Iran is at a crossroads. We do not know what is going to happen, because its near future depends on the next move of an opaque government. Everyone is asking if it will crack down harder or somehow relent. I do not have many answers but I do have a lot of questions.
First, questions for people who back Mir Hossein Mousavi. His supporters, including most “Westerners”, are certain Ahmadinejad’s government rigged the election. Sure, there is some evidence that the election was stolen and should have gone to Mousavi, but how can we be sure? Did you witness the election? We are so quick to let our biases get in the way that if the pro-Western leader loses and self-identified Westerners are told he may have been cheated, all of sudden everyone believes it.
Second are my questions for Iran’s government. If the government cracks down on demonstrators and institutes martial law and more repression, will it work? Will angry Iranians hold back? Can they be repressed? A million people, or even more, were in the streets of Tehran. And in case the government has learned nothing from its own history, the clerics should open the books up and look at 1979.
So more repression could backfire terribly for the ruling elites. But what is their alternative? Elites will do anything to avoid losing power. They will not simply step aside and let angry young people sweep them out. That will only happen if the protest reaches critical mass and overwhelms the security forces. Even if the govt backs down, what are they going to do? Would they satisfy all the demands of the demonstrators? Or just enough to keep them quiet? Would they put Mousavi in power? What about those who voted for Ahmadinejad? Will they just roll over and accept it?
Here is a hard question for the same people. Is Mousavi so great? He preaches a message of liberalism, of which I like the sound, but look at his history. A leader of the Islamic Revolution, who approved of the seizing of the hostages at the US embassy; PM during the Iran-Iraq war, when a million people died (though that was instigated by Saddam); one time member of the leadership council of Hezbollah, and does not recognise Israel. Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says “Mousavi is Ahmadinejad without the invective or anger.” That description does not fill me with hope. Would he be more likely than Ahmadinejad to give up building nuclear weapons? (According to the Jerusalem Post, no.) Given Iran’s Ayatollah-centered political system, does he even have that choice?
Iran’s future is in the hands of its government. It must choose wisely, balancing its desire for the status quo with a realistic handling of the crisis of confidence in its rule. Unless there is another revolution, do not expect a new, liberal democratic Iran any time soon.