So Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demands that protestors desist from their demonstrations and give proper obedience to their self-selected rulers. Reports the New York Times:
Iran‘s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sternly cut off any compromise over the nation’s disputed elections on Friday. In a long and hard-line sermon, he declared the elections valid and warned of violence if demonstrators continue, as they have pledged, to flood the streets in defiance of the government.
Opposition leaders who failed to halt the protests, he said, “would be responsible for bloodshed and chaos.” The tough words seemed to dash hopes for a peaceful solution to what defeated candidates and protesters call a fraudulent election last week, plunging Iran into its gravest crisis since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
“Flexing muscles on the streets after the election is not right,” he said, before tens of thousands of angry supporters at Tehran University. “It means challenging the elections and democracy. If they don’t stop, the consequences of the chaos would be their responsibility.”
But opposition leaders, who stayed home Friday, called for yet another huge rally on Saturday afternoon, setting the stage for a possible showdown between protesters and security forces, perhaps a violent one.
The sermon put Ayatollah Khamenei, who prefers to govern quietly and from behind the scenes, at the forefront of a confrontation not only among factions of the government but among Iranians themselves.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s dictatorial pronouncements give him the look of the Shah some three decades ago: an elderly thug surrounded by a rapacious elite who’d grown increasingly out of touch with the people he desired to rule. Popular protests helped sweep away the Shah, his pampered military brass, and Savak, his secret police. Let’s hope the same will happen to Khamenei, the self-interested mullocracy which he represents, and its jack-booted enforcers like the so-called Revolutionary Guard.
The point is, the real issue is not the election, in which no one really represented the Iranian people and their desire for liberty, and subsequent back-mosque maneuvering amongst the power brokers, such as the eminently opportunistic Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. It is the entire system, in which a repressive and unelected elite make the most important political decisions and use force to crush any opposition. The Iranians are entitled to create their political system, whatever it looks like, rather than have one imposed upon them, like the present one.
In this we should sympathize with the Iranian people and do what we can to help them. But that mostly means us, not the U.S. government. Twitter adjusting its maintenance schedule to ensure maximum availability for Iranian protestors is one example. Abundant and continuing press coverage is another. Sharing methods of circumventing official censorship from Chinese dissidents is yet another. Presumably there are additional means of directly empowering those opposing Iran’s reigning autocracy.
Unfortunately, warn Iranian activists, the worst thing the Obama administration could do is turn what is presently the Iranian autocracy versus the Iranian people into a contest between the U.S. and Iranian governments. No one really doubts where Washington stands, and its previous record, a la the Shah, brought to power in a U.S.-supported coup against a democratically government, is not particularly helpful. It is critical to keep the focus on the Iranian people.
Overthrowing the system will not be easy. But the Iranian people succeeded against the Shah, and the end came surprisingly quickly. Hopefully the current system is equally brittle. There are some divisions within the elite; perhaps unity will similarly break within the security services. Hopefully the Iranian equivalent of the Iron Curtain can finally be brought down.
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