By MEIR JAVEDANFAR
An Iranian-style intifada seems to be in the making. At the beginning of the current period of opposition, which started soon after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial reelection, quiet periods of seeming normalcy occurred between what were less frequent demonstrations.
Judging from the events of Ashura, however, the protests now seem to carry the potential to turn into a full-scale civil disobedience campaign, not unlike the first intifada the Palestinians initiated against Israel in 1987.
Such an uprising will mean continuous periods of strikes and civil disobedience, as well as more confrontations between members of the public and security forces.
The main factor contributing to the new status quo is the unrelenting policies of the supreme leader, which have pitted his philosophy of the Islamic Republic against longstanding Islamic institutions.
THIS IS a battle that Khamenei will find extremely difficult to win. In fact, if developments continue in their current form, they can result in significant changes to the structure of his regime, or more drastically, lead to its total demise.
His decision to allow the Basij to mount an attack on mourners at Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral was one factor leading to the spread of opposition in rural areas, faster and more efficiently than any campaign the reformist camp could have orchestrated. Yes, members of the opposition tried to take advantage of the mayhem, but also many genuine mourners had come to pay homage to a grand ayatollah. To Khamenei's forces, they were all the same. To allow attacks against the residents of a holy city where the seeds of the 1979 revolution were planted was not just dead wrong from a religious perspective, it was politically counterproductive as well.
To make matters worse, the very next day, the supreme leader's forces attacked mourners attending a ceremony for Montazeri at Isfahan's Seyyed mosque, where inside members of the public were beaten. The Basijis also tried to assault Isfahan's former Friday prayers leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Jalaleddin Taheri, who had arranged the ceremony. However, his supporters protected him.
IF THE Shah had committed such an affront, one could have attributed it to his brute dictatorial secularism. But for the supreme leader of an Islamic republic to order violence against Islamic institutions means turning against the very establishment that formed the foundation - or the very DNA - of the current regime.
In 1987, to Palestinians, Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the deteriorating political and economic situations there formed the nucleus of the political ideology that legitimized the first intifada.
Khamenei's increasing attacks against the Iranian public, followed by full-scale assaults against mosques and religious members of the community, are creating the nucleus of an ideology that is legitimizing opposition, not just in cities, but throughout Iran.
However, ideology is not enough. To succeed, what is needed is to increase the frequency of opposition to the point where the morale of the regime and its forces are sufficiently eroded and they can no longer afford to carry on with their current policies, or their ability to function.
Here again, Khamenei seems to be aiding the opposition. The brutal attack against the mourners at Montazeri's funeral meant that more people were motivated to turn up in the streets on Tasua (the day before Ashura), as well as on Ashura, which happened to fall on the seventh day of Montazeri's passing. In fact, small demonstrations have continued in different places since Montazeri was buried.
Further, on Ashura, his forces killed Seyed Ali Habibi Mousavi Khameneh, the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi. It's very possible that he happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, the Mousavi family might understandably assume that he was targeted for assassination. After all, how is it possible that among thousands upon thousands of demonstrators, he was one of the few shot dead? Was he followed from the beginning by an assassination team? Was he marked for death before he left the house? These are questions that cannot be overlooked.
And now his funeral, as well as the seventh day of his death, will provide other occasions for the opposition to demonstrate. Add to this 15 religious holidays, plus at least five major political ones. Meanwhile, more are expected to be killed or arrested, meaning further mourning congregations and demonstrations. Put all of these dates together and the regime could start facing an unprecedented number of demonstrations.
Things could get much worse if the opposition turns to public strikes. With violence against the public expected to continue unabated and Ahmadinejad's plan to cut subsidies, translating to more economic misery, the regime could add to the attraction of this backbreaking scenario.
More than ever, the future of this regime hinges on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He can save his regime and keep it in its current form if he learns from his recent mistakes and modifies the way his forces and government reach out to the public. Failure to readjust could turn out to be a very costly mistake.
This article was originally written for The Tehran Bureau, a partnership with PBS Frontline, at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau.
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