Friday, July 31, 2009

Simmering Over a Low Heat

Protesters in Tehran refuse to be stamped out:

At 4 p.m. the Iranian government broke up an attempted memorial service at a cemetery, but very soon after, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of central Tehran the night of July 30, overwhelming Iran's feared security forces. The crowds burned tires, honked horns, waved peace signs and chanted, "Death to the dictators." Because the demonstrators gathered in several neighborhoods throughout the capital as well as at the country's largest cemetery, 12 miles (20 km) south of the city center, the Basij paramilitary and Revolutionary Guards could not cover enough ground to control the growing crowds - one of the largest outpourings in recent weeks, albeit spread about the city. The protests even continued into the city's subway system as many participants hurried back into the city from the aborted prayer service at Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. "Tehran was our town today," exclaimed a 26-year-old woman. "We had more courage and the police less courage."

I'm rather shocked that the protests continue in the face of government repression and violence.

At their current scope, the protests won't bring down the government. But as long as the ruling elites are split and struggling for power, apparently hindering their ability to be as ruthless as they have in the past with dissidents, there is always the chance that the protests could expand nationwide and become a threat to the regime.

Some incident might trigger mass resolve among the many people angry at the regime. Or some faction in the regime may try to use the protesters against their foes within the regime, thinking they can ride the anger to victory. Or, as the protests linger, some elements of the security apparatus may side with the protesters. The Basij are loyal killers but ordinary cops, much of the regular armed forces, and even some of the Pasdaran could shrink from orders to shoot civilians. If protests get too large for the Basij to handle, requiring the use of other elements of the security forces, what will those security forces do?

We might still see a good result from the protests over the fraudulent Iranian elections.