June 22, 2009

The Green Resistance

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Unless you’re apathetic about news and/or foreign policy (if you are, why are you reading this blog?) then you’ll have heard by now about the protests in Iran.

I won’t rehash the whole events of the past week,–they can be seen
here –but it is important to note just how monumental the events of the past week have been in Iran.

For the past 30 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not been much in the way of democratic towards its people. Every time it has taken one tentative step towards political reforms, as it did during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami from 1997-2005, mild protests have ensued. It would be as if after having a taste of water, you’d suddenly become thirsty for more.

Of course, such a thirst threatens much of the Islamic Republic, which, though ostensibly a sort of religious democracy, concentrates all power in the hands of one man, the Supreme Leader (currently Ayatollah Ali Khameini). No surprise, then, that both times that thirst for greater reform (1999 and 2003 student protests, respectively) began to irk the Supreme Leader, they were quickly squashed.

This time, however, the protests appear to be different. Ahmadinejad was not popular with many in Iran, and people finally saw an opportunity to vote him out of office and put in Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a former Prime Minister of Iran under Khomeini during the 80s.

What’s set people off is the denial of their voting rights. It’s the same case with almost all political revolts (this does, incidentally, seem like a revolution, though its success has yet to be determined) It is not unlike “no taxation without representation.” People want their voices to matter.

So, they spoke loudly during the day and cried to God at night

Perhaps violence could have been somewhat avoided if the government was willing to acquiesces that the elections were more than a little fraudulent. During Friday prayers, Khameini asserted the veracity of the elections, and gave a slightly veiled threat of danger for the Iranians that continued to protest. Needless to say, they did heed his warnings and protested more loudly than ever on Saturday.

It remains to be seen what will happen now. Saturday was a frighteningly violent day in Iran, with many protesters killed (the numbers vary from 15 to as much as 200) including a woman named Neda Sultan, whose death at the hands of a Basiji (Iranian volunteer paramilitary force, largely populated with the more fundamentalist members of Iranian society) was captured and uploaded to YouTube ( Note: I did not post a link to it here as it is painfully traumatic footage but it is readily available online if you look for it)
There are a few options at the hands of the government in Iran, they can try to crush the revolt (which has seemed their preferred route thus far), they can try to make a compromise with the protesters (this would probably involve using Ahmadinejad as a sacrificial lamb, a move that Khameini himself is probably not at all comfortable with it) or they will inevitably collapse at the hand of the protesters and the government will undergo a radical makeover.

Whatever happens, however, one thing is certain: for better or worse, Iran has once again undergone a major change. Even if the government stays and tries to reassert the status-quo pre-elections, the events of the past week have been etched in the conscience of anyone with access to a newspaper or the internet. Iranians, as a people, have gained a new identity of sorts as people willing to die for their liberty and their rights. And, most importantly, the opaque Iran that once existed has now given way to a starkly transparent one.

I will try to keep a daily log of major events in Iran on Muckraking as the protests continue. Stay posted for more info.