Socialist Worker

Protests bring a chance of change for Iran

by Dominic Kavakeb
Issue No. 2157

The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a mass popular uprising. Some 30 years on, the Iranian people are again out on the streets in their millions.

The first people who came onto the streets to protest were disgruntled middle class supporters of Mir Hussein Mousavi. They hope to benefit from an easing of restrictions on social behaviour.

But as the demonstrations grew they began to encapsulate all layers of Iranian society.

Iran has a very strong movement for reform that emerged in the early 1990s. This movement has always been extremely broad – encompassing women’s rights activists and left wingers, as well as figures such as former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The movement has always lacked a clear leadership and direction. This is mirrored in the current events where there are massive protests yet little coordinated direction.

The majority of the movement does not want to challenge the Islamic regime.

During the presidential debate both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi spoke about their dedication to the revolution, and how they were the true interpreters of Ayatollah Khomeini’s message.

There are differences between the two. Mousavi is happy to trade with the West while Ahmadinejad is not. Of the two, Mousavi most favours further neoliberalisation.

Many people saw Mousavi as someone who would open up Iranian society and provide freedoms.

When he lost many became angry – although that does not alone explain the large-scale popular protests that we have seen.

It is an error to see Ahmadinejad as being aligned to the religious elite.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini did formally endorse Ahmadinejad for a second term.

But Ahmadinejad’s first term was marked by constant bickering between the government and the religious sections of the ruling class.

The fear among the religious establishment is that Ahmadinejad was going too far in antagonising the West, and was damaging the trade deals that have been in place since the 1990s.

Since the election, every section of society with a gripe against the regime has taken the opportunity to protest against the repressive state.

Opportunity

For those who want change, these demonstrations are a window of opportunity. Many protesters want to see change, but they want this to take place within the boundaries of the revolution.

But the state has responded with brutal repression.

The world has seen images of bloodied students who have been gunned down and of thugs on motorbikes chasing protesters.

Many people have raised concerns that the only real winner in this crisis will be US imperialism.

However, the vast majority of Iranian people reject Western influence in their affairs. There is still a collective memory of the 1953 CIA coup against a democratically-elected nationalist government. The 1979 revolution’s main demand was for an end to foreign dominance.

The people on the streets now are not marching for the return of the Shah or his henchmen. They do not want or need Western intervention.

For years the liberal supporters of imperialism have argued that the West must intervene in countries with “human rights abuses” because the people are not capable of doing it themselves.

Whatever happens, this new movement in Iran proves that this formulation is false. The Iranian people are showing that they are not “too oppressed to fight back” or too weak to fight their own battles.

The splits inside the regime do not bode well for its long-term survival.

Reports from the streets showed a shift in the attitude of the Iranian police towards the protesters.

As the demonstrations have grown in scope the police have started to protect protesters from the feared Basij militia and other thugs.

Alarm bells are ringing inside ruling circles. On Friday of last week Khameini called on the factions not to settle their differences on the streets. He then issued a stark warning that the demonstrations would no longer be tolerated.

But Iran is changing, and if this new movement can extend itself to further encompass the demands of ordinary people, then it has a chance of making real change inside the country.


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