of the real opposing forces on the ground, and after securing a solid allegiance by the Pasdaran and Bassij commanders, along with assurances it might have obtained that Iran’s armed forces will remain distant from the crackdown.
Those options for action include: Put pressure on Mir Hossein Musavi and the leading reformer figures such as former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and ex-President Mohammad Khatami Deploying the militias and security forces across the capital and in other cities Taking back Tehran block after block while trying to avoid an international media backlash Arrest and neutralize student and civil society leaders, and at the same time ensure that Western governments, particularly the United States, would remain distant from “meddling in Iran’s business.”
So what would be the opposition’s plan? What are the hopes and projections of Musavi and his supporters? The former prime minister and his allies might wish that Khamenei and the supreme council would find a better solution that would allow a negotiated solution and a lasting settlement. He wants to defeat Ahmedinijad but not bring down the regime — not yet, anyway.
However, there is more than one “opposition” group in the country, and the most daring groups have taken to the streets to resist the ayatollahs and to bring a real change — not to recount the votes. Thus, one has to expect a long haul for the opposition.
But is it true that a strong U.S. position in favor of the Iranian democracy movement would create a backlash against America? The reality is that those who are advancing this argument are in fact trying to shield the Iranian regime in the West. The Khomeinist propaganda machine is unleashing all doubts possible about international support to the demonstrators. In fact, the tipping point against the ayatollahs’s militias is precisely a world outcry in defense of the uprising. There are not any neutral Iranians who would find American or Western verbal support to democracy in Iran irritating. The argument is inserted in the debate to confuse the public and mollify outside solidarity. What can shift the ground against the oppressive Pasdaran is precisely this: if a wide majority of Iranians feel the international community is, at least morally, on their side.
The militias will try to suppress the masses, but the latter may take the struggle to a higher ground and perform strikes that paralyze the country. In short, this time, the Khomeinists won’t have it easy. Too much power and wealth have disconnected them from their citizens.
Iran’s youths are at the vanguard of huge disenfranchised segments of society, including women, workers, and ethnic minorities. The largest segments of the population haven’t joined the clash yet. Our bet from the sociological sample we’ve seen is that, when that happens, an earthquake may occur. The ayatollahs and their extended clientele are rushing the regime’s army to crush the revolt in the womb. Badly advised in the past, the U.S. administration still hesitates to engage with its real future partner, the people.
But a chain of developments inside Iran may change opinions across the Potomac. We sincerely hope that Washington would catch up with the change coming from the East, faster.
Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.” He published “The Khomeinist Islamic Revolution” in Arabic in 1987.