As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Repression and the Long Game In Iran

Iranian paramilitary and security forces broke up another peaceful protest in Iran yesterday, reportedly using tear gas and clubs. The Guardian Council, which oversees the elections in Iran, certified the results today, making Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner and setting off more scattered protests. And many are asserting that the events amount to a military coup by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Clearly, there are competing loci of power. The ruling regime seems to be maintaining control through the IRGC and the Basiji and asserting a much greater role for them - close to a military dictatorship - while the opposition is trying to leverage the old clerisy that came to power in the 1979 Revolution. In the short run, those with the guns (as Fareed Zakaria says) are likely to win out. You can have all the defiance of women fighting for their rights, and all the admiration from throughout the Arab world, but ultimately, repressive states can hold power in the short term if they control the communications apparatus and deploy the security apparatus. Which is how Iran holds power today, and we're starting to see a consolidation of that control.

With the opposition visibly weakening in Iran amid a government crackdown, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters have begun to use his disputed victory in this month's election to toughen the nation's stance internationally and to consolidate control internally.

In recent days, they have vilified President Obama for what they call his "interventionist policies," have said they are ready to put opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's advisers on trial and have threatened to execute some of the Mousavi supporters who took to the streets to protest the election result [...]

The actions reflect the growing power of a small coterie of hard-line clerics and Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders, Iranian analysts say. Revolutionary Guard members, in particular, have proved instrumental to the authorities since the June 12 election, and analysts say their clout is bound to increase as the conflict drags on.

The emerging power dynamics leave Mousavi with tough choices. Confronted with increasing political pressure over what supporters of the government say is his leading role in orchestrating riots, he can either acknowledge his defeat and be embraced by his enemies or continue to fight over the election result and face imprisonment.

"Everything now depends on Mousavi," said Amir Mohebbian, a political analyst. "If he decreases the tension, politicians can manage this. If he increases pressure, the influence of the military and security forces will grow."

I don't know if that analysis is quite right. Mousavi's only ally is time. The cycles of mourning dictate that discontent and unrest will continue to have outlets into the future, and the full face of repression has been made clear to too many people for it to credibly turn back. While the regime has the upper hand in the short term, Mousavi - and actually, the demonstrators, who have driven this process more than he has - can allow the anger to simmer and use targeted, timely actions to continue that boiling. The crisis in Iran is one of legitimacy, and using clubs and tear gas doesn't exactly put that genie back in the bottle. Repressive societies can only keep control for so long.

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