A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Day After: Was this the IRGC's "Whiff of Grapeshot" Moment?

The day after 22 Bahman, everyone is trying to take stock. The regime, clearly, drew its line in the streets and faced down demonstrators. It disarmed the Internet and Twitter revolution by, in effect, pulling the plug. I'm sure this is not the end of the Green movement, but it is a defeat. And it is a victory for the use of coercive force, however much we may regret that.

The real victors are not just Khamene'i and Ahmadinejad, but the tiger both men are riding: the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Basij. I am reminded of a parallel — like all analogies, not a very exact one — from a very different Revolution. In October 1795 in Paris, the newly-formed Directory faced a rebellion by Royalist elements. At the Tuileries Palace, a young officer named Napoleon Bonaparte fired on the rebels and saved the Directory, clearing the streets, as Thomas Carlyle famously put it, with "a whiff of grapeshot." Four years later in November 1799 (on the 18th Brumaire in the Revolutionary calendar), the Directory found itself replaced by a Consulate, which was soon dominated by a First Consul, the same Napoleon Bonaparte. Military rescuers of a regime can sometimes find themselves taking over that regime.

Iran is not Revolutionary France, and if there are any potential Napoleons in the IRGC ranks they haven't demonstrated their skills yet. But the whiff of grapeshot led to greater things. Was yesterday the IRGC's equivalent? The willingness to use force and to virtually seal off electronic communications with the outside world shows the regime means business.

Marc Lynch's reflections on the day are here, with this introduction:
It isn't easy to be the pessimist on Iran's Green Movement. Everyone wants to support the brave protestors and most everyone hopes to see them prevail over an increasingly thuggish regime. I do. But over the last few weeks, Washington DC seemed to have talked itself into something more -- a belief that Iranian regime change was actually nigh, and that such regime change from below was actually more likely and easier than a negotiated deal on the nuclear program. I've been skeptical in public and private...I've been watching Arab regimes survive in the face of popular dissatisfaction for decades, and have seen all too clearly that while Middle Eastern regimes aren't good at much, they're pretty darned good at staying in power. Still, over the last few weeks I've read countless articles, and been told conspiratorially by many Iran-watchers, that February 11 would be the breakthrough for the Green Movement. And now it's pretty clear that it wasn't.
Juan Cole's summing up is here. An excerpt:
After Thursday, the momentum is now with the regime. Either the Revolutionary Guards are getting better at countering the dissidents or movement members are tired of getting beaten up with no measurable political impact. As I said yesterday, the regime blocked the 'flashmobs' by interfering with electronic communication (google mail, Facebook, Twitter). They also thought strategically about how to control the public space of major cities, resorting to plainclothesmen rather than just uniformed police squads. It is also possible that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's brinkmanship with the West over Iran's civilian nuclear enrichment program is causing the Iranian public to rally to the regime in the face of American, Israeli and European threats.
And a roundup of the day from NIAC here.

Few outside the regime are cheering yesterday's apparent setback for the protest movement, but denying it occurred is hardly the best approach.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

there were many greens inside those crowds. I have family members who were there but they said due to the tight security they could not get their green signs out. Anyone seen not shouting pro-regime slogans would have been harassed by the dozens of baisjis surrounding them.