On a knife edge
The momentous news from Iran continues to pour in, with almost every hour bringing a new change to the political crisis following Fridays election. Yesterdays demonstrations in Tehran in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi were by far the biggest since the 1979 Revolution, bringing hundreds of thousands to the streets to protest the apparent hijacking of the election by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Attempts by the authorities to stamp out protest by arresting key reformist figures and banning demonstrations were swept aside in a wave of popular feeling, although seven people were killed, reportedly by basij paramilitaries.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Saturday validated the (suspiciously uniform) landslide Ahmadinejad victory, yesterday backtracked and ordered the Guardian Council to investigate the allegations of fraud from Mousavi and other candidates. And today the Guardian Council has announced that it is prepared to recount the votes in any areas where they are disputed.
The military mutterings before the election about the need to clamp down on any potential green revolution - mentioned in Nasrin Alavis post on election day - will certainly be growing louder in the wake of the mass resistance in Tehran yesterday, which was echoed in more modest form in other Iranian cities. Ahmadinejad has a strong power base in the Revolutionary Guard that could yet play a key role in repressing protest and entrenching his rule. Yet Ahmadinejad is himself deeply unpopular with much of the Iranian establishment, and there are even rumours that perennial powerbroker and wheeler-dealer Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - who supported Mousavi in the election - is weighing up the possibility of a move to unseat Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader can only be dismissed by the Council of Experts, of which Rafsanjani is head. For all his power within the constitution, Khamenei has never commanded anything close to the authority of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and he has been compromised by his overt support for Ahmadinejad during the election campaign.
Progressive Iranians will continue to hold their breath that there can be a positive outcome to the crisis - and will benefit from international support.
For more background on Iran see New Internationalist 398