With events in Iran approaching a tipping point, the Green movement needs a coherent plan of action and a disciplined leadership, writes Abbas Milani, director of Stanford University’s Iran Democracy Project.
Iran’s democratic movement exhibits “the three characteristics of a velvet revolution—nonviolent, nonutopian and populist in nature—with the nimble organizational skills and communication opportunities afforded by the Web,” he writes.
Criticizing apologists for the regime, he insists that recent events have confirmed that the problem with Iran is the Islamic Republic itself, a fact that is becoming evident to broad swathes of Iranian society:
[T]o the people of Iran, who have long suffered the consequences of the regime’s political despotism, its ideological sclerosis, and its economic incompetence and corruption, recent events are only egregious manifestations of what they have endured for three decades. It is the slow, sinister grind of this structural violence that has now turned nearly every strata of Iranian society—save those who owe their fortunes to the status quo—into the de facto foe of the regime.
But the regime is unlikely to go quietly, says Carnegie’s Karim Sadjadpour. “The political elites of the regime have nowhere to go outside of Iran and therefore will not give up power without a fight,” he argues. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei believes that the Shah’s apologies and concessions paved the way for the 1979 Islamic revolution which overthrew him.
The Obama administration has unequivocally condemned the violence against protesters and called for the release of those “unjustly detained.”
“For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights,” said President Barack Obama. “Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.”
An understated factor in the current democratic upsurge is the youthfulness and Internet-savvy nature of the Iranian people, Milani argues. New social media like Twitter have become a focal point of the protests, reports suggest.
But other observers argue that Web-based activists – aka ‘slacktivists’ – can inadvertently play into the hands of autocratic forces.
“Dictatorships across the world now use their own tools to hunt down online protesters,” says this report, citing the nationalized communications company through which Iran’s government controls the internet:
Using a state-of-the-art method called “Deep Packet Inspection”, data packages sent between protesters are now automatically broken down, checked for keywords, and reconstructed within milliseconds. Every Tweet and Facebook message, in other words, is firmly on the regime’s radar…. As a result, the crackdown in Iran has been easier than ever before. Once the Revolutionary Guard intercept a suspect message, they are able to pinpoint the location of a guilty protester using their computer’s IP address. Then it’s just a question of knocking on doors – and confiscating laptops and PCs for hard evidence.
As recently noted, the hard-line Revolutionary Guards and the intelligence ministry “each have their own, separate Internet-monitoring units that track prominent political figures and activists,” a Wall Street Journal investigation has revealed.
The regime’s cyber-suppression confirms fears that the web is a double-edged sword for democracy activists, facilitating international communications and cyber-solidarity while also allowing autocratic governments identify and intimidate those same activists.