Today’s rally mourning the Teheran martyrs, which was summoned by candidates Moussavi, Karroubi and Ayatollah Montazeri, appears not to have happened. Instead, there have been conflicting signals, some of them ominous and some hopeful. On the ominous side: Moussavi appears to be under house arrest. The N.Y. Times reports a crackdown not only on journalists and leaders of the Moussavi campaign, but on former pillars of the Iranian political establishment:
…The government has conducted one of the harshest crackdowns in its history. Dozens of former high-ranking officials have been jailed. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported Wednesday that about 240 people, including 102 political figures, were in jail. The government has said that it arrested 627 more people since the protests broke out.
Those arrested include officials who served from the founding of the Islamic republic in 1979, until Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005: Behzad Nabavi, a former deputy speaker of Parliament; Mohsen Aminzadeh, a key figure at the Intelligence Ministry for many years; Mostafa Tajzadeh, a deputy interior minister during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami; Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a vice president under Mr. Khatami; and Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, Mr. Khatami’s spokesman. They were all close to Mr. Khatami, then threw their support behind Mr. Moussavi.
One of the reasons the street opposition may have petered out is that the government has been successful in picking off many of its leaders, which leaves the reform campaign as a body without a head. Since Moussavi never built a nationwide reformist movement before or during his campaign, he did not have layers of leadership in place in case the head was amputated by security officials. This is a feat that Hamas and Hezbollah seem to have mastered.
Government goons have ratcheted up pressure on the various candidates to cave. Rezai, the rightist, former Revolutionary Guards commander, has already conceded. Karroubi has softened his tone considerably. Leaving Moussavi the lone holdout, which may explain reports that he is under house arrest.
Just to show you that the U.S. isn’t the only nation with sleazy, self-serving leaders willing to sell out a principle in a heartbeat for political advantage, the Iranian state media is accusing deported BBC correspondent John Leyne of recruiting foreigners to kill Neda Aga-Soltan. Can you imagine the depravity of these thugs? To insult not only the woman’s memory, but the intelligence of Iranians with such bullshit.
Despite the fact that there are many troubling signals coming from Iran, there are two positive reports which may or may not be wishful thinking. Writing in The Nation, an anonymous Iranian journalist talks of a furious campaign by Hashemi Rafsanjani to replace Ayatollah Khamenei’s absolute power with a committee of four leaders so that power is diffused and a check can be placed on the type of abuses we’ve seen since the election:
According to a well-placed source in the holy city of Qom, Rafsanjani is working furiously behind the scenes to call for an emergency meeting of the Khobregan, or Assembly of Experts–the elite all-cleric body that can unseat the Supreme Leader or dilute his prerogatives. The juridical case against Khamenei would involve several counts. First, he would be charged with countenancing a coup d’état–albeit a bloodless one–without consulting with the Khobregan. Second, he would stand accused of deceitfully plotting to oust Rafsanjani–who is the Khobregan chairman and nominally the country’s third-most-important authority–from his positions of power. Third, he would be said to have threatened the very stability of the republic with his ambition and recklessness.
Rafsanjani’s purported plan is to replace Khamenei’s one-person dictatorship with a Leadership Council composed of three or more high-ranking clerics; this formula was proposed and then abandoned in 1989 by several prominent clerics. Rafsanjani will likely recommend giving a seat to Khamenei on the council to prevent a violent backlash by his fanatic loyalists. It is not clear if Rafsanjani will have the backing of the two-thirds of the chamber members needed for such a change, though the balance of forces within the Khobregan could be tipped by the events unfolding in the streets. As a symbolic gesture, Rafsanjani is said to favor holding the meeting in Qom–the nation’s religious center, which Khamenei has diminished–rather than in Tehran, where it has been held before.
Reza Aslan, at the Daily Beast, amplifies this scenario:
Reliable sources in Iran are suggesting that a possible compromise to put an end to the violent uprising that has rocked Iran for the past two weeks may be in the works. I have previously reported that the second most powerful man in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (the body with the power to choose and dismiss the supreme leader) is in the city of Qom—the country’s religious center—trying to rally enough votes from his fellow assembly members to remove the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. News out of Iran suggests that he may be succeeding. At the very least, it seems he may have gained enough support from the clerical establishment to force a compromise from Khamenei, one that would entail a runoff election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Tomorrow’s Friday sermon from Khamenei may telegraph either a compromise in the making (if the tone is conciliatory); or it may betray continued unyielding defiance. This may indicate whether Rafsanjani is making headway or not.
The Times reports that only 105 of 290 members of the Iranian parliament attended a “victory” party on Ahmadinejad’s behalf hosted by the would-be president. All may not be well even in the heart of the nation’s political system.
CNN also reported on June 23rd that Iranian clerics have joined some of the Teheran demonstrations. This might confirm what some sources are reporting–a split in the ranks of the leadership over the harshness of the crackdown. NIAC blog reports this powerful denunciation by Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who has the luxury of being virtually untouchable (Montazeri’s full letter here–pdf):
Ayatollah Montazeri praised the people of Iran for proving their braveness…once again by participating in political and social scenes and expressed his regret that…the authorities “have taken an approach and committed actions that [are] beyond imagination by any just human being.”
Montazeri said “I have been involved in the struggles against the previous (Shah) regime and the establishment of the Islamic Republic…I feel ashamed in front of the people and clearly announce that beloved Islam…is different from the behavior of the current rulers. These actions and policies being done under the banner of religion will certainly cause large segments of people to become cynical regarding the principles of Islam and theocracy and will ruin the hard and valuable work of the Islamic ulema.”
Montazeri harshly criticized the militarization of the society saying “In a country and a regime which is proud of being Islamic and Shiite, and only 30 years after the victory of the revolution when people still remember the last scenes of the past regime, how could they turn Tehran and other large cities into a big garrison while the world is watching? They have put our brothers in the armed forces against the people. By using plainclothes agents, who are reminders of baton-carrying agents of Shah, [they] cowardly shed the blood of the youth and men and women of this land.”
Montazeri then [asked the] authorities…“was this the strategy of Prophet Mohammad and Imam Ali? They never cursed and accused their enemies and didn’t silence them by the sword…Now, a group of people thinking that they can commit any crime because they see themselves as being close to the government; attack student dorms, beat them and throw them down [from] buildings, commit…murders and terrorize intellectuals of this nation and be immune from punishment; this is not compatible with any religion and custom.”
Montazeri advised the people to “pursue their reasonable demands while maintaining their calm.” He also asked the authorities to stop using harsh…measures which destroy people’s trust and exacerbate the separation between them and regime. “[The authorities] should not create divisions among the people, [and should] apologize for their past mistakes, and understand that worldly positions are not permanent.”