An interview with CNRS researcher Azadeh Kian Thiébaut, an analyst of the development of the Iranian movement and political science professor at the University Paris-VII.
Jean-Pierre Perrin for Libération: Has Iran reached a point of no return after Sunday’s events?
Azadeh Kian Thiébaut: Absolutely. A new line has been crossed both insofar as the violence of the repression is concerned, but also with respect to that of the demonstrators against the forces of order. Up until now, the three opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Moussavi, Mehdi Karoubi and [former President] Mohammad Khatami did everything to assure that the movement remains nonviolent. Their watchwords preached the organization of peaceful demonstrations. And that was highly effective. That’s how the protest was able to spread throughout the country, including into small towns, like Arak, where a majority voted for Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election and which has swung into the opposition camp. But yesterday, certain demonstrators said they were fed up with the violence of the repression and need to react. That radicalization entails certain risks: it will push ordinary Iranians away from going down to the streets and push Iranian leaders to repress even more harshly, to the point that that could creation friction within the police. The Guide of the Revolution could have intervened to limit that repression, but he preferred to play deaf.
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Why did the opposition want to use the celebration of Achoura (the tenth day of the month of Moharram, which commemorates the death of the Imam Hussein) to go back to the streets?
Achoura is central to Shiism and the repression of demonstrators on that specific day is a very strong symbol for the movement itself. From now on, the movement will have its own martyrs killed the same day as the murder of Hussein. That will, of course, be exploited by the opposition. Achoura has been a sacred day for 1,400 years and it’s the Islamic regime itself that has broken this taboo. Even the Shah refused to have demonstrators fired upon on Achoura, as Karoubi noted.
Are there many parallels between the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the present movement?
An enormous number, but there are also differences. One is essential: half the regime is at present in the streets. And there has been a fracture within the very heart of the security forces. One section of the families of the Pasdaran [guardians of the revolution] who died during the Iran-Iraq war is in the opposition, like the families of Shahid Hemmat and Shahid Bakeri, both very well-known in Iran; the former’s wife, moreover, was beaten in Ispahan. Those who are not in the opposition, on the other hand, are the Pasdaran in power, who enjoy the oil manna and support the Guide and Ahmadinejad. In general, they didn’t even fight in the war against Iraq.
Is there a risk of civil war in Iran?
Yes. First of all, ethnic minorities are very unhappy with the regime, and, with the country’s porous borders, they have no trouble procuring weapons. There’s hardly any problem getting them anywhere in Iran, moreover. The longer the Guide remains in power, the greater the risk of civil war.
One hardly hears about ex-President Hashemi Rafsandjani any more, a nonetheless determined adversary of Ahmadinejad …
He is standing firm on moderate positions, expressed by those close to him. These watchwords suggest to the demonstrators that they should not pronounce slogans hostile to the velayat-e faqih [the keystone of the Iranian system, which subjects political power to the clerics]. At the moment, one clearly sees that the Guide himself is targeted in the demonstrations, not Ahmadinejad, who appears as a pawn.
What are we to expect from Iran now?
We are heading toward ever more violent and bloody days. It would surprise me if the conflict were to stop. What I also notice is the number of social categories going down into the streets, even in small towns. If one looks at the map of Iran, what one sees is that the whole country is affected. And what’s surprising is to see how quickly the protest is spreading. At the beginning, the movement could only count on three cities: Tehran, Qom and Tabriz. Today, you even hear it said that peasants are coming to demonstrate in the cities. The discontent is general, which means that the Guide is targeted, but not necessarily the regime. There are religious people in the streets, notably the republican and democratic part of the regime, which does not necessarily want to see the regime fall. I think that those who want its overthrow are a tiny minority. That’s what the slogans show when Khamenei is compared to Yazid [the second Omayyad Calif, whom the Shi’ites hate and consider responsible for the death of Hussein] or when people chant “Ya imam Hussein, ya Mir Hussein (Moussavi).” But by demonstrating that the regime is not amendable, the Guide carries water for the radical protesters who, today, do not have the support of a majority of the population.
Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.
Tuesday 29 December 2009
We shall take back Iran. That was one of the watchwords of Sunday’s and Monday’s demonstrators. A new trial of strength is underway in the streets of Tehran and many provincial cities, one that no one can know the outcome of. Repression is violent. Eight dead officially, hundreds wounded. Arrests of unknowns, but also of those close to the leaders of the opposition: Mohammad Khatami and Mir Hussein Moussavi, whose own nephew was killed and whose body has disappeared.
We shall take back Iran. The phrase undoubtedly goes beyond the apparently widespread feeling that, last June, President Ahmadinejad stole his victory, provoking the enormous demonstrations that followed. Nothing has been settled, and the regime’s incumbents, who hoped to win through fear and weariness, may assess that their calculations were unavailing. The Iranian street does not shut up. But is it only about the elections? Undoubtedly not. For Iran is a big country, rich with a history every one of today’s descendants of great Persia may be proud of. Iran is also a modern country; youth and women there are ever more educated and cultivated. They count for much, in their desire for modernity, the exact opposite of the obscurantism incarnated by Ahmadinejad, who represents one of the most reactionary minority sects of Islam, the Hojjatieh. The heart of their doctrine involves the teaching that on the day of the Apocalypse, the hidden imam will return to earth, hand in hand with Christ. It’s not, we will agree, a scheme particularly favorable to democracy in the present.
However, what’s going on in Iran is probably not a solely ideological matter, religious or not. In spite of the forgotten promises of its president, the country is subject to corporatism and the corruption of the big groups and of those who are called the great bazaar merchants, who, let us mention in passing, know perfectly well how to come to agreements with big foreign corporate groups, such as the French car manufacturers, for example. The reciprocal, of course, is just as true. Capital, in fact, does not trouble itself too much about Western governments’ declared scruples and squawking. That is to say, that over several years, the Iranian people as a whole has seen its situation deteriorate, contrary to the expectations of its new middle classes. The real estate bubble exploded there also. Inflation went from 25 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in the first half of 2009; salaries are not paid in a number of companies and others are effecting mass layoffs. We shall take back Iran. A beautiful expression that certainly testifies to the desire to reappropriate the country and its culture, to retake control over its fate. Is that really what all those voices raised in the West expect? Indignation in the face of repression is legitimate, as is the demand for democratic and peaceful outcomes to the crisis underway. They must not be a mask for taking advantage in the name of geostrategic aims. To destabilize Iran, to create the conditions for possible interference would be a scandalous and criminal instrumentalization of the Iranian street and of the expectations of a whole segment of the Iranian people. It would be a very worrying temptation for the West.
Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.