A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 22, 2009

Alea Iacta Est: Iran After the Weekend

Looking back at this weekend's events, I suspect that Saturday may prove to have been the hinge, the turning point, in the Iranian events, however they end. I may be overdramatizing a bit, but I think the violence and bloodshed are going to make compromise almost impossible, which means the possible outcomes remaining would be victory for one side or the other.

Until Khamenei's speech on Friday, hope for some sort of resolution still lingered. He threw down a gauntlet instead. Mousavi and the protesters seem to have picked it up; denied resolution, they chose revolution. The die is cast — for you non-Latinists, that's what the headline means — the Rubicon is crossed.

The heirs of the Islamic revolution are now profoundly split. The reformers and their allies such as Rafsanjani have to choose now whether to continue to stick with Mousavi despite the risks. As Franklin put it, they must all hang together or assuredly they will all hang separately. It's hard to see compromise emerging. Blood is flowing, the security forces have been unleashed, Mousavi is openly talking about martyrdom. Both sides went to the brink, and on Saturday, leaped off.

It's true that Sunday was calmer. It may be that the energy is spent. But it may also be a lull; Mousavi is sounding more militant, and the mourning days for those killed are approaching.

How it will end is impossible to predict. The regime could break; a new revolution, a Second Islamic Republic could emerge. Make no mistake that this is not a revolution against the Islamic system: Mousavi has sprinkled every statement with Qur'anic quotes and the young protesters are shouting Allahu Akbar from the rooftops at night — you can't make that illegal in an Islamic Republic — and Mousavi keeps invoking the Imam (Khomeini). Or there could be a Tienanmen-style resolution, the protesters ground down, leaving moving images (the man standing in front of the line of tanks) but little else. Or, like the 1999 student riots, the defeated protesters could retreat for a time, to fight again another day.

Much has been made in the media of the degree to which the death of the young girl Neda has become a rallying cry, but of the weekend's developments I'm particularly troubled by another event on Saturday: the claims that a suicide bomber tried to blow up the mausoleum of Khomeini sounds extremely suspicious: terrorist bombing is not the goal of this protest, and Khomeini is Mousavi's mentor and model. The bomber having been killed, of course, it's hard to say, but I cannot avoid the suspicion that he was actually an agent provocateur. It might be time to check the sprinkler system in the Reichstag. Is the regime that scared?

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