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On Point

One Year On: Iran's Green Movement Struggles as the Mullahs Make War


by Austin Bay
June 8, 2010

Economic misery and repression played roles, but an overt act of corruption brought the people into the streets.

One year ago, election fraud ignited demonstrations throughout Iran. Stealing the national election held on June 12, 2009, was one theft too many by the religious dictatorship and its cronies.

Established by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, Iran's radical cleric-controlled regime ("mullocracy" is the pop term) came to power deploring the Shah's theft and corruption. Khomeinist Islamic revolutionary values would ensure two things: 1) a harsh, but clean Iranian national government and 2) the spread of Khomeinist-led Islamic revolution around the world by any means necessary, including successful political example, economic might, subterfuge, terrorism, guerrillas and, when necessary, all-out war.

The mullahs' attempts to fulfill their second revolutionary pledge to extend Khomeini's revolution beyond Iran's borders, however, have been destructive but largely unsuccessful. Decades of political finagling and terrorist activities in the Persian Gulf have not toppled a single Arab government.

Iran's attempts to use proxies to destroy Iraq's nascent democratic government have left thousands dead and slowed Iraqi development, but "the Arabs" continue to build a new society in Mesopotamia. Afghanistan, the bloody puzzle to the east, has NATO troops. Global revolution has left Iran in a strategic vise. A nuclear weapon, however, might change that.

The regime's failure to keep the revolution's first pledge, the promise the Khomeinists used to ignite popular revolt against the Shah, however, has divided Iran's people and created what is ultimately a more potent and dangerous threat to the mullahs than American or Israeli bombs. Harsh domestic government the revolution provided, but as for clean?

While Khomeini lived, the crooks kept up the pretense of spic and span -- maybe. Khomeini died in 1989. Economic decline in Iran, tied to mismanagement and corruption, was evident by the early 1990s, when the first serious calls for systemic reform began.

The complaints received lip service. Reformers, like Ayatollah Mohamed Khatami (who was elected president in 1997), were isolated politically and rendered powerless. Subsequently, the Khomeinist regime rigged the voting system to exclude future Khatami-type intruders.

The situation faced by most Iranians deteriorated. A telling conversation took place some six years ago when a knowledgeable Iranian told me the total bribe required for permission to acquire land and launch a major construction project in Tehran had gone from $50,000 or so to around a half million -- in American dollars, please.

Another source asserted the Shia clerics running Iran were more aggressive thieves than the Palavis, the Shah's despised clan. Call it old gossip -- perhaps CIA knows the precise Tehran bribe schedule circa 2004 -- but new gossip says the corruption has gotten worse.

Public demonstrations and anti-regime declarations -- verifiable facts -- show Iran enters the 21st century's second decade a profoundly divided nation. Time is a threat to all revolutions. As years pass, the revolutionaries age and the fervor fades. A generational divide often emerges, and it has in Iran.

The Green Movement, the umbrella anti-government grouping that emerged from the post-election demonstrations in 2009, has a large following among Iran's youth and middle-aged.

Most Iranians under the age of 40 have little truck with the ruling mullahs. The Shah is ancient history. The Council of Guardians' cruelty is current news. The cultural straightjacket of clerical puritanism chafes youths who want to rock and roll, and the mullahs' blatant hypocrisy and corruption adds to their disenchantment and alienation.

The mullahs know domestically they face a sustained, popular struggle against their endemically corrupt regime. The Green Movement, however, is a hodgepodge of factions, including reformists (who support extensive, rapid reform), incrementalists (who favor certain reforms) and radicals of all sorts (some promoting Western-style democracy).

The mullahs and the Revolutionary Guards exploit these divisions. Their policy of jailing movement leaders, threatening family members and selectively repressing Green Movement factions has kept the Green Movement from coalescing as a genuine revolutionary organization. So far. 

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