To start with, the BBC, long considered a shill for the regime by most Iranian dissidents, estimates between one and two million Tehranis demonstrated against the regime on Monday. That’s a big number. So we can say that, at least for the moment, there is a revolutionary mass in the streets of Tehran. There are similar reports from places like Tabriz and Isfahan, so it’s nationwide.
For its part, the regime ordered its (Basij and imported Hezbollah) thugs to open fire on the demonstrators. The Guardian, whose reporting from Iran has always been very good (three correspondents expelled in the last ten years, they tell me), thinks that a dozen or so were killed on Monday. And the reports of brutal assaults against student dormitories in several cities are horrifying, even by the mullahs’ low standards.
What’s going to happen?, you ask. Nobody knows, even the major actors. The regime has the guns, and the opposition has the numbers. The question is whether the numbers can be successfully organized into a disciplined force that demands the downfall of the regime. Yes, I know that there have been calls for a new election, or a runoff between Mousavi and Ahmadinezhad. But I don’t think that’s very likely now. The tens of millions of Iranians whose pent-up rage has driven them to risk life and limb against their oppressors are not likely to settle for a mere change in personnel at this point. And the mullahs surely know that if they lose, many of them will face a very nasty and very brief future.
If the disciplined force comes into being, the regime will fall. If not, the regime will survive. Can Mousavi lead such a force?
....In any event, all of that is irrelevant now. The only thing that matters is winning and losing. Whatever plans Mousavi had for a gradual transformation of the Islamic Republic, they have been overtaken by events; the issue now is the survival of the system. Mousavi has called for a general strike on Tuesday. That is the right strategy, since he must demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of Iranians want an end to the regime. And the dissidents must show that they are not afraid of the thugs. Mousavi has said that they must use flowers, not guns, since he must aim at the disintegration of the armed killers, not at winning a gunfight.
There are reports of members of the Revolutionary Guards defecting to the dissidents. There is this report from an Iranian website (the only place i’ve seen it) according to which 16 senior Revolutionary Guards officials have been arrested:
“These commanders have been in contact with members of the Iranian army to join the people’s movement. Three of the commanders are veterans of Iran-Iraq war. They have been moved to an undisclosed location in East Tehran.”
If true, it’s very important, but, as I have often noted, the regime has distrusted them for some time. The young Islamic revolutionaries of the late 1970s are now middle aged, and do not wish to slaughter their neighbors. That is why the mullahs have imported killers from abroad: the five thousand or so Hezbollahis who, according to Der Spiegel, have been brought in from Lebanon and Syria. Dissidents on Twitter report clashes with security forces who do not speak Farsi, and there are even some rumors suggesting that Chavez has sent some of his toughs from Venezuela. Who knows?
The other great threat to the regime comes from the upper reaches of the clergy. Do not be surprised to see some senior ayatollahs denounce the regime; many have done so in the past (Ayatollah Montazeri has been under house arrest for years, and Ayatollah Boroujerdi has been subjected to horrible torture for criticizing the lack of freedom in Iran). We are still quite early in this process.
But the key element is the people. They are only just beginning to understand the reality of their situation. Virtually none of them imagined that they would be in a revolutionary confrontation with the regime just two days after the electoral circus, and few of them can realize, so soon, that they can actually change the world. I think the Mousavis now understand it (they know that they are either going to win or be destroyed). It remains to be seen if they can instruct and inspire the movement.
Much will depend on their ability to communicate. The regime has been waging a cyberwar against the dissidents, shutting down websites, cell phones, Facebook, and the like. As most people have learned, the basic communiations tool is Twitter, which somehow continues to function. Bigtime Kudos to Twitter, by the way, for postponing its planned maintenance so that the Iranians can continue to Tweet. Would that Google were so solicitous of freedom.
We don’t know who’s going to win. The Iranian people know that they’re on their own; they aren’t going to get any help from us, or the United Nations, or the Europeans. But paradoxically, this lack of support may strengthen their will. There is no cavalry on the horizon. If they are going to prevail, they and their unlikely leaders will have to gut it out by themselves. God be with them.