Iran’s opposition Green Movement’s is organizing silent protests on 12 June to mark the second anniversary of the disputed 2009 presidential election which spawned widespread street protests and a violent crackdown.
“Protesters will shout their demands with their sealed lips,” according to the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, which is calling for the release of political prisoners; free and fair elections, and action to resolve the problems of inflation and unemployment.”
The level of participation and the authorities’ response may provide hints of an answer to the question of why Iran has remained immune from the contagion of the Arab Spring, especially when indicators suggest that the Islamic Republic should be a prime candidate for a democratic upsurge.
The ruling elite is internally fractured; new sanctions against its key security forces highlight the regime’s international isolation; the Green opposition inspired many of the activists behind the Arab Spring; and, despite its claims that it backs the protest movements, Tehran – like its Hezbollah proxies – is providing advice and assistance to Syria’s Ba’athist government.
The U.S. this week announced fresh sanctions designed to penalize Iran’s three main security forces – the police, Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basiji militia – for human rights violations since the disputed 2009 presidential election.
“While Iran’s leaders hypocritically applaud protesters abroad calling for self-determination, many of Iran’s own citizens … are being held as political prisoners merely for holding views contrary to Iran’s leaders,” said US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the, attacked Iran’s human rights rhetoric as two-faced.
The sanctions were a response to the crackdown on activists which exposed the regime’s willingness to turn the machinery of the state against its own people, the US Treasury department said.
The power struggle between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei “has shrunk the circle of those who are considered insiders in the Islamic establishment,” according to RFE/RL’s Golnaz Esfandiari and Iran analyst Kourosh Rahimkhani.
“As one Tehran-based observer noted, Iran is now a country where most of the former officials are branded as members of ‘the sedition,’ a term coined to describe the Green opposition movement, and current officials are said to be part of a ‘deviant current,’” they observe.
But if the regime is internally divided and under international pressure, the opposition Green movement has yet to demonstrate that it can advantage of the regional upsurge, with many commentators blaming the opposition’s would-be leaders’ timidity and ambivalence about genuine democratization.
The democracy movement has always lacked an effective leadership to shape its inchoate demands, writes Abbas Milani, co-director of Stanford University’s Iran Democracy Project at Hoover Institution.
“Both the weakness and the power of the movement has been its non-ideological, non-hierarchical, non-violent, non-utopian nature,” he argues.
For Iran, as a nation, the days of political messiahs—in the uniform of a general, a cleric, or a totalitarian political party—are ending. The reason for the tortured, prolonged, complex but inevitable path to democracy is due to the now ingrained distrust of false messiahs. But without centralized leadership, transitions are hard to manage.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Hojjat al-Eslam Mehdi Karrubi, the movement’s nominal leaders, are exceptionally timid, cautious and equivocal about authentic democracy, writes Ali Alfoneh:
As the opposition in the Arab world mobilizes the public for street protests, Karrubi and Mousavi ask the Interior Ministry for a “demonstration permit.”….. As the opposition in the Arab world calls for overthrow of the dictators, Karrubi and Mousavi continue to talk of reforming the regime within the framework of the constitution. As the Arab opposition calls for democracy, Karrubi and Mousavi call for a return to the “era of the Imam,” referring to Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s reign of terror in the 1980s.
“To survive, the Green Movement must offer a more cohesive leadership and a more cogent platform. It must also find a way to surmount the regime’s cyber-jihad, which uses Western, Russian Chinese and Indian technologies to stifle the opposition’s voice,” he notes.