A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 15, 2009

Something Seems to Be Shifting

It's certainly hard to be certain at long distance, but there seems to have been a tectonic shift in the situation in Iran: the big demonstration today, though banned by the government, seems to have been held without major violence; former President Khatami, Grand Ayatollah Sanei and other prominent figures reportedly were in attendence. While basijis with clubs are still beating people on the streets the riot police seem to have stood aside a bit today.

Also of interest are the (official media) reports that Supreme Leader Khamene'i has called on the Guardian Council to carefully hear Mousavi's complaints. That comes after two public statements supporting the election of Ahmadinejad, and suggests that the Supreme Leader himself may be looking for a way to gracefully restore calm. Press TV, a semi-official medium, reportedly has suddenly started reporting the demonstrations after days of silence (or so I've read: their wesite this morning was too busy to access). Is there a shift towards some sort of compromise?

One of my commenters over the weekend called attention to a US poll that had seemed to support the idea of Ahmadinejad leading Mousavi by two to one and asked if that changed my position. At this point I think I have to say no: most of the indicators are that Mousavi was told on Friday that he had won, and if the government won fair and square, why the waves of arrests and the seeming panic? On the poll itself, Juan Cole has been asked the same questions about it and offers his answers here. I'm not there, and perhaps this poll really was fair, but virtually no one close to the scene seems to believe so, and if the results were straight, why the extreme reactions? If the government isn't doing anything wrong, they should stop acting so guilty.

In near revolutionary situations, perspective is everything. Some of the claims being made by the demonstrators — of large numbers of dead, for example, and of the presence of foreign, Arabic-speaking thugs in the streets — may prove unfounded. (The implication of the latter is that Hizbullahis from Lebanon or elsewhere have been trucked in, but the local Hizbullahis and basijis ought to be more than enough.)

It may be a trap, of course: sounding open to reason to see who comes out of the woodwork.

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