Most of the talk about Iran and the Wikileaks documents has centered around the revelation—hardly a surprise—that Arab states are wary of Iran’s nuclear program. This is indeed an important story: The depth of the fear from Egypt, Oman, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia is striking (in one document we learn that, in 2009, Saudi Arabia promised Morocco discounted oil if it joined in the effort to contain Iran).
The last few months have seen a disquieting lull in news of political dissent from Iran. On the surface, at least, Ahmadinejad’s government seems to have outlasted the furor that erupted in the wake of last June’s election. Does this mean that the Green Movement is dead? Not necessarily.
Traditional Iranian husbands, the sort found in the highest ranks of the Islamic Republic, sometimes refer to their wives as “the house.” For them, this is not just an expression of their understanding of gender relations. It is viewed as a necessary euphemism, vital protection for a woman’s honor. The mere uttering of her name, after all, might compromise her chastity. It is telling, therefore, that Mir Hossein Mousavi courted and eventually married Zahra Rahnavard.
Is the Green Movement finished? That is what the Iranian government wants the world to believe. And it has recently been trumpeting a few pieces of evidence to make its case. First came a statement by Mir Hossein Mousavi on New Year’s Eve, which offered five conditions for ending the current impasse.
The Green Movement is a revolt against theocracy. Most of its adherents are young Iranians with little or no religious motivation. Yet, an iconic figure of the revolt was the nation’s highest-ranking cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri; and, last month, Ashura, a holy day celebrating martyrdom, occasioned some of the movement’s most massive protests. Perhaps the fact that the movement has acquired a Shia veneer shouldn’t be terribly surprising.
A couple of days after June’s stolen election in Iran, Flynt Leverett and I were both guests on “The Charlie Rose Show.” Mr. Leverett was waxing eloquent about how Ahmadinejad could have actually won the election. His supposed evidence was a May poll, conducted by phone from Turkey, before the presidential campaign had even begun. Apparently he did not read the entire report of the poll, merely a summary, published in a Washington Post editorial. Much of the full report contradicted his conclusions.
Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri, the highest ranking Shiite cleric in Iran and a leading voice of dissent for more than two decades, died Saturday of what his family said was a lingering heart ailment. His memorial is shaping up as yet another occasion for the Iranian people to show their resentment of the current regime. Thousands of people are traveling to Qom, where he lived and died, to attend the funeral.
The Iranian regime has never found itself more vulnerable. And, with this vulnerability, it has never leaned more heavily on its own narrative of history.
Almost three decades ago, a group of radical Islamist students, dressed in army fatigues or covered in scarves and black chadors, forced their way into the American embassy in Tehran. According to some accounts, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then a student at a second-tier technical college in Tehran, was invited to join the hostage takers. He declined, saying he would join only if they would also occupy the Soviet embassy in Tehran.
Abbas Milani is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, where he is the co-director of the Iran Democracy Project. His latest book is Eminent Persian: The Men and Women who Made Modern Iran, 1941-1979 (Syracuse University Press). There has been much debate about where Iran’s democratic protesters stand on the country’s nuclear program. In the past weeks, there have been many new indications that the green movement rejects the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb.