Ausgabe 27/2009

End of the Green Revolution? The Power of Iran's Iron Fist


Part 2: Waging War against God

The fate of most of those arrested also remains unclear. In Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad, cities that have also seen large-scale protests, security forces have reportedly detained around 500 protesters. And in Tehran, the center of the unrest, a special camp in the southern part of the city is apparently completely full. The barracks near the city's enormous Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, which were once used to house drug addicts, now contain an estimated 1,000 protesters.

Unlike the student unrests in 1999, this time it is not just men who are spearheading the demonstrations: An estimated one-quarter of those arrested are young women. Mousavi, who made many of his campaign appearances holding his wife's hand, brought more Iranian women to the polls than ever before -- and has now encouraged them to join the protests.

The regime did not even hesitate to make arrests at the offices of the main challengers' campaigns. Throughout the country, about 250 campaign workers, including key advisers to Mousavi and candidate Mehdi Karroubi, were arrested and dispatched to Evin prison. Just as in the days of the shah, family members could be seen standing, once again, in front of the country's most notorious prison as they scanned posted lists for the names of their missing loved ones. Many observers believe that it is only a matter of time before the names Mousavi and Karroubi appear on the lists.

The regime's brutality is having an effect, prompting the reformers to stop calling for protests. The protests themselves have turned into scattered initiatives by a few thousand die-hard protesters facing off against vastly superior government forces. Eyewitnesses say that the city looks like a "military camp."

Realizing that they cannot win the power struggle on the streets, challengers Mousavi and Karroubi have shifted their efforts to the religious establishment. On that playing field, Khamenei's position has never been strong, because he lacks the religious competence. He was granted the title of an ayatollah ("sign of God"), which is important for the appointment as a revolutionary leader, more or less overnight when he was designated the political heir of Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who brought down the shah.

Mousavi and Karroubi are supported by one of the most powerful and craftiest behind-the-scenes players in the mullah-led theocracy, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Said to be the richest man in Iran, Rafsanjani has long been a rival of Khamenei. He is well aware that reforms are urgently needed to save the system and, if possible, his own privileged position. Besides, the former president is still smarting from the crushing defeat Ahmadinejad dealt him in the last presidential election four years ago. Even then, Rafsanjani claimed that there were "irregularities" in the vote counting.

A partial recount of the election began in Tehran and the country's provinces on Monday, according to state media. The powerful Guardian Council had offered to recount a random 10 percent of votes -- a proposal rejected by Mousavi, who insists that the whole election should be nullified. Observers expect the Guardian Council to give its final verdict on the election soon, possibly later Monday.

Much will now depend on which side of the issue the dozen grand ayatollahs in Qom choose to support. As an indication of their power, both Rafsanjani and Mousavi have traveled to the holy city 150 kilometers (94 miles) southwest of Tehran to consult with the religious leaders. The reformers hope to see the beleaguered Khamenei agree to new elections. As a compromise, Mousavi and Karroubi are said to be willing to abandon their candidacies, provided Ahmadinejad does the same. Otherwise, says Mousavi, they will continue their protests "within the framework of our legal options."

To mourn the death of the protestor Neda, critics of the regime have released green and black balloons, the colors of their movement and mourning, into the skies over Tehran.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, one of the most zealous of the zealots, led last Friday's prayers at Tehran University, the site last week of Khamenei's announcement of the government's tough position on the protests. In his remarks, Khatami urged the courts to "punish the leaders of the insurgents strictly and without any mercy." He called them "mohareban," people who wage "war against God."

The penalty for that offence is death.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


© DER SPIEGEL 27/2009
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