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IRAN: Is the government crackdown working?

June 24, 2009 |  6:13 pm

Tehran protest

As the scale of protests dwindles in Iran, analysts are asking: Is the government's crackdown working? And if so, what might the future look like?

Con Coughlin, author and executive foreign editor of the Daily Telegraph in London, argues today on  that “the guardians of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution remain as deeply entrenched in power as ever.” 

“If campaigners such as [Mir-Hossein] Mousavi and [Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, who have both held prominent positions within Iran's Islamic establishment, cannot make any headway against the reactionary hard-liners maintaining [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, what chance have ordinary Iranians got of implementing genuine reform?”

Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the BBC on Tuesday that "there are already signs that the opposition is entering a new phase of civil disobedience." 

"Instead of mass rallies they are now focusing on civil disobedience, including strikes among merchants (bazaris), laborers, and key arteries of the Iranian economy (like the petroleum industry and oil ministry). So while the crowds may not be as large as before, the conflict is certainly far from being resolved."

Today, Tony Karon, a senior editor for, questions whether this new strategy would work.

"There has been some suggestion that the opposition might call a general strike -- a form of passive resistance that does not involve directly confronting the guns of Ahmadinejad's loyalists. There were online attempts to stage-manage the strike -- for example, to go shopping but not buy anything. While some industrial sectors like Tehran's bus drivers have been famously combative and willing to use the strike weapon in labor disputes, it remains to be seen whether that tactic can be effectively used as a general form of protest in an economy where so many depend on employment associated with the state and unemployment levels are high. And general-strike calls, because of the economic risk to participants, would necessarily have to be used sparingly."

The New Yorker’s Laura Secor takes issue with the argument that the crisis in Iran comes down to a fight among senior clerics inside the existing power structure.

“It is clearly true that Iran’s elites are disunited, but to place great emphasis on this fact is misleading. Factional differences have riven the Iranian political establishment since the Islamic Revolution itself, and sometimes quite dramatically, as during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, from 1997 through 2005."

What is new, she says, is "the fierce mass movement from below, which is not confined to students and intellectuals but seems to span demographics and age groups."

"Even if they lose, Mousavi and his supporters will have permanently changed the landscape of protest in Iran by breaking what had once seemed an impermeable barrier of fear.”

Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, says the reform movement and women's rights movement are intertwined in Iran. If Ahmadinejad's victory stands, she says, "you'll see a much more restricted Iran -- more than what we've seen in the past few years."

"To squash what has happened in the last couple of weeks will take force and a very heavy hand. This will ultimately fall heavily on women, but it won't stop them."

-- Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles

Photo: A protester lobs a projectile at Iranian riot police in Tehran on Saturday. Credit: Associated Press