IRAN AND THE GREEN WAVE (part I)
The period we shall examine - spanning from June 13th 2009 to March 2nd 2012 - is characterized by a series of events that could lead to significant changes in the "institutional theocratic architecture" as envisioned by the Supreme Guide Ruhollah Khomeini, political and religious chief of Iran, who died on June 3rd 1989.
We should firstly point out that the results of the March 2nd 2012 elections for the Iranian parliament (Majlis) are as yet incomplete because only 225 seats out of 290 have been assigned; the other 65 will be assigned through a second round of elections the date of which will be chosen by the "Council of Guardians of the Constitution and of the Sharia" (probably on May 4th), the very same body that, before the elections began, had already selected - among the 5400 who wished to run - the 3444 candidates that would compete for the 290 seats in parliament.
The candidates chosen were mostly radical-conservatives that stand close to the Supreme Guide Khamenei and to the President of the Republic Ahmadinejad. Others were "neo-conservatives", close to the Guardians of the Revolution - the so-called "Pasdaran" - that in recent years have consolidated a significant financial power, other than being the institutional "regime's militia".
During the 2008 elections the candidates were mostly chosen from the ranks of the aforementioned conservatives (whom are determined to continue on the path started by Khomeini), reformists (open to a change in policies, whose most accredited exponent was the Ayatollah Montazeri, who died on December 19, 2009), and the pragmatists (favorable to the bettering of economic conditions through a process of liberalization and re-organization of local industries - whose most accredited exponent is the Ayatollah Rafsanjani).
It must be noted that the elections of the Majlis are a "thermometer" for the more significant presidential elections (2013), seen as the Iranian constitution does not allow a third mandate for the present president Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 and re-confirmed in 2009 following elections characterized by frauds adopted by conservative figures that stand close to the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei.
The confirmation of Ahmadinejad for a second presidential mandate, as we have noted, does not allow him another run, but will surely ease his designation of a trusted "successor" that will stands in the political path traced by him.
Here is some info on two high-ranked exponents of the regime: the Supreme Guide and the President of the Republic.
Ayatollah Ali Khamanei
Ali Khamanei was born in 1939 and was educated in Isamic theology in the Koranic schools of Najaf and Qom (he was a pupil of the Great Ayatollah Khomeini).
He was elected Supreme Guide in June 1989 with a waive of constitutional regulations because he was not an Ayatollah (he was merely a Hojatoleslam) and without the consent of the main Centers of theological studies. Thus the nickname, the "Ayatollah overnight".
Khamanei has always been a symbol of the conservative elite, filling successfully the role of supervisor of the "Council of the Guardians of the Constitution and of the Sharia", a particularly prestigious office that approves candidates for elections and has control over legislation.
He issued a fatwa against the production, storage and use of nuclear weapons. The fatwa was not published but was mentioned in August 2005 during a meeting of the AIEA in Vienna.
Khamanei issued sensational statements on human rights - considered a weapon in the hands of the enemies of Islam - and threats against the "West" on June 4th 2006, when he said that any aggression by the USA over Iran's nuclear program would determine an end to oil supplies.
The President, Mahmud Ahmadinejad
Mahmud Ahmadinejad was born in 1956 and has a degree in engineering. While a student he enrolled in the "Body of the Guardians of the Revolution" (the Pasdaran) and took part in "covert operations" and in the war against Iraq: he was a senior officer of the elite unit "Force Quds"!
At the end of the Iran-Iraq conflict (1988), when part of the army was dismantled, Ahmadinejad abandoned the militia and began his political career while keeping in touch both with the Pasdaran and the Basiji (young volunteers of the militia); he became mayor of Teheran in 2003 and President of the Republic in 2005 (his first term lasted 4 years). It was the electoral fraud of 2009 (second term for Ahmadinejad), that were strongly underlined by the media, that sparked the protests of June 13th 2009, namely the "Green Wave" for the exponential increase in participants - from the meeting in a city square to their successive dispersion. Green like the color of the electoral lists.
So what exactly sparked the green wave?
The Green Wave begins right after the publication of Ahmadinejad's "divine victory" in elections that was contested for the following reasons:
The announcement was issued only eight hours after the closing of voting booths: an insignificant amount of time for a slow and rough electoral process such as the Iranian one, which includes successive checks and verifications.
In some provinces the amount of voters greatly exceeded that of those registered to vote.
Two or more provinces issued the same results.
There was a considerable victory by Ahmadinejad even in the provinces where his main contenders were based. The consensus for Ahmadinejad was greatly increased in these areas compared to the past elections.
The protesters - mostly young students - were soon joined by others who contest the regime's on matters of Human Rights and economy.
The demonstrations were repeated on several occasions, especially during religious recurrences and/or on dates coinciding with the murder of demonstrators during the violent reaction by Iranian authorities (here are some of them):
The day of the Ashura (June 19th), which is a recurrence of the death of the Imam Hussein, the first martyr of Shiites, in the battle of Kerbala in 680 AD. Together with his followers, Hussein had decided to die rather than survive under an illegitimate government.
The days relative to the death of the young soldier Neda Soltan, murdered by authorities on June 20th 2009 and adopted as a symbol for the Green Wave.
The days, according to tradition, are the 3rd from the date of her death (June 22nd), the 7th (June 26th) and the 40th, the most significant of all (July 29th).
The demonstrations were organized by means of social networks (such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.) in order to avoid censureship, yet the Pasdaran adopted countermeasures (employment of foreign hackers, disturbing transmissions and the issuing of "alternative" information).
The fate of those arrested
The mobilization of the regime against the contesters was lead by the police and by the young Basiji volunteers (recruitment material for the future Pasdaran) that were employed in pairs on off-road motorcycles - one driving and the other handling a nightstick against protesters.
Internally, the reactions by authorities were differentiated:
The violent protesters are arrested during the demonstrations and taken to prison. They are identified and then released after a few days while the "organizing agents of the protests", be they Iranian or foreign, are taken to the special prisons of the regime (like Evin in Teheran) and sentenced. The same happens to those belonging to the "intellighenzia" (journalists, writers, film and TV directors, other exponents of culture in general, etc.): it is the case of the American journalist Roxana Saberi and of the French researcher Clotilde Reiss. Particular attention is given to film director Jafar Panahi, kept under house arrests and prohibited from exercising his job for the next 20 years.
High ranking members of the opposition and their relatives were given the same treatment: reformists Mousavi and Karroubi are under house arrests and watched closely by the Pasdaran; the daughter of Ayatollah Rafsanjani (leader of the pragmatists) was arrested during the demonstrations and jailed.
The theocratic regime, within this context, has managed to stand its ground, in part because Khamenei gave the green light to the repression that followed the Green Wave. Repression of both demonstrators in the streets and high-ranking opposition leaders that are now checked closely. Mostly, the regime stands because the Green Wave has not made itself into a real revolution. Here's why:
The demonstrations have not produced an alternative leadership. Female demonstrators picked Noble peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi (who lives in the USA) as their symbol. In Teheran she is represented by Nargas Mohammadi, President of the "Committee for Free Elections", who is kept under close surveillance by authorities and who has trouble adopting an operative program for the opposition as a whole.
The opposition has been deprived of an exponent of uncommon humane qualities, with a cultural and ideological education much like that of Khomeini: It is - as we have already stated - Ayatollah Montazeri, deceased.
The reformists that are kept under house arrests (Mousavi and Karrubi) have found it impossible, since the 2009 elections, to exercise any kind of political action because of the close surveillance kept on them by the authorities.
The pragmatists are also in the regime's sights (as we shall see, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, leader of the pragmatists and President of the "Council of Experts" has announced his retirement from the council as of March 8th, 2011). The Council of Experts, among other things, is in charge of selecting the Supreme Guide if the present Guide were to die - the office of Supreme Guide is for life!
Another aspect worth considering for the evaluation of the regime's survival during the Green Wave, is the fact that opposing conservative factions all have an interest in keeping the system clean of the excesses of the reformists and pragmatists.
Opposing factions within the leadership
The leadership of Iran had managed to keep its balance through the patriotic mobilization against the attack by Saddam Hussein (1980-1988), during the years of Rafsanjani's economic modernization (1989-1997), and during those of Khatami's reformism (1997-2005), all the way to Ahmadinejad's (in office since 2005) present populism. This balance came to an end in 2011, as stated by a Persian student that is much liked and listened to by UN diplomacy, Reza Aslan. In the beginning of August 2011 he stated that "There is an internal conflict in Teheran within the conservative group", the same group that piloted the election of Ahmadinejad against the reformists and pragmatists that were de facto excluded from the June 2009 consultation.
In that circumstance Ahmadinejad would have questioned the absolute supremacy of the sciite clergy over the government and underlined the intolerance of the neo-conservatives for the followers of the Supreme Guide, Khamenei.
The neo-conservatives constitute, as we have said, the power group that falls under the umbrella of the "Guardians of the Revolution" (the Pasdaran), who are responsible for the principal military and intelligence structures, with ample interests in finance: in practice, they hold the balance of powers between the Supreme Guide Khamenei and the President of the Republic Ahmadinejad.
Apart from institutional implications, the circumstance has a political relevance because it is an attempt to reduce the power of Khamenei in relation with the religious conception of Ahmadinejad and of his messianic fervor, based on the theory of the 12th Sciite Imam "duo-decimane", al-Mahdi, who hid inside the sacred well of Jamkaram (near Qom); the theory, if followed and used instrumentally, allows for a direct connection between Allah and his follower, without the mediation of the clergy, thus thwarting the very "theocratic construction" of Khomeini.
To such a subversive creed Khamenei answers by threatening to eliminate the office of President of the Republic which, if case be, would be replaced by a Prime Minister designated by the Parliament - in practice directly dependent on the Supreme Guide.
This is the most striking evidence of the clash at hand within the leadership of Iran, to which we could add the events of the period 2010-2011 that highlight such clash in terms of power and in view of the conclusion of the second and last term of Ahmadinejad (2013); here's what we are talking about:
The removal of Foreign Minister Manuker Mottaki (December 2010), replaced by a trusted collaborator of the President, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the National Atomic Agency. Mottaki, designated in 2005, was thought to be "too soft": he had expressed his availability to negotiate on the nuclear issue.
The proposal to designate Pasdaran General Rostam Ghassemi, who figures on the West's "black list", Minister of Petrol.
The proposal to promote another Pasdaran to the head of OPEC (Iran holds the presidency of the OPEC "cartel", which sets the price of petrol in such a difficult global economic situation, since October 2010.
Here are more proposals by Ahmadinejad that confirm his populist orientation that stands opposed to the conservative criteria of the Supreme Guide:
The retirement of tens of professors from Universities in favor of younger ones (liberalism);
An end to the ban of mixed classes, in clear contrast with the Islamization of the schools (started by Ahmadinejad himself);
The plan to transfer "administrative Teheran" outside the capital to ease traffic and overcrowding;
The abolition of aid for fuel and energy in exchange for a monthly allowance to the needy of 30 euro/person: such a measure is not sufficient to counter inflation and the increase in the price of gas (100%), so many use liquid gas which is less expensive. The measure is not saving Iran any money in favor of development, rather it has turned out to be more expensive than the aid itself (the President will have to answer for this in front of the Court of Justice for Economy, which has already summoned him).
To be continued in the next issue...