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

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Long War In Iran

We've hit the attrition stage in the Iranian election uprising. The protests have become more sporadic, but can the regime risk isolation from the rest of the world? Mir Hossein Mousavi wants to form a new political party dedicated to curbing the power of the mullahs and promoting democratic reform, but can he stay out of jail? The regime has been able to put down protests to this point, but could they possibly stop a general strike? And how will the statements of the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom affect the outcome?

An important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult.

“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”

This dovetails with Mousavi's release of documents detailing the fraud at the polls, including the printing of millions of extra ballots before the vote; as well as past statements from clerics that many Iranians are "unconvinced" about the poll results. It chips away at the legitimacy of the Supreme Leader, and even in dictatorial societies, you need legitimacy.

It's interesting that, in the midst of an internal crisis, Ahmadinejad wants to hold talks with President Obama, perhaps to buttress his own standing among his people. In this war of attrition, who would have thought that sitting at a table with an American President would aid an Iranian one in crisis?

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