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    Middle East
     Jun 18, 2009
Page 1 of 2
Khamenei rides a storm in a tea cup
By M K Bhadrakumar

Western capitals must make a difficult choice: how long to pin hopes on the eruption of a "color" revolution in Tehran? The burden falls almost entirely on Europe, since Washington has different priorities.

The United States cannot afford to be spotted in the barricades on the frontline of any attempt to prise open the Iranian regime at this delicate point in Middle Eastern politics. Tehran will not forgive for another quarter century at least any such American folly, and the Barack Obama administration has no intentions of committing hara-kiri, either.

Within Europe, it is unclear who is spearheading the charge of the

 

light brigade. No country seems to want to be seen up front - except the Czech Republic, which has no choice, since it currently chairs the rotating European Union presidency. But then, most European countries would probably seldom fail the chance to be Tehran's bete noire, but will, true to a pattern, swiftly fall back the moment they estimate that the law of diminishing returns is at work and continued tirades might jeopardize lucrative commercial interests in Iran.

Tens of thousands of supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi planned to keep up their street protests in Tehran on Wednesday, even though the authorities have promised a partial recount of Friday's vote that saw incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad win another four-year term.

No scope for a color revolution
Europe has no real experience in staging color revolutions. This has been the forte of the Americans - conceptualized in the post-Soviet space in Eurasia by the Bill Clinton administration and subsequently grasped by the neo-conservatives in the George W Bush team. Europeans were curious bystanders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. France to some extent might have been on the inside track over Lebanon, but then the result turned out to be a mish-mash.

At any rate, to borrow Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin's famous words in a philosophical context, staging a color revolution in Tehran is not like breaking an egg. The signs are that the color revolution struggling to be born on the streets of Tehran has had a miscarriage. Ahmadinejad's participation at the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Tuesday was possible only with the tacit acquiescence of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It was an important decision to take at a critical juncture. Earlier reports in the Western media speculated that Ahmadinejad might stand down in view of the developing political situation.

Evidently, the regime decided that Tehran should not in any way project an atmosphere of crisis as that would only play into the hands of the proponents of a color revolution within Iran and abroad. To quote well-known Iranian dissident Ibrahim Yazdi, "Certainly, the gap inside Iran, politically, will be widened. Our main concern is how to keep the enthusiasm that was created for the election alive, in order to monitor and constrain the power of the government. The only way to counter it is the power of the people. We need to organize them."

How is the regime coping? Clearly, Khamenei is in the driving seat and is in control of the state apparatus. He is skillfully navigating the regime through the choppy waters. Khamenei's meeting with the principal opposition candidate in the election, Mousavi, merits attention. The official statement makes out certain key points. First, Khamenei indicated unambiguously to Mousavi that the regime would not tolerate any street protests and he must therefore "channel protests through legal bodies". It now becomes extremely difficult for Mousavi to be seen as defying the Supreme Leader's diktat.

Second, Khamenei suggested that there was nothing extraordinary about the present situation, insofar as "in previous elections also, there were some people and candidates who had some problems". But they pursued the matter through the Guardians Council, which in any case has to approve the conduct of the presidential election in Iran.

Mousavi's existential choice
However, it is the third point made by Khamenei that is most crucial. He pointed a finger at the "enemies' provocative actions" as well as "certain behind-the-stage plots" which aimed to "create chaos in Iran". Khamenei then went on most meaningfully to remind Mousavi that "your [Mousavi's] character is different from such people and it is necessary that you pursue the problems through calm".

The highly personal remark had a touch of admonition, but also the hint of a fulsome invitation to reasoning that could open up doors leading into pleasant pathways along which the two interlocutors known to each other for long, after all, could take a stroll. It was a very Persian remark.

Khamenei virtually reminded Mousavi of their old association, when the latter served as Iran's prime minister under him and the two were not only close comrades-in-arms for the preservation of the Iranian revolution through the critical years of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s but also worked together to frustrate the cunning ploys of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who as the powerful speaker of the Majlis (parliament) constantly conspired to arrogate state power.

During that period, Rafsanjani constantly sniped at Mousavi and tried to undercut him, although he enjoyed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's endorsement. On numerous occasions, Rafsanjani gave him hell on the floor of the Majlis, embarrassing him when he sought parliamentary approval for his moves, whittling down his authority to execute his policy and systematically undermining his political standing in public opinion.

Rafsanjani had already begun jockeying for position in expectation of the post-Khomeini era. As Khomeini fell ill, Rafsanjani became more assertive. Mousavi, in fact, found himself identifying with the Iranian revolutionaries (like Ahmadinejad), who were appalled by Rafsanjani's suggestion to Khomeini to "drink from the chalice of poison" and order a ceasefire to end the Iran-Iraq war that effectively meant allowing Saddam Hussein the escape route. Those were tumultuous times when the fate of the Iranian revolution of 1979 hung by a thread.

The main sticking point was the economic policy of the Mousavi government. Rafsanjani sought a policy that catered to the Tehran bazaar, which would benefit his family members as well as large sections of the corrupt clergy, who were aligned with him. But Mousavi opted for state control of the economy and insisted he was acting in accordance with the ideals of the revolution and Khomeini's wishes. What Rafsanjani proposed during those difficult years was to have the latitude for his clan and other hangers-on to do some war profiteering. Mousavi's answer was a firm "no", and he stuck to the austere economic policy.

When the eight-year war with Iraq ended in August 1988, Rafsanjani proposed that Iran should dilute its revolutionary ideals and take Western help for reconstruction. (The Rafsanjani family initially made its fortune by exporting Iranian products such as pistachio nuts and carpets to the US.) But Mousavi firmly disagreed and refused to go against the grain of the revolution. Finally, when the levers of power were passed into his hands as president, Rafsanjani's wrath knew no bounds. Vindictive by nature, he literally drove Mousavi into political exile. The ex-prime minister summarily abandoned politics and returned to his profession of architecture and teaching.

Thus, Khamenei all but jogged Mousavi's memory at their meeting in Tehran by suggesting that the latter should not join hands with Rafsanjani against him. He suggested that Rafsanjani and his circles are simply using him as a political ladder. Khamenei virtually reminded Mousavi of his old constituency. Indeed, as prime minister (1981-89), Mousavi had an impeccable reputation as a hardliner - every bit as much as the "international community" regards Ahmadinejad today. In a memorable article penned in 1988, the Economist magazine described him as a "firm radical".

Khamenei folded up his conversation with Mousavi by "admiring" the massive turnout in Friday's election and "once again underlining its healthy and calm nature". In a subtle way, he allowed Mousavi to have a peep into his thought processes about the current situation.

Continued 1 2  


Iran's enemies are circling (Jun 17,'09)

Ahmadinejad tries to douse the flames
(Jun 17,'09)

The meaning of the Tehran spring
(Jun 16,'09)

Rafsanjani's gambit backfires (Jun 16,'09)


1.
Rafsanjani's gambit backfires

2. Iran's enemies are circling

3. The meaning of the Tehran spring

4. Hedgehogs and flamingos

5. China sets example to us all

6. A very Iranian coup

7. BRIC group plans its own revolution

8. Ahmadinejad tries to douse the flames

9. It's official: Cheap oil era over

10. BOOK REVIEW: The coming robot wars

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, June 16, 2009)

 
 



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