Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:00 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:00 | SYDNEY

Iran: The fat lady sings


Anthony Bubalo

29 June 2009 12:22

Sixteen days of turmoil after Iran’s presidential election, senior regime figure Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has finally spoken publicly about the poll and its aftermath. His long silence gave credence to rumours that he was working behind the scenes in opposition to regime hardliners, including Supreme Leader Khamenei. But the fact that he has now, grudgingly, endorsed regime measures for resolving disputes over the election suggests that internal regime dissent has been quashed – for now.

On the streets, too, the security forces seem to be on top of protests, though according to this account they are still occurring sporadically. 

So where does this leave Iran?

First, it leaves Iran with a regime that is much more intertwined with the Revolutionary Guard than it once was. The election result and its aftermath reflect the consummation of a process over recent years where members of the guards have been, largely through Ahmadinejad’s patronage, seeded strategically throughout different levels of government and society. This process has also seen the Guards become a major player in Iran’s economy.

Second, it leaves Iran with a regime that will also need the Guards, and its paramilitary adjunct, the Basij, a lot more. The protests were never just a middle class, educated elite, ‘North Tehran’ phenomenon, but the fact that even the twittering classes were prepared to risk life and limb (and their relatively comfortable economic status) means that the state will have to be on greater guard. Iran will look a lot more like North Korea than it once did.

Third, it leaves Iran with a regime that still has some serious internal fissures. It won’t just be Musavi and his key backers, former reformist president Khatami and Rafsanjani, who will be alarmed by a situation in which the Revolutionary Guard have a lot more power. This will also cause disquiet even among regime conservatives and the clerical establishment. Question is, what can they do about it?

Finally, it leaves Iran a lot more isolated internationally. Ahmadinejad’s unique brand of diplomatic charm had already contributed to this, but when even the EU is issuing harshly worded statements you know the world is against you. Some have speculated that this might prompt the Supreme Leader to reach out in coming months and accept Obama’s outstretched palm. Maybe. 

But the regime seems, for now at least, firmly in the hands of people who for thirty years have opposed engagement with the US, who have shown themselves in their reaction to the election to be as paranoid as they are repressive, and who have little political or economic interest in what the US might be prepared to offer. If the Supreme Leader does now extend a hand it still might be prudent to accept it – but also to be a lot more sceptical about what it contains.

Photo by Flickr user prlupin, used under a Creative Commons license.