I have posted here since 2006, which coincidentally happens to be the year I last visited extended family in Iran. My parents came from Iran to America in 1978 just before the Islamic Revolution, and I was born in San Francisco in 1979, having lived in the US ever since; I therefore have dual citizenship, being both an American citizen and an Iranian citizen. However, I had refrained from writing a diary on the recent events in Iran, limiting my opinions to comments, for one reason; my parents happened to be in Tehran for a three week vacation from May 31 until just yesterday, and I wanted to hear first hand accounts in person before posting an actual diary on the subject.
After speaking to my father last night, most of my assessments were confirmed, while a couple remained open questions - but I also learned a few new things about Iran that really surprised me, and I think are very important to share here.
A detailed analysis with some VERY surprising revelations below the fold...
What He Confirmed That I Had Already Surmised
My father said that suspicions were abound from the outset among everyone about fraud. The cities, where Mousavi was stronger, reported in first with the same identical 63% - 31% Ahmadinejad margin that held up the entire night, and the results came in far too quickly to have been believably counted, with a large margin that was implausible; my dad said that while 99% of the people he talked to there preferred Mousavi to Ahmadinejad, he got the sense that the rural areas in Iran still support Ahmadinejad, and that a slim victory for him might have possibly been plausible for the government to assert, but that the huge margins were simply impossible to believe.
He also agreed with something else I have argued on dkos in comments over the last week and met with some resistance: he confirms that the sentiment of the protest has gone beyond just Ahmadinejad, and is truly directed towards Khamenei. When Iranians yell "Death to the dictator", as my dad put it, and as I've argued for the last week, they're not talking about Ahmadinejad.
We also both agreed on something that is not too controversial and seems to be the conventional wisdom - that Khamenei is just trying to buy time with this investigation into the election.
When I asked why he thought the fraud was so shoddily done, my dad surprised me by saying he didn't really have much of a hypothesis, other than perhaps the task being handed off to incompetent Basiji or Revolutionary Guard that didn't know what they were doing.
My theory, for what it's worth, is that Mousavi's victory was originally acceptable to Khamenei, not really being THAT drastic a change considering the Supreme Leader is still the one in charge; however, it WAS a drastic change to have the kind of pro-democratic fervor in the streets leading up the the election, and (if numbers leaked from the Interior Ministry are correct) to have 3/4 of the Iranian electorate vote for the two reformist candidates, leaving Ahmadinejad and the other conservative candidate in the dust. Khamenei saw this coming, panicked, and a fraud was hastily assembled.
What I Learned
My dad laid out what will happen next in Iran, and I was surprised by a lot of this:
While Khamenei is buying time, hoping the street fervor will die down, they haven't given up on keeping Ahmadinejad in office yet; they will certainly jettison him to save Khamenei, to be sure, but we shouldn't assume they've gotten to that point yet.
First, they will likely recount a few towns, change the totals so that Ahmadinejad won but received less of the vote, probably less than 50%; there will then be a runoff election, Mousavi will win decisively, and Khamenei will be the hero who set things right - well that would be the plan in his mind, anyway. The people will not necessarily fall for this, of course, but whether they can keep massive daily protests going throughout all of it, week after week - and perhaps month after month - is a genuine challenge.
If that result does not quell the public pressure, then at that point, either there will be mass killings or the theocratic government will fall.
This was the first of a few big surprises to me: my father does NOT think the theocracy will sacrifice Khamenei to save itself. The scenarios being bandied about with a different Supreme Leader are, in his opinion, not plausible; there is no Montazeri alternative, or any alternative in his view - if Khamenei falls, the theocracy falls.
His reasons are as follows:
- Those loyal to the theocracy are loyal to Khamenei as its Supreme Leader; those pledged to die for one have already pledged to die for the other, and view the two inextricably.
- Montazeri has always disputed a Supreme Leader heading the government of Iran, so he isn't going to turn around and be one.
- A compromise with Montazeri as a figurehead Supreme Leader - which has been greatly discussed in some circles as a favorable endgame - would still require changing the Iranian Constitution, a measure so big that if the protestors get to that step, they're not going to settle for a half measure, and would scrap the Supreme Leader position entirely.
The second surprising thing to me as I listened to my father speak is that he does not necessarily believe that the Basiji will restrain themselves from mass killings of civilians, and restrict themselves to their regular pattern of beatings and just the occasional murder as has been assumed; he reminded me that during the Islamic Revolution, dissidents spread rumors that the Shah's troops who fired on a crowd were actually foreigners (Israelis) when they were in fact Iranians, just as claims of Lebanese Hezbollah being shuttled into Iran now are being made. My father said that one of the benefits of this as resistance propaganda is that it offers an olive branch to individual Basiji and Guard members to defect, as if to say you guys would never kill your fellow countrymen, only foreigners would do that - a subtle propaganda tool to achieve nationalist solidarity behind the resistance. My dad's point was not to critique this tactic, but rather to say that he would worry about any false sense of security that the Basijis and Revolutionary Guard will not kill lots of civilians if their backs are against the wall; these people have benefited greatly from the current system of government, and have committed horrendous crimes for which they would most likely be executed if the theocracy fell - they will fight.
The third surprise, however, was the biggest of all.
My father says it would be a bad thing for Khamenei and the Islamic theocracy to fall; he says it will be very bloody, possibly even leading to the fracturing of Iran into smaller countries along tribal lines.
He argued that change must happen very slowly and peacefully for the theocracy to be overthrown, and that revolutions inevitably always make things worse, never ending where they begin.
I argued that the American Revolution was the exception, thinking I had made quite the astute point; my father paused a second, and then pointed out that revolutions against external forces (Americans against the British, India against English, etc) are a good thing, but that internal revolutions in every historic example are disasterous.
I found myself completely unable to argue with that - and with a lot to think about.
UPDATE x1: Just for a little background on my dad, since I cite him so heavily as source here, he is a non-believer, as is my mother; like most of my family, they are secular, as only my maternal grandmother and a couple of her old relatives are practicing Muslims. My dad came to this country under a scholarship to pursue his PhD at Stanford University, and his timing in seeking a way of Iran out was no coincidence; as early as 1977 and 1978, he caught certain subtle signs that things were getting unstable, and that it was a good time to leave. While he is incredibly smart, we disagree very strongly on some things (while I believe strongly in civic participation, he believes voting is a waste of time, because the power brokers control both parties in America; while I am optimistic about Obama in most areas, my father has always been less so, going on about how only actions will make his words mean anything or show that he is different from anyone else - maybe he should open an account on dkos, he'd be way more popular than me ;) )
UPDATE x2: Rec List? Thank you everyone, I'm so glad that I went ahead and posted this, the conversation has been excellent thus far. In response to one question, I only lived in California until I was seven, and have lived in CT ever since; I have had the opportunity to visit Iran three times - twice in the last five years - but the only place I have lived for any extended amount of time has been America.
UPDATE x3: 10am EST the next day and still on the Rec List - since I have the eyes and ears of dkos for the moment, I will add a bit more. First, I sometimes hear the claim that Iranian society is much more conservative than us, and too religious to want to abandon theocracy; while Iranian society might be more conservative on America on a random given issue like, say, gay adoption, our peoples are actually far more alike than is known. In both America and Iran, major demographic changes based in great part on youth and technology are flipping the national consensus, and isolating what amounts to about 25% of the country - the hardliners - who could have sworn they had represented majority opinion until just a few minutes ago. However, all that said, I think the argument that ultimately takes down the theocracy in the long term is not one that seeks to fight Islam, but one that defends Islam; someone very bright and eloquent in Iran will have to come out and speak the simple truth, which is that the only way to respect Islam is to respect that it can draw in believers by choice - instead of implying that it cannot. Putting Muslim tradition into government law suggests that people will not follow Islam willingly, being forced to do so under threat of punishment by the state, and since only those who follow Islam willingly are true believers, such a state is detrimental to the Muslim faith, not helpful; in the years since the Revolution, religion has primarily become a lexicon for the young to get ahead in politics, while their true feelings about religion become more and more cynical, and the amount of devout believers in Iran has only declined. The only way to respect Islam is to respect that it can draw in believers by choice - instead of implying that it cannot.