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Iran: I Guess It’s Over

So a politician is unfaithful to his wife, and Michael Jackson dies. I guess that’s the end of the Iran story. Why should we be interested in that when we could be talking about Mark Sanford’s absurd press conference (which I’ll admit I watched for the extremely high level of schadenfreude it provided) or look back on the life of a washed-up pop-star who has been nothing more than a joke for late-night comedians for the past 10 years? Plus, we’ve got to allow time for lobbyists from the Health Insurance companies to talk about why a government-run healthcare option would be the end of civilization as we know it. There’s just no time for Iran anymore, and people are tired of hearing about it anyway.

I shouldn’t bitch about this too much. It was obviously going to move from the head-lines to the back pages at some point. I was just a little pissed off at the fact it was a sex-scandal that knocked it off the front page. I couldn’t care less about a government sex-scandal, it just so happened that this was one of the most bizarre ones we’ve ever had, with a governor completely disappearing for five days and then holding a press conference in which he just rambled on off the top of his head and put his blatant psychological issues on full display for the public. Of course the media is going to be all over that—but how about making it the Number Two story? (which is still endowing it with far more importance than it warrants)

I just found out about Michael Jackson this morning so I don’t know how much coverage they’re devoting to him, but I’ll wager anything that he gets more air-time than Iran this weekend. I can’t remember ever being less upset by anybody’s death—I mean, I’m sure he was a really nice person who suffered a lot from his abnormal childhood and [alleged] struggle with pederasty (for which I’d be the last person in the world to begrudge him), but he was rich and famous and beloved all over the world. He got about four decades of that—which is about four decades more than most of us do.

I’d be a little bit sadder if the picture of blood spewing from Neda’s face wasn’t still fresh in my mind, and if I didn’t know that others in Iran are suffering the same fate as we speak.

So what’s going on there right now? It’s very difficult to tell. The government has confiscated every cell-phone it can get its hands on so the flow of information has slowed to a crawl, and from what we do see it appears that there are more riot police in the streets now than there are protesters. Perhaps that’ll change on the designated days of mourning, but we just don’t know. By all appearances it seems that the government is succeeding with its brutal crackdown.

But from what I have been hearing, this is far from over. The ‘79 revolution lasted for an entire year from start to finish, and there’s no reason to believe that this rebellion will be squashed within a matter of weeks. The Iranian people are pissed—even more pissed than they were on the day after the election. Even the people who are staying home now in fear are harbouring hatred against their government. That balance of fear and hatred will tilt back and forth as time goes on, and the numbers of people in the streets will probably ebb and flow rather than shrink consistently as the government hopes.

Politically, Iran is a nation at war with itself. Mousavi still refuses to admit defeat, and like Al Gore after the 2000 election and Norm Coleman today, he will not budge until the will of the people is respected. Of course he deserves a lot more respect than Gore, who eventually conceded thus giving us 8 years of Bush, and Coleman, who is only dragging this out to prevent the democrats from getting one more vote in congress. Mousavi is actually risking his life. Still, he’s a politician and his decision not to back down is essentially a political decision—if he changed his tune at this point the public would turn on him just as quickly as they turned on Khamenei.

Rasfanjani is apparently no longer as important as we thought. By coming out on the side of Mousavi he lost his credibility as an impartial mediator and won’t be able to get Khamenei to agree to any kind of compromise. Apparently the only hope for compromise that yet remains is a guy named Laranjani or something (I can’t even find the column that talked about him—it was just up yesterday but now it’s buried under piles of posts about Michael Jackson) who is another powerful cleric respected on both sides and who has somehow remained neutral throughout this whole thing. There’s some talk of a run-off election between Ahmedenijad and Mousavi.

But at this point I think it’s too late for compromise anyway. This is no longer about electoral fraud—it’s about the people of Iran vs. the Iranian government. You can’t kill dozens of your own people and then take a step back and say, okay, maybe we ought to have a do-over. Khamenei and Ahmedenijad have revealed their true colours to their people, and an immense proportion of those people would rather die than accept them as their true leaders.

The situation will probably look much like it does now for many weeks, and perhaps months, with violence in the streets and very little information coming out. Eventually the people will either go home and let the resentment fester for a few years until everything explodes once again, or the government finally collapses under its severely crippled infrastructure and a new system is put in place.

The thing is—whatever the short-term results, the long-term outcome looks good. Even if Khamenei maintains his position as Supreme Leader, the Iranians will not forget this and his government will eventually fall. Of course, we may have thought that about China after Tiananmen, but Iran is a much different story. Unlike China, Iran doesn’t own most of the U.S. economy. And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s clear that a rebellion against a regime hostile to the West is far more likely to succeed than a rebellion against a regime that’s crucial to Western interests.

The biggest thing to watch out for is what happens to other Islamic dictatorships in the region over the next few months. What kind of an example has this set for the leaders, and more importantly the people, in that region? Once we get a clearer picture of the effect this has had on that front, we’ll have a much better idea of what the ultimate significance of these events will be.

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