|by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Imagine that you are Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the elect of God and the Prophet. You are a man of decided views, regarding the theocracy that masquerades as the Islamic Republic of Iran as the dernier mot in acceptable governance.
You are the Anointed One; you are a man of discernment, learning, sternness because sternness is demanded by God, the ultimate authority on belief, the faith, right and wrong, and who shall live or die.
You are accustomed to giving directives... but need others kow-towing to your powers derived from God to implement them. You will not soil your hands... but your work is pressing. You must stay remote, unapproachable by mere mortals, never by infidels.
Such a man needs, as such men throughout history have needed, a cur of his own, a loyal, unquestioning mongrel, useful not least because he can, in an instant, for whatever reason, be disposed of without difficulty or remorse.
The man you have chosen is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 6th and current president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You imagined him, you have chosen him, you give him his daily orders... and he gives you obedience. But the winds of change started in Egypt are now blowing in Iran, and the whole world is watching your dangerous regime to see what you and your hand-picked president will do.
Tehran situation report
Valentine's Day to the rest of the world, February 14, 2011, was a day of massive anti government demonstrations in the Iranian capital. Just how massive we may never know, since the first thing this controlling regime did (learning from Cairo) was to curtail the Internet as much as possible and drastically limit where foreign journalists could go and under what circumstances. Limiting, restricting Internet access is the first thing threatened autocratic regimes do, making it abundantly clear that freedom of information is the early casualty of the insurrection. Despite such measures, dozens of home videos have appeared on Youtube, and these have given the world a very clear sign about what is going on.
Still, reports have varied on how many demonstrators made the boldest statement of their lives by standing tall for the kind of freedom in Iran that the fall of the Mubarak regime makes possible in Egypt. Whether those appearing measured tens or hundreds of thousands wasn't the point; it was the fact that massive demonstrations were happening at all in a land where the power emanates from the Supreme Leader, never from the people, who are viewed as obstreperous, dangerous, in need of constant chastisement, and always maximum control.
Demonstrations have occurred in Tehran before, of course; the latest happening in 2009, stemming from widespread public dissatisfaction and disgust at Ahmadinejad's hotly contested re-election, generally viewed as rigged. But this new round of protests is already fundamentally different from those taking place in 2009. Then the protests largely concerned the re-election of Ahmadinejad. This time they have significantly broadened; they are not merely about the president. They are also aimed at the very idea of an Islamic Republic and thus the rule of the Muslim conservative establishment epitomized by Khamenei.
Obviously both the Iranian president and Supreme Leader view this transformation with alarm, particularly given the huge number of demonstrators. But, this time round, they faced a tactical difficulty: they could hardly respond with the massive police and special forces presence which is the regime's knee-jerk reaction to any popular unrest). After all, they had just praised the way matters had been handled in Cairo (not least because of the opening for the previously outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which always looked to the Islamic Republic for inspiration and support.)
Having so praised Egypt for its "gentle revolution", Khamenei and his man were forced to limit the number of police (and thus the stream of violent, bloody images hurtful to the regime) and take other measures.
Thus, February 15, while Ahmadinejad was claiming the protests were not home grown but inspired by foreigners inimical to the regime (Israel implied but not mentioned), members of Iran's tame Parliament urged immediate death sentences (with decapitation or hanging always possible) for at least three of the most prominent demonstrators and regime opponents, Mir Hussein Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and former president Mohammed Khatami.
At the same time the ghastly means available to all autocracies (including mass arrests, detentions, beatings and official brutalities of every kind) were begun, the better to dishearten and dismay the demonstrators and every freedom loving Iranian.
In the past such actions worked and worked relatively fast. This time such sustained suppression by the regime may well work, too. Or not.
Ahmadinejad has been living on borrowed time since the nation erupted in demonstrations not merely because he was re-elected but because the re-election (however dubious) was certified by the Supreme Leader. Khamenei might well have reckoned that such a move, while saving his cur, ultimately threatened him and the entire regime. So necessary to the fastidious, cloistered Supreme Leader is Ahmadinejad that Khamenei risked everything by standing by his man -- then.
And now, for an instant, we must consider that man, discovered, crafted, owned by Khamenei. Ahmadinejad was raised in poverty rising to become an engineer and teacher. Pliant when it counted, he could be the seeming pit bull the reclusive Supreme Leader needed. He rose, like so many before him, by doing what he was told, while providing complete cover for the real decision maker, a true asset for a reclusive cleric with a taste for classical Persian poetry.
Under this arrangement, Ahmadinejad blustered about Israel, the United Kingdom and United States; made reckless statements on many subjects (not least denying the very existence of the Holocaust), and made himself quite clear on Iran's right to nuclear power (and by implication The Bomb). At first his presidency was applauded, not least because of his lavish social programs, sustained by Iran's ace in the hole, oil.
But Ahmadinejad's position since his disputed re-election has noticeably deteriorated. His bluster, once arousing, is now seen as hackneyed and contrived. His economic missteps have been notable, with social programs slashed because of the poor financial condition of the country. His reputation amongst the poor has plummeted accordingly, and it bears mentioning that for the first time, anti-government demonstrators came from these districts, an ominous development.
The Supreme Leader may now have concluded that the cost of his cur is greater than his utility. If so, Ahmadinejad, the president who was never presidential, will fall fast, just as he rose. Khamenei will see to that. For after all, such a cipher as Ahmadinejad, no matter how helpful, can always be replaced by another, suitable cur. But to replace one Anointed by God and regularly in contact with Him is unthinkable.