On June 12, as Ahmadinejad cast his vote in a polling station inside a mosque like millions of other Iranians, he lifted his forefinger in the air to show off the ink mark on it. Up until that moment, government poll after government poll had placed him ahead of his rival Mir-Hossein Moussavi with safe margins. As it turned out, the Interior Ministry and the hardline Guardian Council had also assured him of a big margin of victory regardless of whether he garnered enough votes. Yet the expression captured on his face by photographers was not one of jubilation but of angst and even anguish.
What in all likelihood troubled Ahmadinejad’s mind at that time was the spontaneous unscripted birth of a huge democratic movement that was about to splash onto the scene in mass protest rallies. Despite a brutal government clampdown and a constant barrage of calumnious state propaganda, the Green Wave, as it has come to be known, is now slowly penetrating every aspect of life in the capital.
In a few weeks’ time, this remarkable infant movement has miraculously redrawn the political map, revived the dormant civil society, broken down the noxious official ideology and shattered the aura of the Supreme Leader as some sort of semi-divinity. As one Iranian academic (who requested anonymity) observed, “In the space of less than two months this country has traversed the span of more than two decades.”
Moussavi’s principled stance on the election fraud and other issues has provided the Green Wave movement with much-needed legitimacy against the government’s depredations. In turn, the movement’s resilience has so far prevented the government from prosecuting Moussavi and has strengthened his hand in negotiations.
The regime is severely divided over what strategy to follow next. Some hardline factions are openly calling for a Tiananmen Square-style solution to the crisis. The more farsighted individuals and factions are counseling caution. They are concerned that imposing martial law and killing innocent people could alienate the faithful and turn the traditionalist clerics of Qom against the government. Yet, as the July 9 clashes with the police demonstrated, the protest movement is taking root in the society, and if it goes unchecked, it could be just a matter of time before it spreads to other cities and localities. Moreover the continuation of the movement is driving a stake into the heart of the official ideology of the guardianship of the jurist which is premised on the pseudo-infallibility of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. By repeatedly ignoring Khamenei’s injunctions to recognize the Ahmadinejad government and to cease their protests, Moussavi and his Green Wave movement have struck a devastating blow to the guardianship of jurist ideology, which posits a direct-line descent from God to the Prophet to the Hidden Imam to Khamenei.
What’s more, the Ahmadinejad government will likely have a tough time in the next four years managing the economy and the state while a robust civil disobedience movement is thriving in the country. Already, Tehran’s economy has entered a mild recession, dragged down by the weeks-long protests and the symbolic acts of resistance such as withdrawing money from government-owned banks.
The protest movement has robbed the government of much of its international legitimacy in its dealings with the outside world. But according to the academic, the Green Wave movement has very little chance of toppling the regime or, even if it did manage to do so, remaining in power given that there are up to a million hard-core supporters of the regime in Iran. “There are officially 140,000 individuals who have signed up for suicide missions,” said the academic. “Of these perhaps 5 percent could be said to be serious candidates for the job. That is roughly 7,000 individuals. Who could run a country with 7,000 such individuals in a permanent state of opposition?” According to this scholar, the present situation is a lose-lose game for the Green Wave in the long term. “A compromise solution would be the best possible deal for Iran–one that ends the dictatorial rule of the hardliners while giving them a share of the control over the political and cultural life according to their social weight in society.” Moussavi is said to favor this solution himself. Last month in a verbal exchange with a Grand Ayatollah who had urged moderation on the Green Wave, Moussavi indicated some vague interest in a compromise deal if the Grand Ayatollah would personally intercede in the negotiations.
All this is at the level of speculation only. While the hardliners cling tenaciously to power and speak of bathing the democratic movement in blood, a compromise deal remains a distant possibility.