At his Friday prayers sermon on Friday, hard line cleric Ahmad Khatami (no relation to former president and liberal Mohammad Khatami) called for capital punishment for leaders of the popular demonstrations against the outcome of the election. This call is a new and dangerous turn, since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had praised the opposition leaders and simply urged them to accept the official results. Ahmad Khatami is close to the hard line faction of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and is surely voicing the sentiments of the worst of the Basij and Revolutionary Guards elements who have attacked the protesters.
Iran’s opposition leader Mir Hosain Mousavi vowed to continue his campaign for a reexamination of the results of the recent presidential election, which he and his followers argued was marred by fraud:
‘ Mousavi, who last led a massive protest rally a week ago, described his growing difficulties for the first time in a statement on the site. He said authorities were increasingly isolating and vilifying him to try to get him to withdraw his election challenge, but Mousavi added he would not back down. “I am not ready to withdraw from demanding the rights of the Iranian people,” he said, adding that he was determined to prove electoral fraud and that those behind it were “the main factor for the recent violence and unrest and have spilled the blood of the people.” He also was quoted by his Web site as saying that the Iranian people have the right to express “their opposition to what happened in the election and after that.” ‘
All but 4 of the 70 professors arrested by the regime on Thursday for meeting with Mousavi were released the same day.
On the other hand, various forms of restriction are being imposed on the Mousavi camp. Abolfaz Fateh, a media campaign aide to Mousavi, has been forbidden to leave the coutnry while being investigated for his role in fostering ‘illegal gatherings.’
The other reform candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, cancelled planned mourning processions on Thursday, for lack of an official permit. Karroubi had called on his followers to protest and commemorate the killing of protesteAbolrs on Saturday. Mousavi is said to have made his own application for a permit for such a rally.
Although the regime has found means of stopping big street protests for the moment, the Iranian elite is still deeply divided over the legitimacy of the election process, and as long as no consensus or compromise is reached, the crisis will continue on some level.
Robin Mills wonders whether the Mousavi camp can and will deploy the general strike method in the oil sector. This move would be a possibility, assuming the oil workers support reform (not known), but Mousavi appears to be keeping it up his sleeve in case he is arrested. The danger is that if he doesn’t use such a weapon when his movement is prominent and popular, it may not work as well once a crackdown has already taken its toll. There is a danger of loss of momentum.
One wonders if sympathy for Mousavi was the reason that deputy oil minister Akbar Torkan was abruptly fired Friday.
Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi weighed in on the crisis on Thursday, urging national conciliation and rejecting any purely cosmetic solutions. This statement is significant because it constitutes a clear rejection of the stance of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has declared the issue settled. You would not need practical reconciliation if the issue was settled.
All sorts of solutions are being floated by various influential figures, including actually holding a run-off between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi; or having Ahmadinejad resign without requiring a confession of fraud; or having the Expediency Council resolve the dispute (it is headed by Mousavi ally Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; or even removing Khamenei and replacing him with a council of high clergymen. Most of these suggestions are highly unlikely to come to pass. The most likely outcome is that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad will crush their critics. Whether this repression can work in the short, medium or long term is not clear. The Shah seemed to successfully put down a rebellion in 1963, but was overthrown after a long interval of outward social peace in 1978-79.
Eurasia.net reminds us that there are more factions in Iran than just reformers and hardliners, to wit, anti-populist conservatives like Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani. Larijani, his highly-placed family and networks, do not like incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and have reportedly been signalling that they think he stole the election. On the other hand, this group dislikes the reformists and is very invested in the survival of the system. Eurasia.net speculates that the outcome of the current crisis might depend on whether the Larijani conservatives ally with the pragmatic conservatives around former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (an ally of Mir Hosain Mousavi).
The news that the regime has appointed Saeed Mortazavi to investigate those arrested in connection with protests against the rigging of the presidential election. Canada had a bad experience with Mortazavi when a Canadian journalist was imprisoned in Tehran and later died in custody under suspicious circumstances, and Canadian officials dealing with prosecutor Mortazavi found him wholly uninterested in human rights issues.
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