[digg-reddit-me]The stories in the Times and elsewhere turn today to the question of how this stand-off in Iran will end. None of the three most likely scenarios have unfolded in the past week – as the protests have not petered out – and in fact seem to be growing in strength; the government has not tried to put down the protests with violence (on a large scale); and Mir-Houssein Mousavi has not backed down – as Robert F. Worth in the Times quoted a relative of Mousavi’s:
Mr. Moussavi says he has taken a path that has no return and he is ready to make sacrifices.
This last comment – and the growing strength of the crowds – suggest that no resolution is in the immediate offing. Despite this, it’s hard to see how long the type of drama overwhelming day-to-day concerns can last. Eventually, one needs to get back to the business of living. It is this prospect most of all that seems to undercut the ferment for change. I’ve seen 5 basic scenarios outlined for how this could end, listed in order of descending likelihood:
- Violent government crackdown. This is what everyone is preparing for – and what the Revolutionary Guard is warning about.
- Power-sharing. Mousavi seems to have ruled this out, and this compromise seems unlikely to satisfy many of those protesting, but enormous pressure is being put on Mousavi to accept some sort of arrangement, and he has always been a man of the status quo. The prospect of a President Ahmadinejad and a Foreign Minister Mousavi, for example, has been speculated.
- Protestors stop showing up. Eventually, the movement just dies out – as people get on with their lives. It’s hard to imagine now, but it’s hard to imagine any ending to these protests. This seems to have been the initial hope of Khamenei – and the reason for his superficial attempts to appease the protestors by allowing a review of a small percentage of the votes.
- A new election. This is the demand of the protesters and Mousavi. But to allow a new election because of massive voter fraud would call into question the leadership of Iran – and probably implicate leaders from Khamenei to Ahmadinejad to the Interior Department to the Revolutionary Guard. The storyline supporting this demand calls last Friday’s election a coup d’etat – and thus demands a new, more fair election. After this controversy, it seems necessary that Iran allow some transparency in their vote-counting process – rather than having it all centrally controlled and secret.
- A revolution. The protesters could overthrow the current regime – but the tenor of the current protests has deliberately stayed away from this idea. Mousavi has been encouraging his supporting to chant generic Islamic slogans – rather than more charged ones.
There are a few wild cards at work in all of this however.
Neither Mousavi nor Khamenei nor Ahmadinejad are completely in control of the forces supporting them. Both Mousavi and Khamenei are considered uncharismatic power brokers (with Mousavi even being compared to an “Iranian Michael Dukakis“) – and both have achieved what they have by positioning themselves cleverly rather than by articulating a vision, winning over the people, or the other traditional measures of leadership. Ahmadinejad is charismatic – and has many supporters – but he is generally seen as, not a true leader, but a front-man for the second-generation revolutionaries who are seeking to purge all of the first-generation revolutionaries from power (except Khamenei). It’s unclear what would happen if Khamenei were to push for a new election – would the more radical elements overthrow him? It’s also unclear what would happen if Mousavi were to tell the crowds to go home – he seems to have gained their confidence, but he freely admits this movement is not about him. Mousavi’s external spokesperson admitted to Foreign Policy yesterday:
[T]he young people in the streets are more modern [than the 1979 Iranian revolutionaries]: They use SMS; they use the Internet. And they are not being actually led by anyone, but they are connected to each other.
The power struggle among the Iranian elites has finally come into partial view. There seem to be three basic factions: the Reformers – including former President Khatami, former Prime Minister Rafsanjani, and Mousavi; conservatives led by Ayatollah Khamenei; and the far right-wing religious cultists fronted by Ahmadinejad.
Rafsanjani is generally considered to be the second most powerful person in Iran as he leads the council which can remove the Supreme Leader, has thrown his support behind Mousavi. In the run-up to the election, he was providing logistical support to Mousavi – and was accused of corruption in a public debate by Ahmadinejad. It is widely rumored that Rafsanjani is now trying to round up clerics to support Mousavi in Qom.
At the same time, the Hojjatiyeh now led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi (who seem to have a set of beliefs similar to the Christian millenialists who are trying to create the conditions for the end of the world) have been gradually infiltrating the government and the Revolutionary Guard, and at this point have many of leadership positions, including the presidency held by Ahmadinejad. Yazdi rejects the idea of elections – and wrote a fatwa two weeks before this election condoning fraud and cheating in an election to achieve the proper ends. Ahmadinejad himself apparently does not refer to Iran as the “Islamic Republic” as it is officially called – but as the “Islamic Government.” The Hojjatiyeh’s views are in many ways antithetical to some of the founding ideals behind the 1979 revolution – which is why the Hojjatiyeh did not join the revolution and did not assume positions of power until recently.
Khamenei has generally opposed the reformers – and has historical bad blood with Mousavi from when they both were in positions of power in the 1980s. But he is of a different generation and background than the Hojjatiyeh. He has tended to support them, but also has sought to check their power. It’s unclear at this point whether Khamenei is simply accepting their position of power or actively promoting their interests.
How this ends is still unclear. Khamenei’s remarks this morning have been described as “ominous.” That seems to point to a forthcoming government crackdown – but is far from clear that this crackdown will be successful – and it could possibly destabilize the regime, forcing many clerics who are suspicious of the Hojjatiyeh and who think the election was fraudulent to come off the fence and back Mousavi. The social bargain that underlied the Iranian government’s rule though seems to have come undone – as the people, in anger at hypocrisy and being robbed of their votes, have braved the wrath of the government, defying clear orders not to assemble. What they have demonstrated, with their massive, non-violent civil disobedience so far has been exceptional – and whether they succeed or not is an example for the world.
[Image by Hamed Saber licensed under Creative Commons.]