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Iran: Ahmadinejad clings to power « Previous | |Next »
June 15, 2009

It does appear as if something akin to a coup d'état---or rather a palace coup--- against the reform movement has taken place in Iran. The use of force is to ensure that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the conservative clerical bloc can cling to power:


More can be seen on two Flickr streams: one here and another here. This violence punctures the dream of freedom of the Iranian green reform movement. Will the turn to force erode the legitimacy of the cleric controlled Islamic Republic?

A BBC video:

The reconstruction of the steps of the strike against the reform movement indicate it was organized. Local and international phone calls were locked, as were SMS messaging, Facebook and other networking sites used by the opposition activists. Newspapers were ordered by the intelligence ministry not to report trouble. Websites were blocked.

According to Juan Cole, the green movement's political desire is to expand personal liberties, women's rights, and widen the field of legitimate expression for culture in opposition to the extreme puritanism of the hardline clerics who had managed to roll back all the reforms since 1997 and defeat the reform camp. However, political perspectives have social and economic roots that makes them sensitive to the internal dynamics of the society. dsalehi at Tryanny of Numbers says:

It would appear that there are two fault lines that run deep in the Iranian society–the rural vs. urban and the poor vs. the middle class–both of which seem to be reflected in the political divisions that have come to the fore in this election. Crude personal observations (backed by TV images!) suggest that the supporters of the two leading candidates are socially diverse: the poor (and the rural?) are more likely to vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad and the middles class in either location is for Mr. Moussavi.

Can the authoritarian regime clamp down on the reform movement? Will the right wing regime's turn to violence become a turn to terror? Is there a revolt against the theocracy? Does the theocracy see a wave of resistance that would sweep them out of power?

The riot police are retreating from civilian demonstrators:

Is the regime coming apart at the seams and turning on itself? Is Iran headed for civil war? How does the regime--now the coup d'état government----consolidate its hold on the country?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:06 AM | | Comments (10)


Nader Uskowi is a useful weblog. As is NIAC Insight for information about what is happening in Iran.

I really have not been following this story.

But I'd like to ask one little question... why is the word "regime" only used in reference to a handful of nations/governments?

a good question. I tend to use regime for states that are not part of a liberal democracy. For liberal democratic states the everyday term is usually government.

One thing about the story does not compute. On the one hand we have been told for years by the self-proclaimed experts that real power in Iran is exercised by the Supreme Leader and the mullahs. Ahmadinejad is little more than a cypher on this interpretation of Iranian governance.

If that is true, then why are people so exercised now about a possible vote-rigging? Could it be that the experts were actually wrong (gasp!) and Iran is actually a sophisticated pluralist society where power is shared amongst numerous interest groups, one of which is the presidency?

One of the problems is that the chief sources of commentary cited on the Middle East tend to be Americans, all of whom have serious credibility problems owing to the partisan stances they have taken on the Iraq occupation. Just about every commentator from Juan Cole to Daniel Pipes has a very obvious ideological agenda and anything they write has to be taken with several grains of salt. To make matters worse, most of what passes as news these days consists of information given by various anonymous spokespeople which is almost certainly heavily biased and for all we know might be a complete fabrication. Trying to make general conclusions on the basis of random video clips and street interviews is hopeless. In other words nobody has a clue what is really going on unless they devote virtually all their time to studying primary sources, which of course nobody has the time to do (or inclination).

Despite the US conviction that everything is always about them, the Iranian election has no obvious implications for anyone outside Iran, or rather none that can be predicted now. I seriously doubt that Iranians are desperately looking to Barack Obama for leadership. The Iranian people will sort it all out eventually without much regard for what anyone else thinks, as is fit and proper.

I agree about the obviously interested commentary and the American concern with themselves in terms of their obsession with Iran.

I'm inclined to the pluralism interpretation of the Iranian regime---not the US Republican /neocon one that real power in Iran is exercised by the Supreme Leader and the mullahs in the form of a theocratic dictatorship.

I've got the same impression as Ken re the power of the president. His role is pretty much the symbolic politician while real power rests with the mullahs, who control the armed forces and police.

I'd love to know what's going on, but don't think either western media or even educated Iranian sources are much help.

The election outcome probably doesn't tell us anything much about what Iran's likely to do in future.

well we do know some things. Firstly, that the unrest on the street on the street is not fading away and that there is a disconnect between the mullah regime and the population--- about 70 percent of Iran's population is under thirty, which means they were born after the 1979 revolution, have little memory of the Iran-Iraq war, with younger Iranians having embraced many aspects of modern global culture (music, the internet, Facebook etc.).

Secondly, there was a big rally in Tehran (around 100,000-200, 000 people despite it being illegal); or rather a march to Azadi (Freedom) Square in early afternoon sun from the main gate of Tehran University. We also know that there was intimidation and attacks from the Basij militia, who were armed with wooden staves, iron bars and guns with live ammunition. Shots were fired into the crowd and people were killed. We also know that were rallies/riots in other cities such as Tabriz, Mashhad, Shiraz and Rasht. The battle has moved from the ballot box to the streets.

Thirdly, we can interpret these events as opening a new chapter in the short history of Iran's Islamic regime. We know that the political rift is between the reform movement and conservative/ reactionaries who have been consolidating their power in the Islamic Republic since 2005, with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.We also know that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in showing loyalty to his protégé (Ahmadinejad) appears to have decided in favor of confrontation rather than compromise--- eg., a moderate conservatism that ushers in a modernized, privatized economy along with a partially liberalized society. The path of controlled reform has been rejected.

The rift is one between those who believe that normal economic and political relations with the west are vital to Iran's future and those who say that such relations are violations of the Islamic revolution's ideals. It is also a rift about authoritarian rule in Iran with the resistance to the conservative mullah regime shifting outside the system as its legitimacy erodes.

The claim to some degree of democratic legitimacy (however truncated) has been one of theocratic Iran's main public relations assets in recent years (especially when compared with many of its neighbors. That claim has now been badly tarnished if not demolished.

Most thought-provoking piece I have read is from Daniel Larison at
He reminds us that the opposition crying foul in the election is by no means a paragon of virtue. Amongst other things they apparently own a chain of universities with 3 million students, which may not be entirely unconnected with the 'spontaneous' outbreaks of protest. The post strongly supports the proposition that Iran is a complex pluralist society and outsiders make snap judgements at their peril.

The piece Ken links to makes another good point. Democracies commonly produce the 'wrong' results. George Bush is a good example. Hamas. Steve Fielding.

The riots are terrible insofar as they indicate deep unhappiness among moderates, but they're also an indication of deep divisions in Iranian society. That's something Iranians have to work out for themselves.

If Netanyahu continues to bend on a Palestinian state it could go a long way to diluting the nuttery of Iranian rhetoric anyway. I think there's an awful lot of persuasion going in back rooms in that part of the world at the moment.