It Begins: At Least 13 Dead in Tehran

June 21, 2009

As the civil unrest surrounding Iran’s recent election becomes more violent, I can’t help but be deeply worried about what the eventual outcome will be.

My experiences studying the history and workings of Chinese internal security forces lead me to suspect that popular opposition to state authority is rarely successful if central leaders retain control of security forces and can convince them to shoot unarmed protesters. In Tian’anmen, this was a near-thing, since the both the People’s Armed Police (a paramilitary organization with no equivalent in the US) and local army units refused to use violence to clear the square, requiring central leaders to bring in military units from rural provinces, who had little connection to Beijing citizens and were more easily manipulated into seeing the protesters as hooligans or a threat to the nation. Of course, convincing security and army units to use violence to suppress Tibetan protests has never been a problem, as far as I know. If the Iranian protesters hope to survive — both individually and as a movement — they’re going to have to find a way to convince security and army units to refuse to perform the commands issued to them, which doesn’t seem likely at present; they simply don’t have widespread support in enough different channels to have their influence shield them from violence.

What outcomes seem likely or possible right now?

1. It looks like there will be no peaceful “color revolution,” where the unpopular and discredited regime steps aside or completely transforms, as happened in Eastern Europe. It also appears that there will be no successful violent revolution, where the protesters arm themselves and overthrow the current regime. The protesters are in too weak a position for either of those to work.

2. It seems unlikely that the current regime will reach a peaceful compromise with the protesters. People have died and there is too much anger and fear on both sides. From what I’ve seen, it looks like the election results will stand, as they are not being broadly questioned or challenged from within the ruling core of the regime. The isolated individuals within the regime that are siding with the protesters seem to be treading the path of Zhao Ziyang. If the Ayatollah steps in and personally mandates some sort of negotiations, maybe they can turn back from this road, but I don’t see that happening yet.

3. The most likely result I see, then, is that the protesters will be forcibly suppressed by security forces (and perhaps military forces, if it goes that far) on the orders of central leaders. This is the Tian’anmen result, basically, though it’s not clear that there will be one big incident so much as many smaller ones. While this will be disastrous in the short term for the protesters, it’s important to remember how influential Tian’anmen was for China, not just in preserving the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime, but in exposing social divides and issues that the CCP must deal with once they had used violence to secure the regime’s survival, leading them to gradually build a new social contract with the Chinese people over the next two decades. China as it is today would not exist without Tian’anmen, which includes a lot of good as well as bad.

Of course, that’s little comfort to those who are about to give up their lives for what they believe in, either through bloodshed or by being locked away in prison or house arrest for decades. We can only hope that their suffering and the suffering of their loved ones will eventually lead to a better future for the people of Iran, whatever that future may be. And, of course, maybe my instincts are wrong and this conflict will proceed differently.

May we all be guided to the right path (Ihdinā ṣ-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm).

2 Responses to “It Begins: At Least 13 Dead in Tehran”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    This made me want to look for your initial groundwork on that hack of A Day In The War, but your tag cloud is gone, dammit.


  2. It’s still there, just on the drop down menu. All the important work was Emily’s though, so you should ask her.


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