Yesterday the Supreme Leader of Iran doubled down, declaring his support for President Ahmedinejad and telling the protestors it would be their own damn fault if anything happened. Today saw riots and more bloodshed.
Well: three days ago I said President Ahmedinejad would not lose. Today I’ll go a step further and add a couple more predictions.
1) The men with guns will stay loyal. This gets complicated, because there are a lot of different men with guns. There are the Teheran cops; the basiji, who are street thugs employed by the government; the Revolutionary Guards; the army.
But at the end of the day, only those last two matter. If the basiji break and run and the cops switch sides, but the army and the Guards stay obedient, the government still wins. It wins ugly, but it wins.
Note that Ahmedinejad is a veteran of the Republican Guards, while Khameini is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Note further that both have broad popular support — maybe not majority, but broad. Millions of Iranians think that Ahmadinejad is the white knight of the people, while millions more (not necessarily the same people, mind) think that Khameini has a special relationship with God. Note finally that while Ahmadinejad may be obnoxious, he’s nobody’s fool. The Supreme Leader’s speech would not have happened if either man was nervous about the armed forces.
2) There won’t be a civil war. (Or at least, there won’t be because of these protests.) A lot of people may get hurt and killed, and some protestors may take up weapons. But it won’t lead to anything but bloodshed and repression. You can’t have a civil war when one side has all the guns.
— I’m going out on a limb to say what won’t happen. But I’m not brave enough to even guess at what will happen. Who the hell knows? Iran is a very opaque country. In my last post I used various popular protests in other countries for comparison. But there really isn’t a good comparandum for this. The closest would be the protests of late-period Communism: East Germany, Romania, Tienanmen Square. But in East Germany, conflict was avoided because the Politburo deposed Honecker; here it’s as if the Politburo had confirmed him in office, while at least a third of the country still believed fervently in Communism. (That’s a thing to keep in mind in Iran: both sides have a big chunk of the general population firmly behind them.) In Romania, Ceausescu had drifted far out of touch with the nation, and his regime was violently loathed by almost everyone; neither of those things is true of Iran.
The closest comparison seems to be China. But even that’s not very close. The Tienanmen protestors lacked leadership and were relatively mild compared to the Iranians. And while they had plenty of support in Beijing, they didn’t have much in the rest of the country. So while the suppression of Tienanmen was brutal, it was also over quickly; once the government cracked down, it was all over in a couple of days. That might not be the case in Iran.
But, really, who the hell knows. I guess we’ll see.