A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 15, 2009

Further Thoughts on Today in Tehran: Has the Regime Split Wide Open?

As I reflect on what's been going on in Tehran today it seems to me increasingly obvious that we're seeing something we haven't seen since the early years of the Revolution: an open split in the ruling establishment. Back in 1999, when Mohammad Khatami was President, student demonstrations were put down by the security forces, and to the dismay of many of the reformers, Khatami acceded to it. Ultimately the reformist within the system yielded to the system.

This time something different is going on. I'm not an Iranianist, but when you consider that according to various reports Khatami, his brother, Mousavi, at least one Grand Ayatollah, and other stalwarts of the Revolution were participating in the protest march, and consider that the other defeated candidates, Mehdi Karrubi (a former Speaker of the Majlis) and Mohsen Rezai (former Commander of the Guards Corps) have joined the call for new elections, it seems clear that the establishment itself is divided this time over what many see as a coup. Arguments over whether the election was stolen or not are really increasingly beside the point: the ruling elite is fighting among itself.

There have been reports that Rafsanjani quit the Expediency Council in protest, but I don't know if that actually occurred, but he's been sniping at Ahmadinejad for years anyway. There are reports of many faculty resignations at Tehran University.

This doesn't mean, of course, that the regime is on the way out. After all, when China cracked down on the Tienanmen protests 20 years ago, it marked the fall of Zhao Ziyang from power as well; it may be that in Iran the regime will consolidate with the reformist wing excluded. But it does seem to me that this could well be one of those critical moments that mark dramatic change — for good or ill.

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