That was the first half of a brief documentary online, which gives you a rundown of recent events in Iran.
We had our Yellow Revolution; other nations since ours in 1986 have color-coded theirs; and now, it’s said, another one, a Green One, is taking place in Iran. At stake may be the future of the nation formerly known as Persia, as a theocratic state.
Ten days that have shaken Iran and in many ways, inspired the world, is our topic for tonight. I’m Manolo Quezon, The Explainer.
Let me begin with a passage from a book I’ve mentioned several times on this show, and which has a particular relevance tonight.
In “Shah of Shahs”, his account of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski observed,
Revolution must be distinguished from revolt, coup d’etat, palace takeover. A coup or a palace takeover may be planned, but a revolution -never. Its outbreak, the hour of that outbreak, takes everyone, even those who have been striving for it, unawares. They stand amazed at the spontaneity that appears suddenly and destroys everything in its path. It demolishes so ruthlessly that in the end it may annihilate the ideals that called it into being.
Filipinos are no strangers to Iranians. Since the 1950s, they’ve lived among us, after an educational agreement helped make our country a welcoming place for Iranian students.
In the 1970s, Iran became notorious as our Conjugal Dictatorship warmly embraced the Shah of Iran. Take a look at Imelda Marcos, shown being ogled by a European royal in the fantastic Iranian monarchical celebrations in Persepolis.
But for the Shah of Iran, there came a time when his modernizing, secular, approach to rule –backed, of course, by his secret police- inspired less awe and more resentment; seemingly overnight, his subjects, egged on by Mullahs, or religious teachers, stood up to the monarchy and overthrew it.
In place of what they believed was the decadent and corrupt rule of the Shah, an Islamic Republic would take its place.
It’s a state where… well, since most of you watching tonight are Christians and not Muslims, let me describe it this way.
It would be as if Cardinal Sin, before he died, made sure his fellow bishops elected Cardinal Rosales the Supreme Leader of the Philippines.
As Supreme Leader, the Archbishop of Manila would appoint the service commanders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the head of the Philippine National Police, the heads of Channel 4 and Radio ng Bayan, and also appointed the Chief Justice and other justices of the Supreme Court, and, if he wishes, fire the President of the Philippines if he doesn’t like how he’s doing the job.
In very broad strokes, this is how the Islamic Republic of Iran works; people elect their President, but over and above their president, is the Grand Ayatollah, the Supreme Leader.
But that was a system put in place thirty years ago. Read, watch, or listen to any analysis of Iran and you’ll hear seventy percent of Iranians today are below the age of thirty; that unprecedented numbers of college students are women; and that they are sick and tired of religious leaders imposing conservative beliefs on them.
There’s that trend, and there’s another one that came to a head ten days ago.
Joe Klein, in Time Magazine, paints a picture that should be familiar to Filipinos.
On one hand you had an incumbent President, Mahmoud Abedinejad, of massive charisma among the rural and poor citizenry of the country; who broke all the rules of polite conversation, and whipped up populist support for his cause. Klein describes him asa larger-than life, colorful, non-elite populist,
On the other, a candidate, Moushavi, with little personal charisma but respected by the middle class and urban elite, because he was a veteran of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, was once Prime Minister, had left politics to become an architect and educator, and who was viewed as respectable by an increasingly elderly professional politicians, in Iranian society.
Klein says that much as there was this urban versus rural divide going into Iran’s presidential elections, and in the background, a generational shift going on, it was after the voting that the trouble started.
Thomas Kaplan writing in Vainty Fair, put it this way:
…To claim Friday’s election results were legitimate requires accepting the fact that the Iranian authorities managed to process all 39.2 million paper ballots between the close of polls at 10 p.m. local time and the next morning, when Iran’s Interior Ministry officially proclaimed Ahmadinejad the winner with 63 percent of the vote.
The announcement came little more than 12 hours after the last vote was cast. Which translates to approximately 3.27 million ballots counted per hour, 54,444 per minute, and 907 per second.
There were many who obviously didn’t believe the results were legitimate.
Huge and sustained protests started to take place; and as they mainly involved supporters of Mushavi, whose campaign color was green, observers began to wonder if this was a Green Revolution.
At the forefront of the photos were women, some taking off their veils; and young people; young, educated, liberal, Western-oriented, it provoked, Judah Grunstein, writing in World Politics Review to observe,
Very interesting how globalization has essentially closed the age of the proletarian/peasant revolution and restored, on a planetary scale, the original revolutionary bourgeois of the 18th century.
His point is one we, Filipinos, again, can easily appreciate. Just look back to Edsa Dos: middle class, and students, urban residents, in the streets; and see Teheran and other cities of Iran today, and you can see a global affinity.
When we return, how the world’s coped with the Green Revolution in real time.
That was the second half of the online presentation on goings-on in Iran.
In the first part of tonight’s show we briefly explored some themes at work in Iran:
- An Islamic Republic where unelected clerics hold supreme power, and a contested presidential election.
- The election is contested because a generational shift is taking place in Iran, and because the political elite is split between the populist Amhedinijad, and the colorless but highly respected Moushavi.
- The manner in which Ahmedeniijad won led to a totally unexpected public defiance of the authorities.
The academic Hamad Dabashi recounted in his blog, three images that struck him, to show how the definance was unprecedented and highly symbolic.
The first involved doctors and the public.
Let me read you part of a young medical student’s statement, circulated on line and posted on Nico Pitney’s blog:
I only want to speak about what I have witnessed. I am a medical student. There was chaos last night at the trauma section in one of our main hospitals. Although by decree, all riot-related injuries were supposed to be sent to military hospitals, all other hospitals were filled to the rim. Last night, nine people died at our hospital and another 28 had gunshot wounds. All hospital employees were crying till dawn. They (government) removed the dead bodies on back of trucks, before we were even able to get their names or other information… This morning the faculty and the students protested by gathering at the lobby of the hospital where they were confronted by plain cloths anti-riot militia, who in turn closed off the hospital and imprisoned the staff…
This issue is not about cheating(election) anymore. This is not about stealing votes anymore. The issue is about a vast injustice inflected on the people.
The second involved a well-loved singer in Iran, telling the state TV to stop playing his songs; the way to imagine this impact is if Gary V told the government to stop playing his songs because it was a betrayal of what they stoo for.
And the third was the Iranian soccer team wearing green armbands in there recent game in Seoul, South Korea.
The government did not take things sitting down.
Last Friday, about a week after the massive rallies started taking place in Iran, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, finally spoke.
In brief, the Grand Ayatollah laid down the official line. The victory of Ahmenijad was too big to be attributed to fraud. Anyone who didn’t like it would have to pursue their protests in the proper forum, and with real evidence. The media, youth, foreigners, so on, were all put on notice: the government would not take any direct challenge to its authority sitting down.
The news, since then, has been of a crackdown. Accompanying the crackdown has been a clampdown on foreign media, and on sending text messages, using the internet, and other means to get the word out.
From the very start, part of the news about Iran was how Iranians got the word out that there was popular indignation over the election results. And sending photos, video, and audio of protesters being attacked by the police, by revolutionary guard militia, and even plainclothes thugs.
As, NYU professor Clay Shirkey in an interview, asserted on June 17 that,
[T]his is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media.
But is it enough? Turn on foreign TV news, since domestic news is basically ignoring Iran’s events, and you’ll still see videos of the resistance to the Supreme Leader’s demand for everyone to go home.
For those hoping Moushavi would be radicalized, because the young, secular-minded, Western-oriented urban and student rallyists would face down the regime, it remains to be seen if resistance to the Grand Ayatollah will be sustained –or sustainable.
And so as Douglas Muir predicted in his blog on June 18,
W]e see there are three possible scenarios. First, the government may be willing to use force, but not able: the security forces are neutral or hostile, and will not act against the protestors. This was the situation in Serbia, Albania, Romania, and the Philippines. All those governments fell….
While there are some reports of unease among the security forces, it appears the police and the military are holding steady.
Until and unless this changes, Ahmedinejad looks quite secure — green paint and massive street protests notwithstanding.
On that note, later tonight, we’ll be discussing Iran, in the context of Iran itself, the Middle East, and Muslim and Christian relations and aspirations here at home.