Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Iranian Regime Under Pressure

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Al-Ahram Weekly / Mustafa El-Labbad

Iran was hurtled into the New Year by repercussions of the protests that took place in numerous cities on the occasion of Ashura, the day that Shia Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Al-Hussein who they regard as their third imam. Iranian security forces came down with a much heavier fist than ever against demonstrators in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz, successfully quelling the demonstrations before they could build up into a mass civil disobedience movement or even attract new segments of society to their ranks. The Iranian regime elevated security measures to an unprecedented level as Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Maslahi announced that some 60 foreign organisations were involved in the "soft war" against Iran. Iranians were cautioned against dealing with such notable universities, research centres and human rights and democracy advocacy groups such as Yale University, the National Defence Collage, Stanford University, the Soros Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Carnegie Foundation, the Middle East Media Research Institute, the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, the German Marshall Fund, the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, the International Republican Institute, the Inter- American Institute for Human Rights and the Council on Foreign Relations. The aftermath of the heavy-handed clampdown on the Ashura day protests will continue to haunt the regime in 2010, domestically, in its foreign policy and in its handling of the Iranian nuclear question.

Evidently, the Ahmadinejad camp is content with branding his opponents as agents of the West. Western powers desperately want to change Iranian intervention in the region and it wants Tehran to make major concessions on its nuclear enrichment activities. However, does the West really have all that influence inside Iran? Does it control the means to set mass demonstrations going on in several cities at once? The very notion is rather farfetched, which leads us to believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feels confident enough in the power of his security agencies to avoid having to engage his opponents in dialogue. And, as a matter of fact, his security agencies have not let him down yet. However, the "soft war" rhetoric indicates that the regime has notched up its campaign against the opposition several degrees, as it lays the legal groundwork for mass arrests and witch trials of opposition leaders and their supporters. In spite of the iron grip over the streets in Iranian cities, the demonstrations resulted in a net loss for Tehran. In the eyes of the region and the rest of the world, it has exposed itself as a regime that brutally represses the opposition after long having boasted of its democratic lead (within the framework of its Islamic republican system) over other countries in the region. In terms of domestic balances, the last two weeks have brought a significant development in the reference to the protesters in the media and political literature. Whereas until this point they had been termed "reformist demonstrators" they are now labelled "opposition demonstrators". (Read more...)