2003 June 16 Monday
Iranian Intellectuals Call On Khamenei To Renounce Divine Right To Rule

It is interesting to note that there was a period of European history when Kings proclaimed their divine right to rule as representatives of God on Earth. Some intellectuals in Iran would like to bring an end to their era of divine right to rule.

More than 250 university teachers and writers added their voices to students' bold demands for democratic reforms in Iran, telling supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei he must answer to the people and abandon the idea that he is God's unchallenged representative on Earth.

The biggest destabilizing force in Iran has got to be the relative youthfulness of the Iranian population.

But the tumult in Tehran's streets suggests that the country's youth will not be quieted for long. More than 60% of Iran's 70 million people are under the age of 30.

Old folks do not typically engage in street battles. High testosterone young males with feelings of adolescent rage and rebellion are the best hope for the downfall of the Mullahs in Iran. Whether enough young males can be roused to overthrow the regime remains to be seen. One of the biggest factors weighing against that outcome is the sizeable number of Islamist young males who are eager to fight to maintain the theocracy.

The failure of the previous revolution continues to limit enthusiam for another revolution. The Iranian students would be a lot more motivated if they had a clearer shared goal for their protests. (same article also available here)

But there is no collective vision of a viable alternative. "The problem with reforms is that Iranians know what they don't want, but they do not know what they want," said Muhammad, a 24-year-old student. Many students interviewed did not want their full names or schools published, saying they feared subsequent harassment.

I'm still pessimistic about the prospects for a radical change in Iranian politics. The broader Iranian public is too apathetic. In her visit there for The New York Times Magazine Elizabeth Rubin found widespread feelings of apathy and resignation about politics in Iran. The latest street protests are not yet a sign that the broader Iranian populace are in a pre-revolutionary frame of mind. Even if the Iranians have a revolution many secular reformers want to continue Iran's nuclear weapons development program anyway.

Update: For a more optimistic outlook on the protests in Iran we can count on Michael Ledeen:

Fourth, and perhaps most important, the anti-regime demonstrations are not limited to Tehran. On Sunday night, for example, the biggest demonstrations to date anywhere in the country reportedly took place in Isfahan (where my informant said virtually the entire city was mobilized against the regime), and other protests were staged in Mashad, Shiraz (where three distinguished scholars were thrown in jail last Thursday, following an extorted "confession" from a 14-year old) and Ahvaz. This is doubly significant, both because it shows the national character of the rebellion, and because Isfahan has historically been the epicenter of revolutionary movements (and indeed some of the harshest critics of the regime are in and from Isfahan).

I hope Ledeen is correct. This sort of thing is incredibly hard to predict. The regime could make some big mistake and make some move that intensely enrages the populace. Video For instance, footage might capture regime thugs killing children in a demonstration or something else similarly enraging and that footage might be broadcast into Iran via satellite. Some spark could set off a big scaling up of the demonstrations.

Update II: There is one big difference between the prospects for a revolution in Iran now and the period that led to the overthrow of the Shah in the late 1970s: Then the secular and religious forces were both pushing for a change in goverment. But now many Islamists are lined up against the secularists. There could be a brutal civil war if the secularists became sufficiently emboldened to try to bring down the government. It is far from clear which side would prevail. In large part it depends on the level of motivation and ruthlessness of the two sides.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 16 02:29 PM  Axis Of Evil


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