mulling the mullahs: prelude to the next iranian revolution?

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mulling the mullahs: prelude to the next iranian revolution?

Jeremy Kinsmanbecame a smoldering source of nationalresentment, as happened in Mexico,Venezuela, Algeria, Libya, or Indonesia.The Second World War led to jointBritish-Russian occupation of Iranduring which the British stage-managedthe replacement of Reza Shah byhis British-tutored teenage sonMohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, ostensiblybecause the father had bet on theGermans winning.A shaky post-war parliamentarydemocracy stumbled toward insistenceon nationalization of Iran’s oil assetsand gave Parliamentary approval topopular Prime Minister MohammedMossadegh to proceed. But in 1953 hewas brought down in a CIA/MI6 engineeredcoup. The young and pliantShah who had fled earlier to exile wasput back on the throne, only this timeabsent a parliamentary democracy. Iranentered into a period of US-backedauthoritarian rule that lasted until therevolution of 1979.In her autobiography, the NobelPrize winning human rights defenderShirin Ebadi describes the significanceof the 1953 coup for Iranian identity.“For secular and religious Iranians,working class and wealthy alike,Mossadegh was far more than a populiststatesman. To them, he was anationalist hero.”By subverting his democratic election,the US and the UK hadwon a tactical Cold War victorybut had sewn the seedsof deep resentment. As Ebadiwrote, “The coup fed thesense that we were not mastersof our own destiny.”Iranian destiny became oneof repression under the Shah and hisubiquitous secret police the SAVAK, andensured the revolution in 1979 was awidely supported popular venture —Islamic, nationalist, but also democratic.For many, it also had anti-Americanunder-currents.Of these components, whatremained in 2009? Was the Juneprotest and uprising against authoritya counter-revolution, or an attempt torestore the original content of the1979 revolution?The Revolution established a hybridform of government that soughtto blend theocracy with a broad measureof democracy. The Constitutionexplicitly guarantees Iranians manybasic human rights. But from the start,conservative clerics regarded such provisionsas window-dressing only. Theyresented the elected institutions andworked to reduce their authority infavor of direct rule by theocrats.Iran’s conservative clergy ralliedfervent support from many of the country’sShia Moslems, especially amongthe poor. It was such fervent supporterswho in November 1979 seized the USEmbassy and held its diplomatic personnelcaptive for over a year, with considerabletraumatic impact on the USpublic. President Carter’s candidacy forre-election died in the desert with afailed hostage rescue attempt.In September 1980, a harsherdrama began for Iranians. SaddamHussein invaded Iran, hungrily covetingthe oil fields and Abadan refineries. Theensuing war was the longest of the 20 thcentury, with hideous costs to Iranians.Embittered US-Iranian relationswere part of the background. WhileHenry Kissinger had quipped “It’s apity they can’t both lose,” the US ironicallysided with Saddam Hussein. Tothis day, Iranians believe the US gaveIraq satellite data the Iraqis then usedto target deadly attacks, including withchemical weapons.As millions died in a war thatreduced the country to mourning, aswell as great material hardship, conservativeclerics had fitting circumstancesto impose a radical Islamicregime of increasing moral austerity,especially insofar as women and theirAt different points of its long history, Persia had been both agreat empire, and also a land overrun — by Greeks, Arabs, Turks,and Mongols. In the 20 th century the discovery of oil made Persiathe object of acute desire to both Britain and Russia, as a centralact in what became known as The Great Game.roles were concerned. They had effectivelytaken over.But by the mid-1990’s, Iranianschafed under their unrelieved reactionaryrule. When 1997 brought thelandslide election as president of a relativelyliberal cleric, MohammedKhatami, a spring thaw set in. For abrief time independent newspapersand publications flourished. Diversityof opinion was celebrated, except byconservative clerics.However, it was a chimera. Thoughhe would be re-elected to a secondterm, Khatami never really was incharge. Moreover, his overtures to theUS to normalize relations — Iran hadbeen very helpful in the pursuit of AlQaeda in Afghanistan in the wake of9/11 — were sabotaged by Bush’s infamouslyfatuous “axis of evil” speech.The US invasion of Iraq accompaniedby neo-conservative sabre-rattlingagainst Iran put an end to Khatami’s USdemarches.Before long, the conservatives hadshut down independent media andsmothered the emerging diversity ofviews in Parliament and elsewhere,imprisoning critical journalists.Student demonstrations broke outin 1999 that Khatami was helpless orunwilling to support. In 2003, theregime put down with brutality anotherwave of student protests at Tehranuniversity campuses, imprisoning thousandsof the protestors. It was whilephotographing their families outsideEvin Prison that the Canadian-Iranianphotojournalist Zahra Kazemi was herselfarrested. Mrs. Kazemi was killed byher prison guards in circumstances thatnever became clear but that attractedenormous international attention.In 2005, once reform candidateshad been screened out of the race by theclerics, Tehran mayor Mahmoud78OPTIONS POLITIQUESSEPTEMBRE 2009

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