by ALI CHENAR in Tehran
24 Feb 2010 19:37
After the large-scale protests that had been hoped for failed to materialize, some blamed poor tactics. Others put forward a more sweeping analysis, pointing to the supposed radicalization of the Green Movement. Those offering critiques included a diverse range of veteran political analysts. Among them, the comments of Abbas Abdi, a longtime observer of Iranian affairs, struck an old chord--placing blame for the stalemate on people asking too much, rather than the political establishment's stubbornness in refusing them. He told reporters that the Green Movement set expectations too high, thus missing an opportunity to reach a compromise over the election results. He emphasized that it was irrational to increase expectations when the movement failed to persuade the authorities to conduct a recount. Another observer, USC's Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, wrote in a piece for Tehran Bureau of the necessity for "dynamic tactics" and "strong organization." He suggested that hardliners had learned from previous demonstrations and preempted Green Movement supporters from gathering on the anniversary.
These critiques draw the conclusions one usually does in evaluating past events. However both perspectives focus excessively on the shortcomings of the Green Movement and not on the political establishment and its supporters. It must be remembered that since day one, the primary slogan of the movement has been "Where is my vote?"
In the first week following the election, protesters staged huge demonstrations. They stunned Iranians--no one could have believed such protests were possible in the country. According to one estimate, 3.5 million people gathered in Tehran to oppose the election results. Maybe that was the golden moment. Maybe Mousavi should have asked his supporters and other protesters to stage a sit-in at Azadi Square until the government granted their requests. However, he did not. Demonstrators carefully navigated a path that avoided violence and provocation. When they were nonetheless attacked, government forces were blamed for their pitiless aggression. And ultimately, the spontaneous, spirited demonstrations changed nothing. The political establishment, Ahmadinejad's administration, and the Guardian Council were unmoved. No recount was promised. One week later, in a Friday sermon, the Supreme Leader validated Ahmadinejad's presidency. There would be no compromises, no solutions, no negotiations. The Supreme Magistrate had spoken.
Nevertheless, the Green Movement carried on. From the day after that Friday sermon, Iranian police forces proved that they were well trained to deal with such contingencies. Their tactics aimed at preventing protesters from gathering were well orchestrated, and they lacked in neither manpower nor crude aggression. Whereas the Green Movement avoided organization, the government forces' primary advantage lay in their coordinated efforts.
Certainly one of the questions about the Green Movement is why it has remained a grassroots movement and not become a political organization. One reason might be that it does not care to become identified with a specific ideology and risk alienating various segments of the society whose support it currently enjoys. In the past eight months it has instead walked a fine line, remaining a popular but amorphous phenomenon, encompassing all political factions and social groups seeking justice. It has avoided intensifying the conflict, avoided pressing for regime change. Rather than evolving, it has maintained a state of entropy. Yet over the past several months, its inclusive nature has helped it sustain its momentum and survive.
What the Green Movement has achieved already is enormous. Many would tell you that the events of the past eight months have permanently changed the social and political landscape. A new era has begun. Those groups critical of the government now map the very fabric of Iranian society. They include both traditional conservatives and secular liberals, progressive students and cautious businessmen, men and women alike. As one observer told this correspondent, "Everyone has realized that everyone else thinks the emperor is naked too."
Had Mousavi and Karroubi pursued and reached a political compromise, would the government have recognized it? Had they played the roles of leaders in more conventional fashion, would they have had the ability to protect and safeguard their followers? It seems many observers have forgotten the concerns these men grappled with, and the bloody, violent realities on the ground. The Green Movement has done more than anyone could have predicted. And it has done so because of the courage of ordinary Iranians. Without appreciating their challenges and sacrifices, their risks and persecution, one simply cannot venture to tell them what to do, what they should have done, or where they went wrong.
Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau