I’ve been casting bones frequently over the last few days in the hope of getting some direction in relation to the unrest in Iran. A lot of it still remains obscure, but I felt I should throw in my two cents.
Firstly, I have no idea if the election was rigged. A lot of people have put a lot of effort into persuading me one way or the other, but it doesn’t seem like something I’ve got the evidence to judge.
Secondly, Mousavi was not a candidate of freedom and feminism; he was a candidate of liberalism and neoliberalism. That is, in many important respects, better than the offered alternative. But it’s just a different flavour of Islamic Republic.
Thirdly, this is not a movement of ‘the oppressed’ in any uncomplicated way. It seems to be principally a movement of urban male and female youth, from a variety of class backgrounds but with the middle class seeming to preponderate. Potentially it is less popular, or even actively opposed, in a lot of the poorer population, especially rurally.
But fourthly, I don’t think any of these need impede support for the protesters. The Iranian government does terrible things to them as governments do across the world, often with fewer concessions or rules of courtesy. Everyone in that country has the right to resist it. And struggle radicalises people, so there’s no question over radicals supporting people in struggle.
Strategically though, I have to admit that the protests’ value is more in what they might become than in what they are. If they shifted their hopes away from Mousavi and towards themselves, if they sought to make common cause with those poorer voters who supported Ahmadinejad because of his populist redistribtution of oil wealth, instead of with the ‘moderate’ camp of the priests…none of this is impossible. But it seems unlikely. (Edited to reflect wild fluctuations in optimim)
My worry is that their long-term effect will be merely to adjust the balance of power within the regime, propping up modernising moderates, if that, and to replicate the regime’s divisions within the population, by provoking opposition from rural Ahmadinejad voters.
UPDATED: Every half-hour or so I find myself adjusting my previous impressions. Something in particular I wanted to mention was the ‘manifesto‘ that has emerged, though it’s not clear where or from who. It has seven points:
1. Stripping Ayatollah Khamenei of his supreme leadership position because of his unfairness. Fairness is a requirement of a supreme leader.
2. Stripping Ahmadinejad of the presidency, due to his unlawful act of maintaining the position illegally.
3. Transferring temporary supreme leadership position to Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazery until the formation of a committee to reevaluate and adjust Iran’s constitution.
4. Recognizing Mir Hossein Mousavi as the rightfully elected president of the people.
5. Formation of a new government by President Mousavi and preparation for the implementation of new constitutional amendments.
6. Unconditional release of all political prisoners regardless of ideology or party platform.
7. Dissolution of all organizations — both secret and public — designed for the oppression of the Iranian people, such as the Gasht Ershad (Iranian morality police).
Of these, the first four, as I said, are uninspiring in their content, replacing one bastard with another. Their form though seems like it might be significant – not only is there a challenge to the officially democratic president, but there is a call for the replacement of the Supreme Leader. As I understand the ideology of the Iran state, bodies like the supreme leader are supposed to represent ‘the rule of God, not the rule of humans’, and hence be ‘above democracy’. So demanding his resignation seems to strike at the spirit of the islamic republic.
This is presumably also part of the goal of point 5: to not only replace the president but to amend the constitution.
Points 6 and 7 are pretty straightforwardly progressive demands, and it’s good to see them here. In particular, they’re things that benefit the working class as well as the middle class (e.g. fighting the imprisonment of political dissidents opens space for organising that can be used by all classes below the top ones).