Neither theocracy nor secularism

Politics in Iran

RP 158 () / Commentary

On Saturday 13 June this year, hours after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Ministry of the Interior announced his landslide victory as Iran’s president and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the religious head of state, prematurely and unconstitutionally embraced these results, Tehran and several other major cities became the stage for spontaneous, sporadic and widespread protests. Despite the government’s arrest of most senior opposition figures, campaign activists and journalists, the shutting down of mass communications, and the presence on the streets of factions of armed forces, in less than forty-eight hours these anomalous expressions of frustration evolved into a series of highly disciplined and mainly self-organized mass rallies known as the Green Movement. On Monday 15 June, up to 3 million people marched, and hundreds of thousands participated in silent demonstrations over the next three days. In the sermon of the Friday prayer on 19 June, Khamenei once again confirmed the election results, endorsed Ahmadinejad for having policies close to his own, associated the protestors with foreign meddlers and warned of violent consequences. These warnings were realized in the next day’s protests: tens were killed and hundreds arrested and kidnapped in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan.

A crack has opened up in both the power structure and the historical consciousness of the Iranian people. Notwithstanding how deep it will go and what it will lead to, it has already reactivated the space of radical politics in Iran. The scale of the protests, their rapid formation into a popular movement, and the similarity of their tactics to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, along with the political ambiguity of Ahmadinejad and his social bases, have given rise to much speculation. But an understanding of the Green Movement and its possibilities requires an analysis of the historical matrix out of which it has arisen, whose origins date back to the early twentieth century…