Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Check List

While the subject of the most awesome of all regime changes -- from the inside out -- is in mind, consider what does it take to make a successful revolution?

That quiz is clearly weighing heavily on Supreme Leaders mind. In his long rant at last Friday’s prayers at Tehran university, Iran’s supreme leader accused foreign governments of trying to foment a revolt in his country. He claims that foreigners are using the uprisings in the former Soviet Union as a model. “They are comparing the Islamic Republic with Georgia,” he complained.

Supreme Leader is absolutely correct.

The comparison between events in Iran and the “colour revolutions” in the former USSR is certainly suggestive. Andrew Miller, a journalist at The Economist who witnessed the colour revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan has come up with a useful “checklist” of some of the factors that can help a revolution to succeed .

“Critical mass”: small demonstrations of 5,000 people can be ignored or suppressed. But half a million people in the streets is another matter.

● Weak or divided security services.

● Some independent media.

● Money.

● Serious corruption, which Mr Miller argues is “generally the main mass motivator”.

● Opposition leaders who have served a stint in government.

● A history of rebellion from which lessons can be learnt.

● Strong support in the capital city.

● A rigged election that provides a spark for the revolt.

Gideon Rachman at Financial Times adds a few more items to consider:

● A divided ruling elite.

● A sense of revolutionary momentum from events overseas; Europe in 1989 and 1848 show that revolution can be catching.

● External help.

● The use of violence by the authorities, which can either make or break a revolution.

"Every element on these two lists is now present to some degree in Iran – with the possible exceptions of division within the security forces and significant external assistance.

"The demonstrations in Tehran have been huge. Even after Mr Khamenei’s warnings of impending bloodshed, very big crowds turned out on Saturday – some were killed and almost 500 were arrested. The task for the opposition now is to find a way of motivating people to keep demonstrating, despite the dangers. Many Iranians will recall that it took more than a year of sustained unrest to topple the Shah in 1979.

"For the moment, the Iranian security services seem grimly united and willing to shed blood. The Basij militias and Revolutionary Guard show little sign of wavering. The real signs of division are within Iran’s ruling elite. Mr Khamenei did his utmost to paper over these at Friday prayers. He praised both President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s bitter enemy, former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. But since then Mr Rafsanjani’s daughter has briefly been arrested. A power struggle is clearly under way.

"As for money and the media: the media is controlled, but independent reports on the internet and foreign journalists are helping to fill some of the gap. The Tehran middle class is not on the breadline. And the street demonstrations that are keeping the opposition going do not, anyway, require huge resources.

"Corruption is clearly an acutely sensitive issue. Mr Khamenei addressed it directly on Friday. “Everybody must fight corruption,” he urged. “If it is not brought under control it will spread, like it has in some western countries.”

"The Ukrainian and Georgian revolutions were led by former ministers who had turned against the government. If this does matter, then as a former prime minister Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the leader of the Iranian opposition, certainly ticks the box. Some cast doubt on his credibility as an opponent of the regime, given that he was one of only four candidates regarded as sufficiently ideologically-sound to run in the first place. But Mr Moussavi has now come to symbolise far more than his own rather cautious views.

"As for a history of revolt: these are by far the biggest demonstrations since the foundation of the Islamic Republic in 1979. But there has been repression before, of student and reformist movements. When it comes to “support in the capital city” and allegations of a rigged election – both elements have clearly been critical to sustaining the revolt.

"It suits the Iranian government to blame the revolt on foreigners. (Flatteringly, Mr Khamenei insisted on Friday that “the most evil of them all is the British government”.) But whether the regime likes it or not, the demonstrators on the streets of Tehran are angry Iranians, who need little encouragement from outsiders. However, events in the outside world might have influenced the politics of Iran in more subtle ways – the election of Barack Obama and political change in Iraq and Lebanon may have helped to fan a wind of change in Iran as well.

"The great unknown is the effect of violent suppression of the demonstrations. Once a regime starts killing its own people it crosses a line. Sometimes, as in Iran in 1979, bloodshed on the streets leads to such a loss of confidence and popularity that it spells the end for a government. On other occasions, if a government is brutal and ruthless enough, violent repression can work – China in 1989 is the obvious recent example.

"Killing demonstrators, however, has stripped the Iranian government of its claims to legitimacy.

"It may secure the regime’s survival in the short term.

"In the long term, it surely dooms it.

Art - Checklist


Anonymous said...

Good checklist devoid of impotent hysteria.