Friday, June 19, 2009

"Mousavi is not Khomeini, and Khamenei is not the Shah"

While no one knows what the endgame will be in Iran, Karim Sadjapour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace speaks with authority about the personalities of the principals and the dynamics of their power struggle (h/t Steve Coll):

The weight of the world now rests on the shoulders of Mir Hossein Mousavi. I expect that Khamenei’s people have privately sent signals to him that they’re ready for a bloodbath, they’re prepared to use overwhelming force to crush this, and is he willing to lead the people in the streets to slaughter?

Mousavi is not Khomeini, and Khamenei is not the Shah. Meaning, Khomeini would not hesitate to lead his followers to “martyrdom”, and the Shah did not have the stomach for mass bloodshed. This time the religious zealots are the ones holding power.

The anger and the rage and sense of injustice people feel will not subside anytime soon, but if Mousavi concedes defeat he will demoralize millions of people. At the moment the demonstrations really have no other leadership. It’s become a symbiotic relationship, Mousavi feeds off people’s support, and the popular support allows Mousavi the political capital to remain defiant. So Mousavi truly has some agonizing decisions to make.

Rafsanjani’s role also remains critical. Can he co-opt disaffected revolutionary elites to undermine Khamenei? As Khamenei said, they’ve known each other for 52 years, when they were young apostles of Ayatollah Khomeini. I expect that Khamenei’s people have told Rafsanjani that if he continues to agitate against Khamenei behind the scenes, he and his family will be either imprisoned or killed, and that the people of Iran are unlikely to weep for the corrupt Rafsanjani family.

As the Shah tentatively cracked down, killing dozens of protesters here and hundreds there, those seeking his overthrow kept coming back for more. Sadjapour suggests that while Khomeini was more ruthless than the Shah, Khamenei may prove more relentless than Mousavi. Rafsanjani is a wild card, though. And the Iranian people have that Shiite reverence for martyrdom. But can any people resist a truly ruthless crackdown? Perhaps only when the soliders in the tanks refuse to roll.

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