Sunday, June 21, 2009

Between the Basiji and the Green Wave

Can Mousavi win the hearts and minds of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji? Conversely, can he hold the hearts and minds of his most passionate followers? Two pieces highlighted in this morning's Daily Dish -- one by the New Yorker's Laura Secor and the other by "Simin Mesgari" (pseudonym?), a Green Waver writing in The Street, a samizdat newspaper circulating among the protesters -- pose each of these questions in turn.


I think there is still a battle being waged for the hearts and minds of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij. Successful nonviolent movements in other countries have depended on the cooptation of the rank and file in the armed forces; one remembers the moving scenes of Serbian riot police embracing demonstrators...

Iran is not Serbia. The relationship between the people and the revolutionary shock troops is far older and deeper than anything that took root during Milosevic’s relatively brief tenure. By 2000, Milosevic’s fiefdom was rotten to the core; it survived on corruption, the fear of exposure on the part of many criminals and war profiteers, and hostility toward the world. The Islamic Republic, by contrast, was born in a people’s revolution and built on faith in a religion that is deeply held by most Iranians. The state’s ideology is not the hollow construct of political elites, as communism was by the time it collapsed in much of Eastern Europe. Rather, Iranian Islamism was forged over decades, in long struggle with the despotic regime of Mohammad Reza Shah, and from the potent raw materials of Iranian nationalism and Islam. Although the country’s constituency for democracy is vast and growing, the regime has a constituency, too, and it is passionately loyal and heavily armed.

The purpose of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij is the defense of the Islamic Revolution and the Supreme Leader. Rarely have the true believers in the militias been forced to consider the possibility that these two functions might come into conflict. Such a moment may have arrived...

Mousavi knows too well how deep the wound is. He also knows that his green bandage is only a first aid cover for this wound and not a cure....

Mousavi knows that not all “this” is for him.

He knows very well, and we also know very well that had there been a “better” candidate than Mousavi with a “lesser evil past” which had chosen yellow colour for his campaign, the nation would have gone yellow and Mousavi would have demoted to Ahmadinejad’s position. …..

Velayat-e Faqih or the “Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists” is the red line which Mousavi has expressed he won’t cross – this red line is now being crossed by those wearing green....
It would seem that the more immediate problem -- with the longer odds -- is the one framed by Secor. But Mesgali's challenge raises the core longer term question. The 1979 revolution got past the Shah and then was hijacked by the most ruthless and autocratic among the contestants for power. Mousavi, as Karim Sadjapour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has pointed out, is no Khomeini -- he's the Gorbachev, the Kerensky, the reformist not the revolutionary. As Secor points out, though, Iran's current power structure is not "rotten to the core" in the sense of having lost all support; it still has the buy-in of at the very least a large minority. A reformer who professes passionate loyalty to the state apparatus he helped found may be the best hope for change Iranians can believe in.

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