Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran's ruling class split widens

I don't know if this is unprecedented, exactly, but I suspect the intensity of infighting among Iran's rulers is novel. Aside from the arrests of reformists, we have the open targeting of even quite establishment figures, members of the Rafsanjani family and so on. Now, the conservative majles speaker Larijani has said that 'most' Iranians think the election result was fixed. He has been condemning the protesters, but there are now reports that he's expressing 'concern' over the crackdowns. And he is being attacked in what would ordinarily be sympathetic right-wing papers. We've had Montazeri, apparently one of those who exerted a humanising influence on Iran's penal system in the 1980s, denouncing the election results and the attacks on the protesters. We've had Khatami attacking the 'hardliners' and condemning the government for outlawing protests. I don't encourage anyone to put their faith in any of these individuals, but the fact of the shift is significant and bears consideration. The protesters didn't just take advantage of a split; they stuck a big crowbar in it, and pushed. The neocons are trying to take credit for this on the bizarre assumption that the destruction of Iraq belatedly prompted a liberation movement in Iran. A sharp piece by Justin Raimondo points out that it is far more likely that "the Obama effect" (actually, the effect of the US facing defeat in Iraq) allowed Iran's system to open up a bit more, and enabled the establishment to air its differences a bit more openly.

If it was just a split in the ruling class, those who expected the movement to fizzle out would have been right. But so far, despite some premature indications from commentators, there is no sign that they are right. Yesterday's protests apparently spread well beyond Tehran, with this footage purportedly coming from the southern city of Kerman. Despite the ongoing violence of the state, the protesters kept coming out, in new places. Given the extreme brutality of the basiji, it is amazing that the protesters didn't just stop turning out. But it may be that the repressive strategy is blowing back on the state. For, after the murder of Neda Soltani, and the reaction against it, Mousavi seems to feel more confident to make his move. He and other 'reformers' are backing protests over this, apparently despite a government ban - quite unlike previous occasions where they have backed down and allowed protesters to brave the basij militias alone. He now says he is trying to organise a general strike, and is getting some interesting advice from people responding to his Facebook message. But if the protesters had followed his advice and stopped turning out when rallies were declared banned, he would not now be in a position to talk about a general strike. Unconfirmed reports on The Guardian have suggested that 30% of workers in Iran are already striking - which, if true, would be a phenomenal rebuke to the government, which threatened that anyone who didn't turn up for work would be fired. Try sacking 30% of the workforce.