Iran's Faulty Election May Yet Bring Down Its Theocratic Government

The Internet has turned regular Iranians into journalists. And now there may be no stopping them.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

According to reports considered reliable, the people of Iran continue to resist the government's attempt to crack down on their nascent pro-democracy movement. The demonstrations that broke out in the wake of Friday's presidential election, of which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, show no signs of abating and in fact may be growing.

It is difficult to tell for, as the Associated Press reported Tuesday:

Iranian authorities are restricting all journalists working for foreign media from firsthand reporting on the streets. The rules cover all journalists, including Iranians working for foreign media. It blocks images and eyewitness descriptions of the protests and violence that has followed last week's disputed elections.

By keeping journalists off the streets, the ruling authorities hope to keep the news from getting out, with little success. The news continues to get out through cellphone cameras, the Internet and Twitter, the social media platform that allows people to send messages to followers consisting of 140 characters or less. In consideration of the importance Twitter is playing in Iran right now, the folks behind it announced they were delaying a planned systemwide outage for maintenance purposes in order to keep the platform available to the protesters.

Reports have also appeared that the regime has imported Hezbollah enforcers who do not speak Farsi, Iran's predominant language, to help suppress dissent, something some analysts believe indicates the Revolutionary Guard may be unwilling to do the job.

As Iran expert Michael Ledeen writes on his blog:

For its part, the regime ordered its (Basij and imported Hezbollah) thugs to open fire on the demonstrators. The Guardian, whose reporting from Iran has always been very good (three correspondents expelled in the last ten years, they tell me), thinks that a dozen or so were killed on Monday. And the reports of brutal assaults against student dormitories in several cities are horrifying, even by the mullahs' low standards.

It may be that a new revolution is breaking out. The Iranian people are rising up against the mullahs. The BBC reports that between one and two million people demonstrated on Monday. And former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi called for a general strike on Tuesday. Whether this will have an effect has yet to be seen but the pressure has been sufficient to force Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to call for an investigation of the election results. Of course the people doing the election will be the same people who certified the results in the first place, so it is unlikely they will find enough irregularities to order a new election.

On Monday President Barack Obama finally weighed in, but with a rather milquetoast expression of concern over the violence that has thus far been seen instead of strongly condemning it. At least he said something but, as Ledeen points out, "It's always better to assert American values, both because he's our president and he should be speaking for all of us, and because catering to the tender sensibilities of the murders in Iran won't gain anything. It will only increase their contempt."

The millions of Iranians who are the streets this week may bring down the regime. Toppling the mullahs would have a profound impact on U.S. security, potentially removing from the scene one of this country's major enemies and what is perhaps the world's principal terrorist-supporting state. How and why things got to this point no longer matter. "The only thing that matters," as Ledeen says, "is winning and losing."

"Whatever plans Mousavi had for a gradual transformation of the Islamic Republic, they have been overtaken by events; the issue now is the survival of the system," says Ledeen, adding that the call for a general strike "is the right strategy, since he must demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of Iranians want an end to the regime. And the dissidents must show that they are not afraid of the thugs. Mousavi has said that they must use flowers, not guns, since he must aim at the disintegration of the armed killers, not at winning a gunfight."

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