x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bloodshed and chaos in Iran

After earlier promising a partial recount in Iran's disputed presidential election, Ayatollah Khamenei offered unequivocal support for President Ahmadinejad on Friday, setting the stage for a violent confrontation with demonstrators supporting the opposition. On Saturday, after the assembly of experts - a body with the authority to dismiss or replace the supreme leader - issued a statement expressing "strong support" for Mr Khamenei, the stance of the assembly's chairman, former president Rafsanjani, remains unclear.

After earlier promising a partial recount in Iran's disputed presidential election, Ayatollah Khamenei offered unequivocal support for President Ahmadinejad on Friday, setting the stage for a violent confrontation with demonstrators supporting the opposition. On Saturday, after the assembly of experts - a body with the authority to dismiss or replace the supreme leader - issued a statement expressing "strong support" for Mr Khamenei, the stance of the assembly's chairman, former president Rafsanjani, remains unclear. Since the June 12 elections, Mr Rafsanjani has neither been seen in public nor issued any statements. (After the Tehran Times reported on this statement a number of sources have said that the letter was only signed by Mohammad Yazdi, a staunch supporter of President Ahmadinejad, and therefore might not actually represent the true will of the entire assembly of experts.) In The New York Times, Roger Cohen, who is in Tehran, said: "Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, had used his Friday sermon to declare high noon in Tehran, warning of 'bloodshed and chaos' if protests over a disputed election persisted. "He got both on Saturday - and saw the hitherto sacrosanct authority of his office challenged as never before since the 1979 revolution birthed the Islamic Republic and conceived for it a leadership post standing at the very flank of the Prophet. A multitude of Iranians took their fight through a holy breach on Saturday from which there appears to be scant turning back. "Khamenei has taken a radical risk. He has factionalised himself, so losing the arbiter's lofty garb, by aligning himself with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against both Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of the revolution. "He has taunted millions of Iranians by praising their unprecedented participation in an election many now view as a ballot-box putsch. He has ridiculed the notion that an official inquiry into the vote might yield a different result. He has tried pathos and he has tried pounding his lectern. In short, he has lost his aura." The Tehran Times reported: "In a statement issued on Saturday the assembly of experts expressed its 'strong support' for the supreme leader's statements on the presidential elections on Friday. "The 86-member assembly stated in the statement that it is hoped that the nation would realise the current condition and by sticking to the leader's guidelines preserve their patience and manifest their unity." The Los Angeles Times spoke to the Iran scholar Mohsen Milani. "Some Western commentators have made much of the apparent divisions among Iran's ruling clerics. Milani is more cautious, saying Khamenei signaled in his Friday sermon that he might be willing to bring prominent moderate and former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani back into the fold. " 'In the past, I have seen how cracks have been created and then repaired,' Milani says. 'What I am watching for is whether there is a permanent division between Rafsanjani and Khamenei ... I am not convinced there is.' "Asked whether the opposition movement would persist without its current figureheads, he says, 'I believe this is one of the reasons that Rafsanjani has not made up his mind. He knows on the one hand that Ahmadinejad is determined to undermine him. Ahmadinejad has made that very clear. On the other hand, the strategic decision that Rafsanjani has to make is if he does not join the Islamic regime that is in power today, then his fate is locked with the fate of the (opposition) movement ... He is waiting I think to see where is the center of gravity in these unfolding events, and then he will decide where to go.' " On Saturday in Washington, the White House issued a statement from President Obama. "The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights. "As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion. "Martin Luther King once said - 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples' belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness." After Saturday's protests, a posting compiled from Tweets on the web site, Anonymous Iran said: "Reformists and high-ranking Mousavi supporters are now being arrested in massive numbers. Sources claim that the Iranian government wants to completely isolate Mousavi so he has no way of contacting the outside world. However, Mousavi continues to manage to get messages out using his sources. "As the injured were shipped to hospitals, many were directly taken away into custody without even reaching the hospital. Sources also confirm that government forces then went to hospitals and picked up the injured, hauling them out and taking them to undisclosed locations. The arrest of injured protesters is so massive that our sources have pleaded with everyone inside Iran to not go to hospitals. "Several embassies in Tehran opened up their doors to injured protesters. They include the embassies of Slovenia, Dutch, Italian, British, Australian, Romania, Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany. There are rumours of other embassies opening their doors to injured protesters as well; however, they cannot be positively confirmed. It has also been confirmed that the Canadian Embassy has closed its doors and turned away injured protesters and told them they are not accepting anyone." The New York Times said: "Regular security forces stood back and urged protesters to go home to avoid bloodshed, while the feared pro-government militia, the Basij, beat protesters with clubs and, witnesses said, electric prods. "In some places, the protesters pushed back, rushing the militia in teams of hundreds: At least three Basijis were pitched from their motorcycles, which were then set on fire. The protesters included many women, some of whom berated as 'cowards' men who fled the Basijis." The presidential candidate and opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, issued a statement in which he said: "In this, we are not confronting the Basij. Basiji is our brother. In this we are not confronting the revolutionary guard. The guard is the keeper of our revolution. We are not confronting the army, the army is the keeper of our borders. These organs are the keepers of our independence, freedom and our Islamic republic. We are confronting deception and lies, we want to reform them, a reform by return to the pure principles of revolution. "We advise the authorities, to calm down the streets. Based on article 27 of the constitution, not only provide space for peaceful protest, but also encourage such gatherings. The state TV should stop badmouthing and taking sides. Before voices turn into shouting, let them be heard in reasonable debates. Let the press criticize, and write the news as they happen. In one word, create a free space for people to express their agreements and disagreements." In The New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson said: "The Basij is now said to have some 400,000 active members nationwide, with perhaps a million more reservists; in some ways, their relationship to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also their commander in chief, recalls the one between Nicolae Ceausescu and the loyalist miners trucked in from the Romanian countryside to strong-arm pro-democracy protestors. From 1997 to 2005, during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, the Basij showed its usefulness again, by attacking students at demonstrations. Some students were killed. The protests died out. "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ... is a Basiji, and the organisation has always been an important part of his power base. During the past four years, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president and the reform movement dormant, the Basij has not been needed as shock troops. Instead they have made their presence felt by periodically throwing up traffic barricades on the streets of Tehran and stopping cars to smell the breath of drivers for evidence of illegal alcohol consumption, or to question couples about their marital status. These Basijis are usually scruffy working-class men, and thus bring an element of notional 'class struggle' to the otherwise pragmatically lived lives of the citizens of the Islamic republic. Not surprisingly, among more educated and affluent Iranians, they are almost unanimously despised."

pwoodward@thenational.ae