Rough Drafts on the Iranian Protests

I am reading a lot about the events in Iran this week, and I thought this piece by Charles Kurzman in Foreign Policy cut through the fog, reminding us of the cottage industry of punditry that clouds and rarely enhances our understanding of these important events.  Out of all the rough draft predictions, I think we can safely say that we are witnessing something more significant than just “blowing off steam.” (Interestingly, I have also heard Echo Moskvy referred as a type of “pressure valve.”  Maybe Iran and Russia should look into updating their social plumbing.)

But the biggest similarity between the current protests and the Islamic revolution is the population’s widespread confusion about what comes next.echo In a year from now, people will look back on this week and say that what happened was inevitable. Whatever happens, they will predict the outcome retroactively. Already, experts are providing rough drafts for these explanations, such as:

    • A charismatic and enigmatic opposition leader is serving as a rallying point for different sectors of society, who all imagine that he shares their varied political positions; the opposition is too small and divided to pose a serious threat to the regime.
    • The main leaders of the opposition movement — presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi and his ally, former President Mohammad Khatami — are not calling for a revolution, only for a resumption of the Islamic Republic’s previous electoral procedures; during the violence of a revolution, moderation often gives way to more radical demands.

  • In the months prior to the outburst, oil prices boomed and busted, along with theglobal economic downturn; the government still controlled billions of dollarsin reserves that it doled out to supporters through barely disguised giveaways.
  • The Internet, cell phones, and satellite television have added new networkingcapabilities to the age-old rumor mill; access to these technologies is notuniversal in Iran, and is being shut down by the government.
  • The ruling elite is too divided to repress the opposition effectively; the rulingelite is pulling together and cannot be toppled.
  • Violentrepression will keep people from protesting much longer; violent repressionwill backfire and produce even more protesters.
  • Concessionswill buy time for the regime while tempers cool; concessions will only whet theopposition’s appetite.
  • Outrageand grievance is boiling over; this week’s protests are a safety valve blowingoff harmless steam.