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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Quand le régime des mollahs se fissure

by Pierre Barbancey

When the Regime of the Mollahs Begins to Crack

Translated Friday 19 June 2009, by Henry Crapo

Iran. The mobilization in the streets keeps rising in Iran, against the election results. Mahmoud Ahmedinejad pretends there is nothing wrong. He even left the country, in his role as president of the Islamic republic, for an economic conference in Iekaterinbourg (Russia), where he made no declaration concerning the situation in his country.

He is mistaken. Because the movement of protestation takes on such a breadth that it may soon reach a point of no return, despite the violence of the repression that is developing. The announcement of a possible recount, in those circumscriptions where the vote has been contested, shows some hesitation of those in power. Even the the supreme guide, Ali Khomenei, seems to be on the defensive.

On Monday, more than a million persons marched in the streets of Teheran. The fuse that was lighted now burns in most of the large Iranian cities. In Machhad, in the north-east, the second largest city in Iran, there was a call for a demonstration, but the massive presence of anti-riot police and bassidjis [1] dissuaded the people from going. In Isfahan (central Iran) some pro-Moussavi demonstrators descended into the streets on Monday evening. Some burned the police motorcycles and vehicles in front of the building of the state television network. In Shiraz (southern Iran) there were incidents, and several people were arrested. In certain neighborhoods of the capital, barricades were erected.

Concert of Car Horns Every Evening

A sign that something new is beginning to happen — in the four corners of the land, the inhabitants, near 21 hours (9 pm), begin to shout Allah akbar (God is great). This apparently religious phrase is, in fact, of deeper significance. This action goes back to the period prior to the Islamic revolution, when the Ayatollah Khomeiny urged the citizens to go up on their roof each evening to raise a cry against the imperial regime of the Shah. The same meaning is carried by the concerts of car horns heard every evening and afternoon in neighborhoods of several cities throughout the land.

Voices begin to be raised to support the movement. It is the case of the Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who has published a text addressed to "the noble and oppressed Iranian nation," in which he calls on everyone, and in particular the dear youth, to demand their rights with "patience and restraint." Once thought to be a possible successor to Khomeiny, he was in disgrace, and for a long time held in house arrest, because of his criticism of the government powers. He appears as a malicious recidivist when he describes the results of the presidential election as "something no healthy spirit can accept." He has also criticized the repression of the demonstrations, and has accused the government of "settling accounts with intellectuals, activists and thinkers, and of having arrested a number of leaders of the Islamic republic without reason." Finally, he launched a call for mobilization, judging that it is "necessary that the people, by their alert presence, permit the candidates to defend their stolen rights." His initiative didn’t have to wait long, to be followed by another ayatollah, Asadollah bayat Zanjani. "It is time to take a stand against egotism and the violation of the law, time to demand that the majority
be respected," said his most recent letter, accessible on his internet site.

While two important reform leaders, Saïd Hajarian and Mohammed Ali Abtahi, both close to former president Mohammed Khatami, were arrested during the night of Monday to Tuesday, the religious leaders hostile to Ahmedinejad are not the only ones who are raising the tone. The contestation comes also from parliament, despite being controlled by the "conservatives". The president of the parliament, Ali Larijani, affirmed that the minister of the interior "was responsible and should reply" to the violent attacks on students and inhabitants of a large city to the north of Teheran (see l’Humanité for yesterday). Some Iranian parliamentarians, including the vice-president of the parliament, the conservative Mohammed Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, demanded yesterday that those responsible be arrested.

The fracture of the conservative camp is getting wider. It was already perceptible before the election, mainly concerning the question of candidatures. Some of the more pragmatic members, not wishing to support Ahmadinejad, preferred to promote someone more moderate. Otherwise, they said, in substance, a reformist victory would be almost certain, and could even reach a high tide. On this fringe you find the partisans of a certain easing of tensions with the Obama administration. On the other side, the hard-liners, who adopt an unshakeable attitude, unreservedly support Ahmadinejad and his policies, and even when their "pet" gets going with his exaggerated verbal pronouncements, they continue to oppose any friendly approach.

Over and above their desire to maintain their power at all costs, the Ahmadinejad partisans fear any relaxation of tension. They nourish themselves on confrontation, and threats of military attacks permit them to designate their opponents as traitors or "enemy agents". It’s in these matters that they have the most to lose, notably their control over a part of the economy. Hence their fear of a "green" or "velvet" revolution. As Ebrahim Yazdi, minister of foreign affairs in the first post-revolutaionary government and influential opposition member, said, the contested reelection of iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is a sign of increasing divergences at the summit of state power.

Legitimacy is put in question

It is precisely the legitimacy of the Islamic republic that is being put in question. Can this republic truly respond to the aspirations of the population and in particular to those of the youth? Candidates coming from the inner circles of power, like Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, can they escape their political origins, and break the mould? Over and above the contestation of the electoral result, there is also all that is put in question by the current demonstrations. Everyone has in mind the failure of Mohammed Khatami (president from 1997 to 2005), whose election raised many hopes, hopes that quickly evaporated when it became clear that he was incapable of destroying the walls of the islamic bubble, through lack of political will.

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