The Current Discussion: What do your heart and head tell you as you look at pictures, videos, and other kinds of stories from Iran? Should the world help the protesters--and how?
Iran is passing through a defining moment, a moment where either the desire for change will triumph or the conservative forces that have shackled progress will win yet again. Iran has had two reformist presidents in the past; while their impact may have been limited, both Rafsanjani and Khatami laid the foundation for Mir Hussein Moussavi to be able to appeal to Iran's youth on a platform of change.
Images from the demonstrations powerfully convey Iran's agony, but there is a bigger issue here. Moussavi is not the charismatic leader who can lead a revolution. His message and appeal has been widespread, but the fire that is needed for the reformists to make that change is simply not there. Rafsanjani's voice, while many see it as powerful considering that he heads the Assembly of Experts, is a liability for Moussavi: Rafsanjani represents huge business interests and sees the Moussavi movement as a means to protect those interests. Ayatollah Khameni, too, has a large business and political base that he wishes to protect. This battle is not just Ahmadinajed versus Moussavi, but more a bigger battle for spiritual control of Iran.
I believe the most important voice in all this is that of Ayatollah Montazeri. He is highly revered as a spiritual leader, perhaps with the best standing to be the Grand Spiritual Leader of Iran, and he has already spoken out against the arrests of people who are expressing dissent. He has criticized the government in its handling of the elections and has questioned whether Ayatollah Khameni is taking sides. The most powerful impetus for the movement for change would be for Ayatollah Montazeri to come out onto the streets of Tehran in support of the people asking for fairness and justice. I believe this is would be the most defining moment for Iran and the Iranian people. Most importantly, the Qom Clergy will follow Montazeri more willingly than Ayatollah Khameni; while Montazeri may agree to moving more power to the elected representatives, he will bring back the clergy into a more spiritual role.
The world has been relatively silent about Iranian affairs over the last few months. The Arab world is somehow suggesting that it will be unaffected by change in Iran, or lack thereof, forgetting that Iranian influence in the Gulf region is of paramount importance. An imploding Iran dragged into chaos will not benefit anyone, and clearly a massive change on the back of the Moussavi movement will also mean that a push towards more democratic reforms will be the order of the day. We all forget that Iran is the only Muslim country in the Middle East where "one man, one vote" results in an elected parliament. No matter how the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leaders roles plays into the structure of government, it is nevertheless a power of the people and it is the frustration of that rigged election that has sent people into the streets.
The United States not saying too much about the election is good, because the last thing that the Moussavi camp needs is to be accused of working for the United States. President Obama's statements were spot on: his wish for the Iranian people to make their OWN choices is important. The test is whether this choice be expressed. World leaders can press upon Iran the need for restraint and calm and to allow the peaceful expression of opinion to continue. However the lines are being drawn hard and even peaceful marches will be met by government forces. The world community will have to decide whether silence or condemnation is the answer. Will we continue to say that this is an internal matter for Iran? Whatever happens, my belief is that the Iranian people are very strong and very politically motivated and I am sure they will have the final say.
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