As Violence Surges, What Will Happen to Iran?

As violence escalates, both the opposition movement and the government have much to lose

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Violence and protests in Iran, which have surged repeatedly since the fraud-ridden June 2009 elections, are reaching new heights. The most recent demonstrations has already seen 15 killed and 300 arrested. This unverified, widely-distributed and very graphic video appears to show several prisoners saved from the gallows by protesters. Meanwhile, Iranian forces have arrested top aides to opposition leader Mir-Hussein Moussavi, a 2009 presidential candidate who has come to be the face of the Iranian "green" movement. Moussavi's nephew was recently killed, sparking further unrest.

No one is certain what will happen next or how Iran's leadership, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, will respond, but analysts are debating where the demonstrations could lead.

  • 'Khamenei Is The New Shah'  The Washington Note's Steve Clemons says the political situation is dangerous for all sides. "Ayatollah Khamenei has become the new Shah -- hated by so many within the country that it seems implausible that Iranian elites will ever be able to operate without much distrust and fear of each other," he writes. "There is no easy way now for the opposition to back down and wait for a more appropriate time to move their advocates and followers into the street. [...] This phase in Iran's next revolution could subside again before an even larger explosion by embedded protesters. It's just too hard to tell at this moment."
  • Protests' Religious Undertones  Spencer Ackerman thinks they bode poorly for the Iranian government, citing "violence against the Greens during street demonstrations yesterday commemorating the Shiite holiday of Ashura, which remembers the climactic battle between the martyred saint Hussein and his persecutor Yazid. Protesters, amazingly, chanted 'Death to Khamenei,' the supreme leader of Iran, and compared him to the hated Yazid. That could be the death knell for a regime that claims its legitimacy from fidelity to Shiite religious precepts." Ackerman adds, "I don’t know how long it’ll take, but a theocracy that the faithful equate with the man whose iniquity ultimately prompted the creation of Shiism is doomed."
  • Not a Recipe for Revolution  Analyst Juan Cole explains. "[F]or the movement to go further and become truly revolutionary, it would have to have a leader who wanted to overthrow the old regime and who could attract the loyalty of both the people and elements of the armed forces. So far this key revolutionary element, of dual sovereignty, has been lacking, insofar as opposition leaders Mir Hosain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have tried to stay inside the Khomeinist framework while arguing that it is Khamenei who violated it by making it too authoritarian. Saying you want slightly less autocracy within a clerical theocracy is not a recipe for revolution."
  • Regime Undermines Itself  PBS Frontline's Meir Javedanfar blasts Khamenei for "creating the nucleus of an ideology that is legitimizing opposition, not just in cities, but throughout Iran. However, ideology is not enough. To succeed, what is needed is to increase the frequency of opposition to the point where the morale of the regime and its forces are sufficiently eroded and they can no longer afford to carry on with their current policies, or their ability to function." He adds, "In fact, if developments continue in their current form, they can result in significant changes to the structure of his regime, or more drastically, lead to its total demise."
  • Why Green Movement Turned Violent  The Daily Nite Owl's Josh Shahryar approves. "What went on in Iran yesterday was anything but peaceful. Protesters fought back and they fought back hard. The level of violence against protesters may have been high, but it was answered – maybe not as violently, but clearly it was. This prompted many of my friends and colleagues to question their support for the Green Movement. After all, we were expecting a non-violent revolution – one spurred by peaceful protests. But let us not forget. There is a difference between unprovoked acts of violence against individuals and self-defense. Did we really expect the Iranian people to just sit back and allow the government to kill, maim and arrest people ad infinitum?"
  • The Coverage and the Reality  Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch urges skepticism towards the often-passion filled commentary in Western media. "Following Iran closely but fear that internet coverage again racing ahead of reality." Journalist Tom Watson scoffs, "Am I the only one who thinks the 'keyboard brigade' trying to 'support' Iran street protests is lame, both left and right?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.