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Irans regime may ride out the storm, but at a hefty price
[Beirut Daily Star: Region] Iran's Islamic regime may well ride out the post-election crisis, but not without collateral damage. The contours of what's likely ahead are already taking shape: more isolation from the West and a leadership turning on the pressure at home, with its military forces and street-level vigilantes swiping hard at anything or anyone perceived as a threat.

On state television, the messages are shrill and defensive in blaming foreign "enemies" for the mayhem after the disputed June 12 vote. On the streets, security forces swarm over any hint of a protest, hauling away journalists, political figures, university professors and activists.

The candidate-turned-opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is now telling his backers to hunker down for a long struggle.

It adds up to a regime turning to its survival instincts.

That likely means the same pathologies that accompany any state of siege - real or perceived: more isolation, more paranoia and no hesitation to use all the weapons at its disposal.

Iran's theocracy can call on a very serious protector: the Revolutionary Guard and its millions of civilian militiamen known as the Basij. Spread through nearly every neighborhood and village in Iran, their ability to snuff out public dissent was aptly illustrated Wednesday when a small band of demonstrators outside Parliament brought an onslaught of commandos and vigilantes swooping in on motorcycles. Protest over.

Hundreds of people have been detained in the past two weeks, including Iranian journalists, aides and advisers to Mousavi and reformist politicians. On Thursday, authorities arrested 70 university professors who met with the embattled Mousavi, who is under constant surveillance by security agents. All but four were later released, Mousavi's Web site reported.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said about 40 journalists and media workers have been jailed in the post-election crackdown following election results that showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the landslide winner. Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, compared it to martial law.

Despite elections for president and Parliament, the real power in Iran rests with the clerics at the top. But their rule has always been backed up by the clout of the security forces.

The Revolutionary Guard and its network are just as vested in preserving the Islamic system as are some of the clerics. The 500,000-strong Guard is separate from the ordinary armed forces and serves as a private army for the Islamic establishment. But its influence stretches much deeper, including roles in Iran's ports, oil fields and missile and nuclear programs. It's a bit of the Pentagon, CIA, Homeland Security and FBI rolled into one.

There's little chance they would fold as easily as the forces of the Western-backed shah in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"Their name is exactly what they do: protect the revolution," said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese political analyst who follows Iranian affairs. "Their loyalty is extremely high." The latest waves of arrests may just be a taste of what's ahead. The clerics have shown their ability to relentlessly pound at liberal-leaning supporters and outlets - during much less critical times.

During the first years of Mohammad Khatami's reformist presidency in the late 1990s, intelligence minders and judiciary agents - both directly controlled by the theocracy - swept up hundreds of activists, writers and others. Pro-reform newspapers and publications were closed almost as fast as they could open. It came to a head in the summer of 1999 with clashes at Tehran University.

The Iranian government has permitted Iranians a limited buffet of freedoms. These include Western music, dating, Internet cafes and generally turning a blind eye to satellite dishes and women constantly testing the boundaries of Islamic dress codes with head scarves pushed far back and coats ever shorter and tighter. The unwritten deal, however, was that it was a reward for staying clear of politics that could rattle the system.

That has broken down. Some protesters have turned Mousavi's claims of rigged elections into a journey across Iran's red lines and taboos - direct criticism of Khamenei and the ruling order. The payback from authorities could be long and severe.

Khamenei has effectively sanctioned such payback. He has portrayed his opponents as guided by foreign "enemies," including the United States and Britain. It instantly evokes memories of the US influence under the shah and an American-aided uprising in 1953 that deposed an elected government that had nationalized the oil industry and broken Britain's long control.

State media has followed up with a barrage of programming linking the unrest to outside plots, including "confessions" from alleged protesters.

This has turned the crackdown - in the minds of the regime and its backers - from a civil dispute into a defense of Iran.

With Khamenei's authority weakened and questioned, speculation has risen about an inside challenge led by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads a panel that has the power to remove the supreme leader. Such an extreme measure has never been used or even publicly discussed before, and would be akin to an in-house coup.

Chess has some of its early roots in ancient Persia, and the past weeks could just be the first moves in a long contest.

"In the past, successful opposition movements ... coalesced over a time frame of years, not weeks or months," said Ehsan Ahrari, an analyst on regional affairs. "So it would be a mistake to read too much into the current form."
Posted by:Fred

#2  None you heard about 3dc.

If it was me I would go on a personal campaign of taking out as many as I could one at a time very quietly. Piano wire would be the least of the worries the goons on motorbikes would face.

It is easy for me to hate all Theocrats. They all deserve the same fate in my book.
Posted by: Sockpuppet of Doom   2009-06-28 01:55  

#1   their ability to snuff out public dissent was aptly illustrated Wednesday when a small band of demonstrators outside Parliament brought an onslaught of commandos and vigilantes swooping in on motorcycles. Protest over.

I continue to be puzzled.... NO PIANO WIRE!
No steel pipes in spokes....
I don't get it...
Posted by: 3dc   2009-06-28 01:41