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Requiem for a revolution

What has just happened in Iran? Was it a revolution, or something entirely different? Whatever the West may make of it, Pepe Escobar argues the 1979 Islamic revolution has now turned into "the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat." He examines the three key actors at play: the military, the clergy and the street. And provides some clues of what may lie ahead – for the regime and for ordinary Iranians.

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: Yes, they shall be remembered forever. In the end, the Tehran wall didn’t fall. But beyond the blood, sweat, and tears, we’ve got to understand what happened. The music in the background is by the Waterboys, the words by Irish genius William Butler Yeats, the mix by an English musician on YouTube. What happened in Iran was the brutal installation of a military dictatorship of the mullah-tariat. The world, the Western world especially, will still have to live and deal with Supreme Leader/Ayatollah Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and an ultra right-wing faction of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, for years to come. The key man to watch is Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari. In 2006 he became the Revolutionary Guard’s top commander. At the time he was already thinking in terms of an internal, not an external enemy. He was thinking about the Velvet Revolution, in fact. It’s essential to remember that only a few days before the election, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani—he is the Revolutionary Guard’s political director—was already accusing Mousavi of starting a green revolution. He said, and I quote, the Guards "will suffocate it before it is even born." The Revolutionary Guards, they have always been about repression. They literally kill or supported the killing of secular political groups in Iran during the 1980s. After Khomeini died in 1989, they split into two sides. One side thought that Iran needed an opening. They were afraid of what? A popular counterrevolution. Today they are reformist leaders. The other side was ultra-conservative. They include Jafari and Javani, [whom] we just mentioned, as well as Ahmadinejad and his current minister of the Interior, the sinister Sadegh Mahsouli, the man who oversaw the election. The religious strand runs parallel to the military strand. Remember, we’re talking about the military dictatorship of the mullah-tariat. So we must refer to the Hojjatieh. That’s an ultra-sectarian group founded in the 1950s in Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Republic, he banned them in 1983. But they were back in the ’90s, full force. And their spiritual leader is Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, known as "the Crocodile" in Iran. Two weeks before the elections, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi issued a fatwa legitimizing any means necessary to keep Ahmadinejad in power. And that was the green light to steal the elections. We’ve got to remember that Ahmadinejad replaced no less than 10,000 key government bureaucrats with his cronies in these past four years alone. These people are in charge of the maze of bodies involved in the election and in the vote count. Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi believes that Iran’s supreme leader is chosen by Allah, when Allah tells the 86 members of the Council of Experts to find a leader. That’s how Khamenei was found, even though he was a minor scholar. Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi wants an Hokumat-e Islami, a hard-line Islamic government sanctioned by Allah—forget about democracy. Who are the devout disciples of Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi? Well, a lot of our key players, starting with Ahmadinejad himself; then his intelligent minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejehei; Ahmadinejad’s top counselor, Mojtaba [Samareh Hashemi]; Saeed Jalili, the National Security Council and now chief nuclear negotiator; many of the top Revolutionary Guard commanders; the Basij paramilitary militia, starting with their leader, Hasan Taeb, down to their loping proletariat millions; and, of course, the Iranian judiciary itself. So now these ultras are smashing the old first-generation leaders of the revolution, like Hashemi Rafsanjani. And the Revolutionary Guards now take over the bulk of Iran’s economy as well. It’s a monopoly. Rafsanjani is a very well-connected billionaire. The Revolutionary Guards, they certainly don’t need any competition. This will be an even more repressive hard-core Islamic government than a republic. Remember, officially we’re talking about the Islamic Republic of Iran. And this is one of the key reasons behind the street protests. Allah, of course, has to choose the next supreme leader. Khamenei is ill. Mojtaba Khamenei, his mysterious but very powerful son, is behind the ultras but does not have what it takes to become a leader. And Rafsanjani is the head of the 86-member Council of Experts who chooses the leader. Rafsanjani’s trying to conduct his own mini-revolution in Qom, going against Khamenei. The ultras will try everything to squash him. This is a bitter war at the very top of the regime. The ultras, they want Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi or one of his protégés as the next supreme leader. If this military dictatorship of the mullah-tariat continues to appease its working-class support base with [inaudible] redistribution of oil revenues, they can stay in power for a long time. The West may try to boycott them, but not Russia and China. Iran’s oil and gas are absolutely crucial to Europe, not to mention Asia. Nobody’s going to embargo Iran’s oil exports. So the regime will be able to repress and suppress whatever comes its way, using or not using religion to justify it. There are echoes of the former Soviet Union in all this. But what happened in the streets is more like Prague in 1968 and not the turbulence before the death of communism in 1989. In the end, the revolution was not Twitter, because there was no revolution. The army, the Revolutionary Guards, they didn’t support the people. And the bazaari merchants and the oil and gas industry workers, must they didn’t go on strike. So no revolution. People are angry, of course, because they felt their vote had been stolen. There was nothing ideological about it. When they took to the streets, they made clear that they wanted a better economy, less unemployment, a less stifling regime, a little more freedom of speech and of dress for women, less fiery rhetoric from Ahmadinejad—in summary, want a better life. But on the other side of the spectrum, there were the millions of Basij who are very, very happy with the meagre and shabby existence the revolution grants them and deeply, deeply alienated from Western culture. This doesn’t mean this was a Gucci-YouTube-Twitter uprising of the petite bourgeoisie. It’s easy to fall into the temptation, because the people in the streets, after all, they are supported by the West. But to believe that Iran’s national interests and the aspirations of the excluded Iranian masses will be defended by this new military dictatorship of the mullah-tariat is to completely miss the point. Yes, the ultras are paranoid. They know they’re virtually encircled by the US military machine. They know about the Bush administration’s $400 million for a regime change. What they could not foresee was the force of a spontaneous movement. Iran’s civil society, they count on more or less 28,000 associations. But they are not strong and structured enough to anchor a protest movement, large-scale protest movement. Unions have been smashed. Mousavi was the vessel that challenged a lots of pent-up rage and frustration in Iran. With or without him, the road will be long. Civil disobedience is key. The sound of "Allahu Akbar" will be echoing from the rooftops for many, many days and weeks to come. When Khamenei sided with Ahmadinejad, instead of an arbiter he became a gang leader. The social contract between millions of Iranians and the revolution was broken. There will be blood, yes, and there will be resistance as well. Iran is a very sophisticated society, but it will be a long and winding road. So no reform and no revolution. And then all that sound and fury was drowned by the death of the man in the mirror. Let the Earth bear witness: those that live and will continue to live the dream of a better Iran should not and will not be forgotten.

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