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Fooling themselves alone

08 Aug 2009 16:0511 Comments

Iran's show trials resumed on Saturday. Photo/Fars News

By JASON REZAIAN in Dubai | 8 Aug 2009

As the trials of more than 100 political prisoners, charged with inciting the post-election unrest in Iran roll on, one not so rhetorical question keeps coming to mind: Who are they trying to fool?

These sorts of trials intended to restore order and pin blame in autocratic regimes may have succeeded when the proceedings were hidden from the rest of the world, broadcast only to a population intended to bend at the knees upon seeing once strong men reduced to emaciated ghosts of themselves. Public displays of intimidation like these may have terrified Soviet citizens in the 1930's to silence, but the now cliched comparison doesn't fit this situation. It appears that times have changed.

For one thing, Iran in 2009 is not as cut off from the rest of the world as many believe it to be. The population's use of modern tools of communication, and the large number of English speakers assures that as a nation, Iran is informed about global news and opinions, in this case specifically about Iran.

Furthermore the trials are being put on by a segment of the government, which doesn't entirely control the media. Iran's system is not a totalitarian autocracy nor has it ever been. These staged events might still be effective in Cuba or North Korea, but they aren't going to work in Iran, where a relatively vibrant press is openly debating the legitimacy of the trials.

On the surface it seems like one more miscalculation by the state in a long series of them dating back to the announcement of the official election results, however one cannot be so sure. Some who have lived under this regime their entire lives doubted that hypothesis; as they would remark, "These guys know what they are doing. It's just another trick. How else do you think they've stayed in power this long?"

Perhaps the trick this time is that there is no trick at all, only a weakened leadership fighting to hold onto its diminishing sense of power; the facade of simply being in control, making it so.

This would make sense, as Iran has always operated on a set of "as if" rules. Although this time, given the number of questionable stories the people of Iran have been asked to accept, it seems unlikely that they will ever again be able to take this regime seriously.

One of the confessions that has sparked the most debate is that of former Vice President under Khatami, Ali Abtahi. Among his remarks he stated that:

"After the election in a meeting Hashemi [Rafsanjani], Mousavi and Khatami swore to have one another's backs and I personally don't understand what the meaning of this backing is after an 11 million vote difference. The election was great and 40 million votes is not something that we can easily overlook. This was a victory for Iran."

He continued by denouncing his allies, saying that, "Maybe Khatami had his reasons, maybe Mousavi didn't know the country that well. But Khatami, with all the respect that I have for him, on the contrary knew the situation well. He was well aware of the Leader's capabilities and authority, but he went along with Mousavi due to certain incidents."

As, Maleheh, a 27-year-old secretary in Tehran told me, "No one blames (former VP) Abtahi. We understand that the words he says are not his own. Even taxi drivers are saying that this is a show."

"Speechless is the best way to describe the absurdity of the situation when you see the defendant argue for the prosecution," remarked one local journalist who asked not to be named. One theory, which she holds is that the confessions are to be taken as a series of public apologies for going against the Supreme Leader.

So perhaps it's the international community that these trials are intended to sway, but again, I doubt it. Public opinion on the situation in Iran is squarely on the side of the people and their vote. The handful of politicians and commentators abroad who support the shenanigans that have gone on are misguided idealists who will one day recognize themselves to be on the wrong side of history. We needn't worry about them, because no one--including the regime in Tehran--takes them at all seriously.

At times it seems as though we've been watching an old play, and not a very interesting one at that. If it is nothing more than a botched attempt to reduce dissent through intimidation coupled with using forced confessions to de-legitimize opposition, I think that is a recipe for failure.

If we've learned anything about the Iranian public over the past six weeks it's that 1) they have proven themselves very savvy at getting news from inside Iran to the outside world, and 2) they no longer buy into what the government tells them. Therefore, the trials fail on two counts, and all that's left is the crass humiliation of once dignified public figures, and even that's failing.

It more than likely has the desired effect of scaring off Iranians abroad who would like to come back and join in the fray. Despite having an opinion, very few of those commenting seem to have it in them to actually take that leap (yours truly included).

However, there's little on the ground we could offer in terms of help any way. With or without support from the outside world, everyday Iranians will continue this fight themselves. Still, they have yet to create a reasonable vision of what they would like to see replace their current situation. Anyone can protest against that which they despise, creating a viable alternative is a quest that has thus far eluded Iranians.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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My own feelings are that the people of Iran want an honest government that work for the people and keep them safe while supporting thier religeous beliefs. I don't think that the current system can continue to work because even though the rulers are clerics they still have human desires such as power and money and as seen in the past 6 weeks they are being threathed by the people to take that power away. What get's me is all the people wanted was a leader that listened to thier views and treated them with respect, but because of the fraudulent vote and the refusal of the leaders to investigate the fraud the leaders have created such dissent that the people now want the gov't to change completely.

Lyle / August 8, 2009 2:28 PM

They shot themselves in the foot by not having a true election. It was just so lopsided that any intellegent person can see that there was no way that that many people would vote for A-jad given the current state of the economy in Iran. There plan backfired. If he had won by 100,000 votes everyone would have probably accepted the loss but millions come on. Too many people wanted him gone for that to happen. If you look at the pictures of the ballots during the recount you can see rolls of ballots with no bends indicated. You have to fold the ballots to get them in the box. How do you get rolls of ballots in the box? Also many look as if the same person had wrote on the ballots. I'm sorry but thats enough evidence for a full investigation if you ask me.

Lyle / August 8, 2009 2:37 PM

They are making fools of themselves, and becoming absurd. But absurd people, like Idi Amin, can also be dangerous.

We have to hope that this won't end in a Tiananmen Square disaster.

Don Cox / August 8, 2009 3:47 PM

This is a comment from another thread which is not directly related but it explains wy the Iranian people really put their lives on the line, not so much for the fraudlent election which has been the norm in the IRI anyways.

From comment section of this thread:


"I do not know where the allegiance of the author is, but in the eyes of any nationalist iranian the ones who are praised in this article are participants in murders and directly responsible for 30 years of disaster brought upon iran and iranians and are fully responsible for the tragedy that we see today.

What we are seeing every day now, broken jaws, ripped off womb, torn away bottoms of young boys and girls, and delivery of dead 12 year old boy to his parents with broken skull, did NOT begin on June 22; it began on the first day that khomeini was in charge, and has continued, in various degrees, to this day. If there was an ounce of humanity and decency in ANY of these ideologues (Bazargan, Sanjabi, Yazdi, Banisadr, ...) they would have objected and taken opposite side of khomeini when they saw the first bullet shot without due process on day 1. Without such dedicated blind followers, Khomeini could not establish the fascist regime that we see today. Had they discredited Khomeini then, maybe we would not be here today, and we would be speaking highly of them. They had been screaming about atrocities of the Shah for decades, yet when Khomeini murdered more in his first month in power than Shah did in his entire regime, they not only kept silence but supported and praised him in various ways. They were Heinrich Himmler's of the regime that Khomeini was establishing and as much responsible for his crimes against iranian people. The kind of rationale brought here is already discredited in Nuremberg."

unitedforiran / August 8, 2009 9:00 PM

At this point the green movement of the people of Iran, is the only alternative to the bleak future of the middle east and south central Asia in the very near future. The only peace full movement trying to promote democracy in the "Arc of Instability"- http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Arc_of_instability is being conducted by courageous, smart and political savvy Iranians and it is to the benefit of the entire international community at their best capacity and their good will to support this movement.

The collapse of the movement would create a source of endless political, economical, and military struggles in the center of the gravity in the Middle East by the emerging fascist regime in Iran. These newly embolden power brokers would solidify their enormous network of operatives throughout the Middle East from the Gaza strip and Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain and Afghanistan.

This network is effectively has established itself in south-central America. They have increasingly made alliances with Russia and China and have become a proxy to challenge the United States and other western countries in a massive game of power struggle. This new extremist regime would use the shia Islam and revival of its power to hide its real intentions of challenging the efforts of the international community in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would take hostage the economy of the world and leveraging their control over the major oil and gas fields to yield their power.

It would turn back the clock on all the efforts in promoting peace and development in Iraq and Afghanistan and destabilize the entire region in a sectarian battle that would engulf Northern Africa and central Asia and everything in between.

Unfortunately the hands off policy of the international community have only encouraged the regime in Iran to continue its mass executions, torture and night raids. Now they continue their Stalin-era trials with their next act of the foreign connection.

Yes, the people of Iran have not been able to find the alternative but their courageous struggle have brought into light the true nature of this cruel regime and as of now the only power challenging the master plan of the regime. It is upon us to help them as much as we can and as the Persian saying mentions; drop by drop, it will become a sea. A sea of change.

Shahnameh / August 8, 2009 10:20 PM

As Hard as the mullahs are trying to make Iran into a muslim North Korea this will only create more outrage amongst the masses and will only alienate the people more

James / August 9, 2009 12:08 AM

This is a staged trial from day one obviously so I agree with the author here. Stop deceiving yourselves and people will not patronize this sham. To this regime and its supporters, let your breed be totally eliminated.

shetty / August 9, 2009 12:45 AM

PS. Let me commend the author of this article. Thank you for your wise analysis.

shetty / August 9, 2009 12:49 AM

they can parade these innocent people and force confessions out of them,all you have to do is look at their blank expressions,and see that they are just saying what they were told to say.who knows ,how much they have been intimitaded,china has really taught the basig,nice things.the same things that they did to their own people.

the truth will come out.you can not govern with intimidation and force.look at the history and you will know.

hope for free iran

fay moghtader / August 9, 2009 1:11 AM

Perhaps, this course of action was the advice about how to retain power by an ex KGB officer.

All fair-minded people of good will around the world have been convinced of the justness of the cause and inspired by the honest, passionate and courageous yearnings of the freedom loving and seeking people of Iran.

However, many politicians are cautious or even cowardly.

If a politician has not yet been moved to rally to their cause by the actions of the freedom seekers, he will only if he truly believes that the government will fall or his own constituency demands it so strongly that he fears their wrath if he does not.

Sadly, in my opinion, true leadership by the powerful who have much to lose is rare. Therefore, such people must be persuaded.

FreedomLovingMan / August 9, 2009 5:34 AM

Perhaps because the leaders do not get out and see how the rest of the world has moved so far beyond these fascist behaviors, they actually think that they can get away with this ludicrous sham of a trial.

We should be thankful. The jaw-dropping surreality of it all will only bolster opposition both in Iran and throughout the world.

Thank you for your article.

Roger / August 13, 2009 1:47 PM