Iran crackdown no real solution


IRANS GUARDIAN Council, the country’s top legislative body, pronounced yesterday that it had found no major violations in the June 12th presidential election. Its spokesman described the election as the “healthiest” vote since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Unconvinced, opposition activists released thousands of balloons commemorating the death of Neda Soltan whose shooting last week has become a focal point for much protest activity.

But, in truth, it is a week since crowds came on to the streets in large numbers – the regime’s crackdown appears to be working, the overt protest movement ebbing. And Iran’s increasingly isolated losing candidate, Mir Hussein Mousavi, yesterday signalled a backing away from confrontation over the disputed elections, promising he will seek approval for future protests, even as he complained of unfair restrictions.

The divisions remain, however, festering. Sporadic public protests are likely to continue, and even within the upper echelons of the country’s establishment it is clear that major figures like former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, and dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri are deeply unhappy. Three Iranian papers have reported that, significantly, only 105 of 290 MPs invited to Ahmadinejad’s victory party turned up.

For many in Iran’s ruling circles the events of the past two weeks have called into question not just the repressive methods of Mr Ahmadinejad and his patron, the country’s real ruler, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but brought out real differences over the nature of the state. The election pitted the religious ideologue against the lay technocrat – ultimately the question asked of voters was “is the Islamic Republic first and foremost Islamic or a republic?”

The challenge, however, for the opposition and dissident elements within the establishment is huge, the balance of forces heavily tilted in the president’s favour. Since 2005 Ahmadinejad, solidly supported by the elite Revolutionary Guards and the thuggish Basij militia, has permeated the bureaucracy with his supporters. Some estimates put at 10,000 the number of officials replaced throughout the state and security apparatus. Ahmadinejad has changed 30 governors and all the major city managers, and many of those who now surround him as ministers and heads of key departments are sympathetic veterans of the Iran-Iraq war, often former mid-level officers in the Revolutionary Guards, conservative populists quite distinct from, and even disdainful of, the revolutionaries of 1979.

Many opposition sympathisers, faced with the prospect of more broken heads, and worse, dashing themselves futilely against the formidable state machine, may well retreat to fight another day. But the battle behind closed doors around and within Iran’s clerical establishment is certain to continue apace and may well be the decisive arena. As the Russian proverb says, “a fish rots from the head down”, and a regime whose time has come is no different.