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« Britain-Israel: Muslim Council Challenges Government in "Livni Arrest Warrant" Case | Main | Iran: A 5-Minute, 5-Point Reaction to The Events of Ashura »

Iran: A Point of No Return?

Mideast Iran We will be working throughout the day to analyse yesterday's events, asking, "What does it all mean?" Initially, I had hoped to have the piece on-line this morning but the politics as well as the emotion and images of confrontation are so significant --- beyond any occurrence since the marches of 15 June but even more important, because Sunday showed a regime in retreat --- that I think it requires more than the five-minute, five-point assessment we put out late last night.

For now, I'll note the assessment of Massoumeh Torfeh, just shown by the BBC, that Iran "has reached a point of no return. Ayatollah Khamenei could have changed this with one little speech [Friday Prayers on 19 June], but that time has passed."

NEW Iran: A 5-Minute, 5-Point Reaction to The Events of Ashura
NEW Latest Iran Video: The Ashura Protests (27 December — 3rd Set)
NEW Latest Iran Video: The Ashura Protests (27 December — 2nd Set)
NEW Latest Iran Video: The Ashura Protests (27 December)
The Latest from Iran (27 December): The Day of Ashura

Of course, that does not mean that the Government will give up the attempt to restore "normality". Normal in the sense that Iran's National Security Council has just announced eight people died in the protests (it was very late on Sunday before the Government's outlets would even confess to four deaths).
Normal in the sense that Iran's state media has gone farther to acknowledge the killing of 15 - but then given the proper framing for this: 10 were members of "anti-revolutionary terrorist" groups (I presume this includes the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi), and five were security personnel killed by those terrorists.

Normal in the sense that detentions have occurred overnight. Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, the head of Assembly of the Teachers and Researchers of Qom, has reportedly been arrested with other clerics; Ebrahim Yazdi, the head of the Freedom Movement of Iran who was detained soon after the Presidential election but released after a few days, has again been taken by Iranian authorities.

How "normal"? Well, even in the short-term, the confirmation of that may depend not on the regime, but on those opposing it. Mehdi Karroubi last night indicated that there is no longer any return to a pre-June 2009 legitimacy for this Government and possibly this regime, as he effectively said that Iran's leaders were now worse than the Shah. There are reports this morning that many Iranians have decided not to go to work --- the hint here is that a general strike may be coming --- although it is far from clear that this is an expression of support for the Green movement as much as a desire to stay home until trouble passes.

So today we not only analyse. We wait and watch.

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Reader Comments (18)

According to Sazegara the body of Moussavi's nephew was stolen from hospital, presumably to be buried clandestinely. Obviously in the IRI even corpses are dangerous, not to mention the living...
And in VOA's discussion from Saturday a commentator rightly noted that this regime has reached a point, where every move is wrong: giving in would be an admission of defeat, harsher clampdown will make protesters even more determined to continue.
Stealing Moussavi's nephew is a sad example of this deadlock: by prohibiting his funeral they have created a new hero for the movement.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArshama

A point of no return? That was thirty days after the election. At this point, there is no return, exchange, or even store credit. Sorry AN and Kharmenei, you'll have to leave the store altogether. On the way out, put back the $1.5B you've stashed under your Members Only jacket and robe or face loss prevention staff at the door.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOmar K.

can anyone confirm that ePersianradio broadcasts live now?

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBabak Khorramdin

They are disgusting ! shame on these monsters ! there is a question mark , when they will be able to admit that it's their "END" !!!!!!!!! and for once, to play fair !

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterange paris

The level of murderous stupidity of this regime defies the imagination.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGloumdalclitch

Good coverage. I stayed up all day and night to try to report on the actions taking place. It's a little hard to do, not being there and all, but I have some pretty good sources. I will deny that, however! (ha) I hope today is more successful and less deadly for Liberty. Have a nice day.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRosemary

It might feel strange that I say "good job" here, since on the face of it, this would seem to be the antithesis of your soaring piece on Montazeri. However, part of being a very good writer is knowing when not to write, rather than forcing the issue. And I believe most of us observers, at least those of us in the West, are still overwhelmed, if not almost stunned, by yesterdays events. Personally, even though I believe in them in the long run, the success of the Greens on Ashura was almost beyond my wildest imagination. Even the excellent analysis I've seen so far, such as Josh's, only attempt to focus on one aspect of Ashura, rather than taking in the whole thing.

Speaking of Josh, we were batting it back and forth right before Ashura and found we both had a nagging fear that the regime would finally "go Tiananmen" on Ashura. I'll let Josh write for himself, which he does very eloquently - but while I'm glad that the regime did not do that yesterday, I still can't help but fear it might be still coming shortly. The reason I was not totally convinced the regime will be content to go the limited-use-of-lethal-force-on-a-few-dozen-people route forever is because it tends not to work very well, and didn't on Sunday. It seems to just radicalize and anger people. I just have a hunch, unless they intend to compromise or retreat, the regime is incredibly likely to feel the need to "step up their game" at some point, and the Iranian people will suffer as a consequence. I really pray it does not happen.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Scott

Kevin Scott: I share your concern ... I pray that too.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenternaj

Yes Scott-we may see Tianneman but in a haphazard clumsy way as the whole episode has convulsed many different views and the nature of the troubles has created no uniformity of response. The seeds of doubt amongst the ruling elite are now spread throughout the four corners of Iran and dare I say those seeds have genuinely been tossed by alot of outside clandestine agencies.The government is preplexed and faction ridden as much as t he oppositon whether they be greens, leftisits,idelaogues etc. China 1990 is not Iran 2009-the country is in decline and the Sepah does not have the discipline and co-ordination of the Red Army.Even so, expect an iron fist response -again-that will turn rusty even though too much blood has been spilled already . Blood letting will continue. Unfortunantly.Poor nation,poor people.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterteez negah

Scott & all,
3 take away for me:
1- the stupidity of the regime to forbid ceremonies for Montazeri & create martyrs on Ashoura
2- a quote in a NYT article by Nazila Fathi that a ""33 year old resident of Shahre-Ray (very poor Sth Tehran area) told her that some in his neighborhood had started wearing green at religious ceremonies"
3- the feaklessness of the Grand Ayatollahs (except Sanei) in view of the highjacking of official religion.
This all promisses victory, but after more confusion & great bloodshed and begs the question: what/who next?

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHamid

Frankly, the "point of no return" refrain is getting old. The point of no return was in the movement's rear view mirror by the end of the summer.

The analysis should focus on how the stalemate will be broken.

A. Compromise
B. Strike
C. Artesh intervention
D. Continuing street protests on a daily basis indefinitely
E. ?

A. Been tried. Again and again. And failed. Not an option.
B. Given some preliminary reports, may be starting to form.
C. Might trigger a civil war. But no credible evidence about Artesh involvement so far.
D. Physically demanding, difficult to maintain indefinitely, but would certainly wear down the suppressive forces and increase the likelihood of passive resistance or defection.
E. Some unconsidered or unanticipated event, a la the death of Montazeri.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg


I appreciate this very much. I think you are right that analysis needs to move on but, to be honest, I am still watching (especially with regime's attempted fightback today) to get my own reading on the options that you set out.


December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas

If Iran has reached a "point of no return", where are they headed?

If you can't go back to the pre-election status quo, you're headed in a different direction. Where will it lead?

What is the plan of the opposition? The civil disobedience and the Government's violent response has gained the attention of the international community, but it has been shown that no country or coalition of countries is willing to (and should not) intervene in Iran's internal affairs.

Do the people plan on wearing down the police forces? That seems to be happening in a noticeable way. When captured or cornered, they clearly have no morale to continue fighting. There is still the Basij and the military...

Do the people plan on capturing and/or killing the Supreme Leader? That would be the ultimate victory... but how do they plan on achieving that?

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

Hi Scott
The issue is the organization of the movement. Apparantly the movement is ahead of its leaders. Some already arrested and the rest are under seige eg, Mir Hosain and Karroubi. The grand ayattollahs in Najaf, Qom, mashad,.. except a.. Sanei are weiging their financial interests from oil money against people's interst and are realy falling behind and show signs of being unreliable but a few as mentioned.
It seems that west is also wooried that if AN is gone might lose crucial interst in oil money and might keep quiet untill AN comes back which seems very stupid on the surface.
Now, we come to more organised opposition groups with clear agendas and road maps to democracy, Unity and free election like The National Council of Resistance based in paris which has been locked by the American interet groups freezing its legitimate presenece in the seen.
Ultimately it is obvious the the Iranians have expressed their wishes in changing the dictorship for democracy. Now the point is where the western interest groups chanting democracy but practically supporting the dictatorship decide to stand from now on.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Tienanmen succeeded because the chinese democratic movement was mostly a student one. The chinese authorities stopped the revolt before it could spread to other sectors of society. Futhermore, most of the protesters were located in one place, making it easier to crush them. To be successful an iranian Tienanmen would require a lot of troops, dispatched all over the country and willing to kill on a large scale. I doubt such a thing is possible in the current situation.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGloumdalclitch

Allow me to suggest that the decisive turning point would have been the overt identification by Ashoura mourners of Khamene'i with Yazid, thus identifying the green movement with Imam Hossein and Karbala. That would have been the message that brought down the regime, if not physically, then morally, with its political collapse soon to follow. However, although according to eye-witnesses some protest marches joined forces with the religious mourners and flagellants, that did not happen on any broad scale; the two currents flowed in separate channels. Such an identification is always latent in Shia Islam as practiced and interpreted in Iran; the regime has never completely controlled Ashoura, and the protest movement/Greens may have made a strategic error in failing to use the opportunity. Still, despite any clear-cut shift, we can observe an inexorable slippage of legitimacy, up to and including among the forces of repression. Would it not be more accurate to say that the forces coalescing in and around the protest movement have yet to attain critical mass, and that the outcome, to keep within the Ashoura paradigm, may not ncessarily be victory but martyrdom?

December 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFred A. Reed

I believe that Fred is right in that we do see "an inexorable slippage of legitimacy, up to and including among the forces of repression. " The peeling off of people and population segments that were part of the regime's core support is accelerating (the Khameni/Yazid imagery is sticky). The danger is that the regime will decide to play its last card and massacre not just a few but thousands of opponents to physically eliminate the threat (didn't they do exactly that in the 1980's with the monarchists and the MKO?). Could that work for them? I don't think so given the current circumstances and the fact that even the regime goons might hesitate to commit mass murder.

The regime's problem is not Moussavi or Karroubi but really the Iranian middle class. How do you pacify an entire middle class through terror and still maintain a working economy and functionning country?

What should the opposition do? Continue the same cat & mouse game. Time works for it and the regime's options dwindle steadily.

Later on, the question is what will Moussavi do if offered the presidency and control of the security forces. Will he then become another Gorbachev, a Kerensky or a Mandela? For now, of course, that's a purely academic question.

December 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHamid

When will the postcolonial and postmodern leftists, especially those in the West, repent for their 30 year support of the IRI goons and Islamist fascists?

Frankly when a leftist says that the West should not intervene on behalf of us Iranians who need all sorts of help, I know they say that to subtley support Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and their Islamic socialism.

So until I see wholesale repentance and soul-searching by the left, I will do the opposite of what these socialists advise.

If we are indeed past the point of no return - then its about time to defend our liberal democratic revolution against the socialists, leftists, and right wingers (monarchists, fascists, ultra-nationalists, etc.). And watch out for the slimy leftist who will want to subvert our new-found democracy and our hard won freedoms and who will ally with the most backward of Islamists and nationalists.

Watchout for the next Iranian Hugo Chavez or Mugabe - darlings of the left.

Maar gazideh az rismaaneh siah va sefid ....

December 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKazemi

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