Sunday, July 05, 2009


I did not expect this.

I said of Iran that "it's not over and likely won't be for some time." And it's not. I said that "I also expect the resistance to continue." And it has, even though it is, as I suggested, "small-scale," just "enough to show that ... the resentment remains alive," while the large-scale demonstrations have "fizzled out" in the face of massive government brutality. I said "I expect the repression to continue, even increase." And it has.

But I did not expect this.
Iran’s biggest group of clerics has declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election to be illegitimate and condemned the subsequent crackdown.

The statement by the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom is an act of defiance against the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has made clear he will tolerate no further challenges to Mr Ahmadinejad’s “victory” over Mir Hossein Mousavi. ...

In a rebuke to the regime it declared on its website: “Candidates’ complaints and strong evidence of vote-rigging were ignored ... Peaceful protests by Iranians were violently oppressed ... Dozens of Iranians were killed and hundreds were illegally arrested ... The outcome is invalid.”

It called on other clerics to speak out, demanded the release of all those arrested in the past three weeks....
In addition, it directly challenged the authority of the Guardian Council, saying it no longer had the right "to judge in this case" and that some of its members had "lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public."

“How can one accept the legitimacy of the election," the group asked, "just because the Guardian Council says so?"

It was, in the words of one analyst, "a clerical mutiny." More than that, it's also a political mutiny. It would be hard for anyone who has not been following events to really get the significance of this. I've been trying to think of an equivalent, but haven't come up with a really close one - maybe in terms of the impact it would be like the US president's entire cabinet resigning en masse over some policy dispute. Even that's not right. The best I have come up with is to suggest that this would be something like the College of Cardinals openly disputing the Pope on a matter of church doctrine: It is that direct a challenge to Khamenei's authority and particularly to his moral authority.
“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University.
This doesn't mean the defiance will succeed: Khamenei has the support of other clergy, along with segments of the political establishment and, increasingly importantly, the military. It does mean that the split in the ruling elites in Iran has become obvious. More than a split, it's a schism. And the battle lines no longer are drawn clearly across the face of Ahmadinejad but across the face of Khamenei. He is becoming if he has not already become the issue.

The sense that I get emerging from the dispute is that by becoming so openly involved in the political process (rather than trying to appear above it) by his endorsement and support of Ahmadinejad, he has started to look like another politician who can therefore be attacked as one. Those attacks are driven to some degree by personal interest but more broadly by fears that have arisen that he is trying to move from being Supreme Leader to being Only Leader. Put another way, I have said before that until recent events, Iran had remained within hailing distance of a democracy: It was limited, but there was some opportunity for moderation and dissent. Now that is gone and what I sense in the fear among moderates and reformers that Khamenei wants to keep it that way - and that is the underlying conflict.

A BBC report said that former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who in a pointed display met with the families of some of those who have been arrested by the government, gave hints that there may be efforts going on behind the scenes for a settlement.

If so, I'll go out on a very thin, very dry, limb to make a prediction. Such a settlement would: accept Ahmadinejad as president on the grounds that there were irregularities but not enough to affect the outcome; establish a new election commission to establish tighter rules and taking oversight of election procedures and counts away from the Guardian Council (while leaving it the power to screen candidates); and establish the principle that the Supreme Leader is to stay neutral in all elections and election disputes.

We'll see how I do.

Footnote: The video is of a song recorded June 24 by Iranian star Andy Madadian, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and American record producers Don Was and John Shanks. It is not for sale anywhere and was intended as a gift to Iranians. The sign in Farsi reads "We are one."

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