The dramatic images of protestors in Iran fearlessly facing — and sometimes countering — the brutal attacks of the regime’s security forces rightly gain the admiration and sympathy of viewers in the West. They also leave many Westerners assuming that this is a preamble to regime change in Tehran, a repeat of history, but with a twist. After all, Iran has the distinction of being the only Middle Eastern state that underwent a revolutionary change — 31 years ago — which originated as a mild street protest.
Viewed objectively, though, this assumption is over-optimistic. It overlooks cardinal differences between the present moment and the 1978-1979 events which led to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the founding of an Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. History shows that a revolutionary movement triumphs only when two vital factors merge: it is supported by a coalition of different social classes and it succeeds in crippling the country’s governing machinery and fracturing the state’s repressive apparatus. [continued…]
The Green Movement is a revolt against theocracy. Most of its adherents are young Iranians with little or no religious motivation. Yet, an iconic figure of the revolt was the nation’s highest-ranking cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri; and, last month, Ashura, a holy day celebrating martyrdom, occasioned some of the movement’s most massive protests.
Perhaps the fact that the movement has acquired a Shia veneer shouldn’t be terribly surprising. During the past century, no social movement in Iran has succeeded without draping itself in religion or without a strong Shia contingent in its leadership. [continued…]