Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran -- Constitutional Crisis?

I was wrong in thinking that the Leader of the Revolution [LOTR], Ayatollah Khamenei, would make some concessions in his sermon yesterday, and only wondering whether they would be enough or too much to put the genie back in the bottle. It does appear from the speech that he clearly sees the opposition's claims as a direct attack on the legitimacy of the government--a means of undermining it.
"This is what they want. They want to undermine trust to weaken participation to deprive the Islamic Republic of legitimacy. The harm inflicted by this is far worse than setting fire to buses and banks. This cannot be compared with any other loss. The enemy wants to see the people come forward in such a move and participate so enthusiastically in elections and then get told that they have made a mistake in trusting the system, the system is not trustworthy. This is what the enemy wants. They started this line (of attack) before the elections."
I suspect that Khamenei saw the question of concessions in the light of what happened after Louis XVI's concessions to the Estates-General. (Some might think this a stretch, but Khamenei was a key participant in the 1979 Revolution and the Constitution which came out of that was strongly influenced by the French Constitution for the Fifth Republic. The revolutionary leaders of the Iranian Revolution were and are students of revolutions past.)

In any case, it seems that he has calculated that he is both in the position not to make any concessions and that it is not in his interests to do so. This is interesting to me, because he seems to be doing precisely what it is he says in the quote above he fears--undermining trust in the system. Insofar as the opposition has been marching, they have been marching to have a new vote, not to change the system. Now they will be marching, it seems, to, at the very least, overturn this last directive, have a new vote, perhaps to replace the LOTR, and perhaps even to eliminate the role established for the LOTR in the Constitution.

Now Mousavi's call for a nullification of the election results altogether and a new election have been seconded by opposition candidate, Mehdi Karrubi, per Press TV. Both are scheduled to meet with the Guardian Council to present their evidence of vote tampering today. Earlier there were reports that Mousavi supporters were arranging for another rally today, but Parisa Hafezi at Reuters reports that an ally of Mousavi's said yesterday,
"Mousavi has no plans to hold a rally tomorrow or the day after tomorrow and if he decides to hold a rally it will be announced on his website."
However, folks might decide to march without official approval.

Which leads to the question of what forces are available to the LOTR should he decide to use force, as he appears to threaten in his speech. To wit:
"If after every election, those who do not win start street rallies and mobilize their supporters in the streets, then those who have won start street rallies in response, then, what is the purpose of holding elections? What is the fault of the people? The people, who have businesses on the street, commute on the streets and live there. What is their sin to witness you wanting to show off your supporters, one side like this and the other side like that. For the infiltrated terrorist, the individual who intends to deal a terrorist blow, the issue is not the political aspect of the matter. What is better for him than to hide among the people, who want to hold gatherings and rallies? If such gatherings provide a cover for him, then who is responsible? Who is accountable for the death of the few people from the public and the Basij in these incidents? There will be reactions and sentiments after they (agitators) exploit the chaos and assassinate members of the Basij or the Law Enforcement Force. Who is accountable for these reactions? One's heart is torn apart when one sees such events, when one sees that they raid university dormitories and harm young students, not rioting students but the pious students, and then chant slogans in support of the leader too. One's heart is torn apart by such events. (Crowd chanting)

Street challenges after the elections are not the right thing to do. This is, in fact, challenging the principle of elections and democracy. I want everyone to end this sort of action. If they do not end it then the consequences of this lie with them (street protesters).

It is a wrong perception, please note, a wrong impression that through their street presence they will be creating a lever of pressure against the system. It is wrong to think that the officials of the system will concede out of expediency."
Also, PressTV reports that the Supreme National Security Council has warned Mousavi against rallies in a statement which reads in part:
"It is your responsibility to prevent the public from attending such rallies instead of making accusations against the law enforcement. [Mousavi wrote a letter to the council complaining of abuses by law enforcement. All of the candidates have submitted hundreds of complaints to the Guardian Council.] We believe this is an organized network which is most probably affiliated to foreign-related groups and deliberately disturbs the peace and security of the public. Of course we have already ordered the law enforcement forces to deal with the issue."
On Friday, the spokesman for the Guardian Council, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, warned opposition candidate Mohsen Rezai against agitating public opinion. (Rezai was the chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards for 16 years and serves as the Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council--which resolves disputes between the Guardian Council and the Majlis, or Iranian Parliament.)

Michael Eisenstadt at the Washington Institute has an extremely useful analysis of the various military forces involved. Key excerpt:
"Film and television footage of the protests show that this time the Basij are in the lead in dealing with the unrest, with the Law Enforcement Forces [LEF] playing a supporting role. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] units have not yet been committed. This is consistent with the growing role assigned the Basij since 2003 as the first line of defense against possible US regime-change attempts--whether through an invasion or a color revolution. It is not clear, however, that this apparent confidence in the Basij is justified.

While the recruitment base of the Basij is much narrower than that of the IRGC (which draws on conscripts from all sectors of Iranian society), it is a volunteer force that many join for opportunistic reasons--for a paycheck, a scholarship, or a bit of authority. And while the Basij is probably more thoroughly vetted than other mass organizations (due to the role of local clerics and mosques in the recruitment process), it is hard to believe that its membership is insulated from the broader political forces at work in Iranian society today. Accordingly, some units might experience significant desertions if employed to violently suppress the protests."
Well worth reading in full. As I have noted before, if there are millions in the streets, orders to shoot protesters may not be obeyed ... in part because there is a high likelihood of there being relatives in the crowd.

Perhaps the Guardian Council will decide enough votes are questionable so that a second round could be arranged. If not, my guess is that the protests will be continue, in defense of the Constitutional right to having their vote count. Where Rafsanjani happens to be and whether an emergency meeting of the Assembly of Experts in Qom has been assembled remains an open question. If it is, and if the LOTR is ordered to stand down and he resists there will be a full blown Constitutional crisis in Iran ... likely followed by shows of force. We shall see.

Photos of signs in the protest in Tehran yesterday, with helpful translations, by Syma Sayyah at Payvand Iran News, one sample:

Translation: "Why would I want to die? Seeking truth has forced me to. I'm going into the grave happily, to bring out the corpse of freedom from the depth of darkness."
Another set of photos of the protest in Tehran yesterday by Syma Sayyah at Payvand Iran News. One sample:

And yet more images of the Tehran protest yesterday from Syma Sayyah at Payvand Iran News:

Very much worth looking through.

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