A intensified crackdown in Iran in the next few weeks and months might make the post-election repression of Iran’s opposition movement so far look mild. Now that President Ahmadinejad has been sworn in for a second, four-year term, it’s widely expected that he’ll unleash the full fury of the country’s security forces, Islamic courts, and paramilitary groups against protesters and opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, and Mehdi Karroubi.
Last week, promising as much, Ahmadinejad made the threat explicit during a speech in Mashhad:
“Let the swearing-in ceremony occur. Then we will take them by the collar and slam their heads into the ceiling.”
The religious right and hardliners are already calling for the arrest, trial, and possible execution of Mousavi, Khatami, et al. Hossein Shariatmadari, the hardline editor of Kayhan, who is widely seen as a spokesman for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Leader, called the reformist leaders and their allies “corruption on the earth,” a term of art within Iran’s version of Shiite Islam that suggests the need for capital punishment. He wrote:
“Their unforgivable criminal activities include the killing of innocent civilians, creating unrest, and cooperation with enemies and foreigners. If these persons are not brought to justice and only the middlemen are prosecuted, a safe margin will be created for them to continue their instigation of sedition.”
Iason Athanasiadis, the journalist who was arrested and detained in Iran after June 12 and subsequently released, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, quotes several leading mullahs calling for the crackdown to be extended to the leaders of the opposition:
“‘Through Israel, America, and England, they are trying to arrest the progress of the Islamic Revolution and subvert it,’ Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Akbar Qoreishi, the representative for West Azerbaizan province told the hardliner-aligned Fars News Agency on Wednesday. He attacked opposition leaders as being the ’cause of suffering of the Iranian nation’ and called for their trial ‘without any leniency.’
“Hojjat ol-Eslam Qasem RavanBakhsh, the political editor of a conservative weekly, called Rafsanjani ‘the first chief of the unrest’ in a comment to the hard-line Raja News. In addition, he asked why individuals who were less involved been arrested while those who commanded the revolt safely remain in the periphery.”
And he quotes Houchang Hassan-Yari, professor of international relations at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario:
“The crackdown will continue over the next few months and will be extensive and ruthless. No one will be immune from repression…The line is traced and camps chosen.”
On Tuesday, the editor of Mousavi’s web site was arrested and his computer was seized. The show trial of more than 100 opposition leaders continues. And Tehran resembles an occupied city, with thousands of armed troops and paramilitary forces controlling the city’s squares and main boulevards to prevent protests. But protests continue, in the streets, and in the halls of power. The swearing-in ceremony for Ahmadinejad was boycotted by many conservatives, moderates, and reformists, and the Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric who ran against Ahmadinejad in the June 12 election, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times:
“Neither Mousavi nor I have stood back. We will continue our protests. We will never work with this government. We won’t damage the government, but we will criticize its actions.”
Problem is, Ahmadinejad may find it exceedingly difficult to form a functioning government, because of opposition in Iran’s parliament to his choices. And if the regime does crack down harder on the opposition, including arresting its top leaders, that could lead to even greater dissent. Within two institutions, in particular — Iran’s clergy and among commanders of the Revolutionary Guard — there may be far greater resistance to Ahmadinejad than is known. And if either of those institutions begins to crack, watch for signs that Ayatollah Khamenei might decide that dumping Ahmadinejad is necessary. In a report carried by Reuters, Alireza Nader, a top RAND Corporation Iran analyst suggests as much:
“Ahmadinejad scorns his critics, but several analysts abroad have speculated that he might be removed by the Supreme Leader or impeached by parliament before completing his four-year term.
“‘It is too early to tell if Khamenei will sacrifice Ahmadinejad,’ Nader said. ‘He has staked his authority and even legitimacy on the Ahmadinejad presidency. Nevertheless, Khamenei may be compelled to act if he faces much more serious pressure from hardliners within the political system, especially elements of the Revolutionary Guards.'”