The rulers of Iran have a historical tendency to militarize the government whenever confronted with large scale protests and calls for a freer society. In 1953, the American and British-inspired coup was staged to kill Mossadegh’s national movement and created a dictatorship under the shah with an army general as prime minister. In 1978, the shah, confronted by daily protests and large-scale marches, put the military in charge and called upon another army general to form his government. Now, Khamenei is confronted with public demonstrations and marches as massive and as spirited as those that toppled the shah. He, too, is taking steps toward transforming the Islamic Republic into a military dictatorship, putting the IRGC and the Basij Force in charge while filling the executive and legislative branches with IRGC and Basij reservists.
Khamanei’s speech today was a clear affirmation that the coup d’etat that started last Friday to nullify Mousavi’s victory and to suppress a growing movement for change is now in full swing. The crackdown has begun. Foreign journalists were kicked out late last week to avoid coverage of the impending confrontation. Many Iranian journalists and pro-democracy activists have been arrested, with many more in hiding. Mousavi, Karrubi and other opposition leaders were warned of serious consequences if the protests continue. Rafsanjani has been repeatedly threatened.
The opposition still enjoys wide public support. The critical days and weeks ahead will show if the Khamenei-Ahmanijad coup can hold power. The opposition leadership cannot risk encouraging people to come out to protest if violent attacks by Basij thugs become widespread. At the same time, they cannot tell people to go home and surrender. The new situation calls for new tactics. A combination of general strikes along with smaller and tightly organized demonstrations in different parts of Tehran and Iran in the next week or so could be an effective approach. And regardless of the ejection of foreign journalists, the world will be watching and supporting the Iranian people’s drive to gain freedom in their country.
Rafsanjani can also play a major role in overturning the Khamenei-Ahmedinejad coup. He has the majority votes in the Assembly of Experts. The assembly members must find the courage to vote to limit Khamenei’s authority and create a leadership council to replace him. While Mousavi has become the leading political face of the opposition, it is Rafsanjani, the preeminent elder statesmen of the Islamic Republic, whom the world should be watching. He holds the key to protecting Iranian citizens from state violence and bringing greater freedoms into their daily lives.