THE ROVING EYE Iran's streets are lost, but hope returns
By Pepe Escobar
PARIS - The angel of history lives in Iran - even though Manichean progressives
of all stripes, especially in the United States, insist on believing the
overwhelming popular uprising in Iran is nothing but one more US Central
Intelligence Agency-engineered "color" revolution.
Confronted with this, Iranian journalists and the diaspora in Paris, including
people just arriving from Tehran, are puzzled: how hard is it to understand,
they say, that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has in fact ceased to be
an arbiter and has legitimized a coup, steering the regime towards
totalitarianism, striking off "republic" from "Islamic Republic" and, in a
Brechtian twist, virtually abolishing the people?
As an Iranian businessman who goes back and forth between
Tehran and Paris puts it, "People in the West don't seem to understand that the
political struggle in Iran is not about liberals versus conservatives, but
conservatives against a fascist tendency uniting some sectors of the clergy,
and this state within the state which are the Pasdaran [IRGC - Iranian
Revolutionary Guards Corps]. Both the nuclear program and the missiles are
under the control of the Pasdaran. And who are they? They are former fighters
in the Iran-Iraq war [of the 1908s], the religious police ... They control
everything, they have informants in every building, every street, every
neighborhood, like the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s."
Mir Hossein Mousavi, hurled by the breakneck pace of events to the status of
channel for the angel of history (in spite of himself), refuses to go away -
even if he has done the unthinkable (in Islamic Republic terms): to challenge
the supreme leader in public. Ali Larijani, former nuclear negotiator, supreme
leader protege, is wavering; he has accused the Guardians Council of bias
towards re-elected President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The Council of Experts, in the
holy city of Qom, may be wavering. But Paris-based Iranian journalists don't
believe former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, although hyper-connected,
would have enough votes to at least force an investigation of the actions of
the supreme leader, who has peppered the council with his own proteges.
The all-powerful IRGC is definitely not wavering. It obeys to the hilt the
directives of General Ali Jafari, the former head of the IRGC Strategic Studies
Center, the man put in charge by the supreme leader in 2007 to crack the code
of possible Western-engineered color revolutions. The special, anti-riot
al-Zahra and Ashura brigades, mixed with the paramilitary Basiji, simply took
over the streets. The repression is massive. Newly arrived Iranians confirm one
can't even breathe in the capital.
Noted commentator Masoud Behnoud, in his blog, can't bring himself to fire off
his customary darts of irony. He writes, "The Council of Guardians could have
played a role to stop the degradation of the situation. The problem is
everything depends on Ayatollah [Ahmad] Jannati, its president. Well, he
follows for more than 20 years now the road map of the fundamentalist right."
Iranian cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar reads the popular mind immortalizing the
2009 Iranian remix of China's crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Khamenei, the new Saddam
Mohsen Sazegara, president of the Washington-based Research Institute for
Contemporary Iran, was one of the founders of the IRGC, in the earliest stages
after the 1979 revolution. He does not mince his words. For him, Khamenei "made
the biggest mistake of is life"; "he thought that with the Revolutionary Guards
and the Ministry of Interior he could conquer a nation". Sazegara stresses,
"for the first time in 120 years, Iranians mobilize themselves without
religious help and with no religious motivation".
As for the regime's repression machine, he points out that "those who kill the
protesters, those we call the 'white shirts', are Revolutionary Guards, they
belong to a special brigade of the intelligence division [he's referring to the
above-mentioned Ashura brigade]. They look like civilians, but they have
knives, iron bars and weapons".
Sazegara qualifies the nearly 120,000 Revolutionary Guards as "an army, an
intelligence service and a huge enterprise. Khamenei marginalized some of the
founders and war heroes and replaced them with underlings". It's hard to
estimate how popular the IRGC really is. Sazegara heard insistent rumors on the
arrest of seven generals. One of his friends, also a general, told him the
majority of the IRGC, does not agree with what many Iranians are branding as
Sazegara insists Khamenei's regime "is already security obsessed and
militarized. There's no turning back for such a brutal regime. For last
Friday's prayers, he mobilized his supporters all over the country. I was
expecting to see 500,000 people, but according to our friends, there were no
more than 50,000. Many of his partisans remain neutral, or are ashamed. If he
manages to repress the Iranian people, he'll become a military dictator like
Saddam Hussein. He'll be the king of a cemetery."
Reza Baraheni, author of Les Mysteres de Mon Pays (The Mysteries of My
Country), published this year in France, feels that the confrontation between
the government and the people gives him an impression of deja vu. But he's
optimistic; "A generation of sons face off against a generation of fathers.
Just as the previous generation took power off the hands of the Shah, it won't
be long before the Islamic power goes to those who oppose it. The solutions to
similar problems are not always identical. But the cruelty of both regimes is
identical - as well as their incapacity to assimilate the modernity embodied by
democracy, and their fear of a different future for them and for the country
Philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, from the University of Toronto, frames the
crisis as rooted "between the popular thirst for democratization of state and
society and the conservative reaction". Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi believed that
"the Islamic nomenklatura would leave some place for reform". And yet, "the
protesters are not revolutionaries. These young people remind us that a
monolithic image of the country does not necessarily reflect the state of mind
of the 70% of the population that is less than 30 years old. The fracture
between state and people has never been greater".
So this is a "political fight between the republican nature of Iran and its
religious oligarchy. The republican instinct consists in paying almost
exclusive attention to the legitimacy of public space, while the religious
establishment refuses to concede a minimum of legitimacy to the judgment of
public opinion". That's why "Iran is immersed in a crisis of legitimacy without
precedent in its political history."
Azadeh Kian, professor of sociology at the University of Paris VII, stresses
the composition of Mousavi's electoral front: "They belong to the structured
social groups, notably the middle classes, workers, traders and entrepreneurs
who suffer, more than others, the consequences of a soaring monopolization of
the economy for political ends, of an inflation between 27% and 30%, of a huge
unemployment rate (between 30% and 50% amidst the young, according to
estimates), and the flight of Iranian and foreign capital. No jobs are being
created for the 800,00 young people who enter the Iranian job market every
Kian points out how "many economists, including two former directors of the
Central Bank who had resigned", are sure that "Ahmadinejad has ruined the
country". He squandered all the reserves accumulated during the Khatami
presidency; some as handouts for the poor, while his machine recruited masses
of rural, unemployed youngsters for the Basiji.
For Kian, "conservatives, and their base in the traditional middle classes, the
grand bazaaris and the majority of Qom clerics, they are not allied with the
president anymore". Newly arrived Iranians corroborate it, insisting
Ahmadinejad will have a very rough ride.
The agony of illegitimacy
Journalist Nairi Nahapetian, author of Qui a tue l'Ayatollah Kanooni? (Who
killed Ayatollah Kannoni?), hints at what strategies may lie ahead, stressing,
"An educated, largely urban population, in a country with efficient
infrastructure, continues to live under an Islamic law, sometimes mocking it
and always finding a way around it, including in the fringes that are not part
of the Westernized bourgeoisie."
He makes it clear: "Since the early 20th century, Iran faces important
movements of popular revolt every 30 to 40 years. In 1906-1911, it was a
constitutional revolution. In 1951, under [premier Mohammad] Mossadegh, it was
the aborted attempt to nationalize oil. In 1979, the toppling of the shah,
perceived as a US puppet. It's as if every generation tried at a particular
time to take the destiny of the country in its hands, and the management of the
oil revenues in particular."
Nahapetian inevitably blasts "Ahmadinejad's policy of massive subventions to
pacify the popular classes". He says he "increased an already uncontrollable
inflation and did nothing to reduce the Iranian economy's dependency of oil".
The Iranian intelligentsia and those commuting from Tehran are unanimous: the
legitimacy of the regime as a whole is in play. The regime can't allow the
genie of democracy to get out of the lamp, for it would open a Pandora's box of
And people power may have lost the street - facing a massive repression
machine; but people are not afraid anymore. They believe another Iran is
possible. All hopes lie on a protracted, creative, subversive, underground and
parallel movement of civil disobedience, with strikes and mourning ceremonies,
up and down, with lulls and crescendos.
The 1978/1979 Iranian revolution lasted, back to back, roughly one year. The
seeds of the next one have already been planted. The angel of history silently
surveys it all.