Iranian green revolution: Its modern features
Prof. Arthur Kane Scott
The Iranian “Green Revolution” embodies many of the characteristics of modern revolutions, either liberal/democratic or conservative/Fundamentalist, that have swept across the globe since the Great French Revolution of 1789. Socio/psychologically revolutions go through three stages moderate, radical, and conservative. Iran today appears to be in the first stage of revolutionary change although there are indicators that it may be moving into stage two. In each stage there is a change in ideology, leadership, agendas with these prevailing features:
An economic crisis -- Iran’s economy over the decades has struggled in part because of price supports costing the Iranian government and estimated $100 billion dollars a year. Although politically smart, as a way to sustain the loyalty of the poor to the government, it has been a drag on Iran’s economy making it too dependent on outside markets. For rich and middle classes too it has been a boon to their pocketbooks. Now there is a serious discussion by the Ahmadinejad government, representing a departure from its populist roots, to eliminate price supports as a way of jump starting the economy and making Iran more self-sufficient. The danger here is that Ahmadinejad policy could throw the economy into a free fall with gasoline prices skyrocketing, triggering an inflationary spiral, impacting industrial growth and alienating all classes including his base. There is fear among many key players, religious/secular, that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lacks the ability to transform Iran from subsidies/dependency to market society where competition/entrepreneurship plays central roles.
There is a rising expectation among Iranian youth for democratic/material benefits of modernity. One in every twenty Iranians is a student. The younger generation called “Baby Generation” has no memory of the Khomeini 1979 revolution. Rather they are much more global, caught up with Twitter, Face book, internet, satellite TV, and less antagonistic toward the “Great Satan” of their parents generation, the United States. Students want more personal freedom, gender equality, and an open society with less religious control. Their participation in the 2009 “Green Revolution” illustrates this as does their continued opposition to Ahmadinejad. But the greatest change occurring in Iran is represented by women. More than half of University students are women and their expectations for equality, dignity and jobs puts tremendous pressure on the Mullahs. Neda who was tragically killed on June 20 in a peaceful Teheran demonstration has become the “voice” of the revolution. In Farsi the name, Neda, means voice. Student opposition still remains alive and substantive.
A growing disaffection of the intelligentsia/political leadership, the molders of public opinion, with the existing regime as exemplified by the controversy over who won the June 12 Election. Mir Hussein Moussavi who ran against Ahmadinejad claims that the election was stolen and this led to protest throughout Iran that became known as the “Green Revolution”, Green for Peaceful, with the student “Neda” being elevated as the protest symbol! Simultaneously the election revealed a major fissure in Iranian society between conservatives/reformers. This split was intensified by the brutal reaction of Ayatollah (Sign of God) Ali Kamenev to the protesters leading to indiscriminate arrests and beatings by Revolutionary Guards/Basij militia, closing down of newspapers/satellite TV, torture/sexual abuse of detainees. Even among the Mullahs, significant disaffection arises about the legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad regime and by implication the rule of the Supreme Leader and theocratic system of velayat-e-faqih or governance of jurist. A leading cleric spokesman, Mehdi Karroubi, was so outraged by the way protesters in prison were treated by guards that he questions the integrity of the existing regime. This split still remains in play.
The fourth marker consists of the growing incompetence of the existing regime, which reacts in crisis mode from one flawed response to another, pushing the country faster and faster toward revolution. This certainly seems to be the pattern of Ahmadinejad/Kamenev who may be guilty of underestimating the economic explosiveness confronting Iran as well as the volatility of Iranian youth to partake of personal freedoms embedded in modernity. Initially the Green Revolution simply questioned the Ahmadinejad election results but with continuous governmental repression some are questioning the theocratic basis of the Iranian Republic perhaps radicalizing the revolutionary trajectory.
Last is the role of the military. Will it remain loyal to the Mullah’s Theocratic state or will it waver in direction of the reformers? This is a question no one can really answer at this time. What we do know is that Ahmadinejad/Ayatollah Ali Khamine has the preponderance of guns in Revolutionary Guards, Basif militia, police, courts, prosecution office and the military. Will these forces of repression remain united or will they begin to unravel? Apparently the stolen election of Ahmadinejad and the death of Neda have shaken the power structure leading to doubts and a corrosion of loyalty even among the clerics. Is such corrosion possible within the military?
What we do know about revolutions is that so-called “small” events can have profound repercussions and Nada’s death extolled in cyber space may be one of these telling events which illustrate on the one hand the interplay of technology on revolution but on the other the impact of youth, armed with cell phones, on bringing about cultural change. The historical role of youth in general is to challenge the beliefs of their parents so that a new paradigm can take hold and this appears to be emerging in Iran. The year 2010 will determine how it plays out.
Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California
and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies.