December 29, 2009

The Iranian Regime’s Battle of Karbala

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi--and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia--the partisans of Ali and his lineage--have been at war with the Sunnis--those who took the side of Yazid--for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 29, 2009 10:46 AM
Comments
I agree that Khamenei's days may be numbered - he obviously has no idea how to stem the protests. I doubt he had it in mind to be killing protesters on whatever day that is in the Muslim calendar - I think it illustrates that they have lost control of the situation. To think this means the end of the "regime" though, is wishful thinking. He'll be replaced by another fanatic (and that's how I characterize all the "Khomeini revolution" supporters)and life will go on. Besides, I would bet that most Iranians look on the protesters as trouble-makers that 'have it coming to them'. Think of the situation during the Vietnam war. Further, Fatemeh Haghighatjou and other parlimentarians can say whatever they wish - but things won't change, one way or another, until the supreme council decides to do something. Think of them as the Politburo. That's where the power lies.
Posted by: Kummin at December 29, 2009 11:28 am
It might be more accurate to say that "killing Shia Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Good Friday." If Khamenei could have come up with a more effective way to lose his standing as a Shia religious leader, I can't think what it might be. Which means that he is headed for the dustbin of history, and soon.

That said, the other group which is unlikely to survive the current mess is the Revolutionary Guards. They have been just too visible in the violence which has happened -- and having profited so visibly from the current government doesn't help either. (And their unofficial corps of thugs even more so.)

Will the Ayatollahs retain significant influence in whatever new government emerges? Very likely. But it will be influence, not the current command and control. And, from the point of view of Iran's neighbors, the new government will be a lot less threatening. The Sunni/Shia tension will still be there, and Israel will likely not be at the top of the Iranian government's favorites list. But a still lot less threatening than the current fanatics are.
Posted by: wj at December 29, 2009 12:06 pm
"That said, the other group which is unlikely to survive the current mess is the Revolutionary Guards."

wj, I agree with this to some extent but not for the reasons you stated. The current regime is increasingly seen as corrupt. The RG have been given control over an increasingly large portion of Iran's economy; particularly the parts that generate revenue such as the oil industry.

So while the RG is the muscle that keeps the current regime in power, they can also be seen as nothing more than a mercenary force who are paid well for their services. There is a certain resentment among some Iranians who must struggle to make a living, buy a home, even to get fuel for their cars while the RG amasses a fortune from the country's natural resources.

The entire regime is increasingly seen as corrupt; robbing the population of an economic prosperity that should come from being the world's second largest exporter of a valuable resource while the government wastes untold fortunes on weapons programs that serve only to further isolate Iran from the rest of the world.

Once the regime loses the power of intimidation, once the people decide that life under tyranny is worse than death that might come from opposing it, the regime falls. No government anywhere stands but at the pleasure of the population it governs. Maintaining order by fear and intimidation can only go so far. At some point the threat of death, injury or imprisonment isn't even enough to deter those who would want to free themselves from tyranny.

I am saddened that our country who is supposed to be a shining light of liberty to the world is apparently doing so little to help these people in their cause for a representative government. While I am not sure what we could do materially, I believe there is a lot more we could be doing in solidarity with the people there.
Posted by: crosspatch at December 29, 2009 12:43 pm
crosspatch, I agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph (assuming you are referring to the US) - I've never seen the US adopt such a passive tone towards a hostile nation. I'm not sure what is going on but I'm guessing the Obama administration is thinking that taking too strong a position against the IRI risks de-legitimizing the resistance. That's best-case. Worst-case is that our government is taking the same tack as the Russians, the Chinese and some of the nations of Western Europe and placing politics/economics ahead of principles.

Obama is a good orator. He doesn't need to send money or military assistance to the opposition to do some good. All he has to do is go on television and say the kinds of things he should be saying anyway.
Posted by: Craig at December 29, 2009 1:43 pm
"I'm not sure what is going on but I'm guessing the Obama administration is thinking that taking too strong a position against the IRI risks de-legitimizing the resistance."

I am guessing that Obama doesn't want to risk upsetting China. He *really* needs their money right now.
Posted by: crosspatch at December 29, 2009 3:37 pm
"I am guessing that Obama doesn't want to risk upsetting China. He *really* needs their money right now."

Luckily, that's a two-way street! As Ron Paul so elegantly put it: "The Chinese have our money!" :)
Posted by: Craig at December 29, 2009 4:47 pm
And now for a slight break from all this serious political analysis, with our guest singer, Tres Calbos! Take it away, Tres!

"I can tell my brother by the flowers in his eyes
On the road to Karbala
Everyone is helpful, everyone is so kind
On the road to Karbala"
Posted by: Tres Calbos at December 29, 2009 4:58 pm
I am guessing that BHO still has not outgrown his Chicago Ward mentality, is a liar and is not concerned with events outside of the U.S. unless forced to.

Freedom & BHO? Please. He is doing everything in his power to take ours away -after all the government knows best.
Posted by: Ron Snyder at December 29, 2009 5:16 pm
There is chatter here and there that indicates the head figures of the regime and the RG might be planning for exile in Russia. If this is an internationally orchestrated exile, it might explain a lot of traveling to Damascus by a lot of people from several different countries recently.

Of course it could all be a load of junk. What I am talking about surrounds this:

http://planet-iran.com/index.php/news/5943

I have no way of knowing if it is real.
Posted by: crosspatch at December 29, 2009 8:12 pm
crosspatch, I quite agree with your analysis on the RG, and regret that I failed to express myself clearly.
Posted by: wj at December 30, 2009 8:18 am
wj & crosspatch, in regards to:

"The current regime is increasingly seen as corrupt."

and:

"So while the RG is the muscle that keeps the current regime in power, they can also be seen as nothing more than a mercenary force who are paid well for their services."

I don't think that would be sufficient to spark a revolution. For one thing, which are the opposition leaders that have a reputation for being above corruption? They all have a history and as far as i can tell, its not a good history! As far as the "paid mercenaries"... I recall reading quite a bit about how the PLO was brought in during the early days of the revolution when things were still very chaotic, to act as street thugs and enforcers. The IRI has never been above such measures, so that's hardly a shocker.

It seems to me that this started as a power-play between various factions within the IRI. If that's all it remains, the chances of any meaningful changes coming about seem slim, no matter what happens. I'm just hoping that there's a movement behind the scenes that wants something more, and something better, than a mere changing of the guard at the top of the structure. But that's just wishful thinking on my part. I haven't seen any evidence of leadership emerging that doesn't come from an insider position in the IRI.
Posted by: Craig at December 30, 2009 9:54 am
I don't think the RG being corrupt in and of itself would be sufficient to spark a revolution either. It is just another straw added to a bunch of other straws. The final one being the recent elections.

The fundamental problem here seems to be the corruption of the election process. What is the sense of having an election of the Supreme Leader simply dictates the outcome? The other problem is the ability to remove people they don't like from the ballot before the election. The political process appears to be a joke and the people appear to be tired of it.
Posted by: crosspatch at December 30, 2009 6:41 pm
Post a comment

Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Read my blog on Kindle









Sponsored Links

Buy a used boat

Shanghai Hotels

Yachts for sale


Recommended Reading