Sunday, June 21, 2009
As we know it, at least. Nobody knows what sort of new system is going to emerge from the events of the past few weeks, but it has become quite clear that the system as we know it will not be able to sustain itself for much longer. Whether this means days, weeks or a few years is hard to say.
The biggest reason for this is a very simple one: the current regime is fighting not just against opposition forces, but against a very potent enemy that could best be described as an erosion of national morale. The only way for a certain system of government in a country to exist is if those that work for it believe it to be the best system available at the time, and that radical changes just aren't worth doing. Even in some of the best-run countries in the world there is always a harping on the government by the media for change, but in well-run countries these are always fairly incremental: perhaps salaries for politicians are too high, health care is a mess, the leader of the country is an idiot, etc. etc., but none of these ever compromise the basic morale of the country where those that live in it see their system as being good enough for the moment, and malleable enough to change for the better. In other words, people that live in countries like that just don't find enough fault in them to rock the boat by trying something completely new.
Iran was able to maintain this before the election on June 12th. The previous landslide victories by Khatami before and the huge rallies for Mousavi in this election were seen as proof that even though the country was still being run by a Supreme Leader, the average person in the street still had a voice and was able to bring about incremental change in the way the country was run. The Supreme Leader would still be the Supreme Leader, but with the election of a new president a kinder (and more intelligent) face to the world was a possibility.
After the elections though, and especially after the 19th with Khamenei's speech and the crackdown the next day, it has become more than clear that there is no way to bring about the incremental change that citizens need to be able to bring about in order to stay loyal to their country's current system. Khamenei made it perfectly clear that the election would not be contested, that he favoured one candidate over the others, and that no more dissent would be tolerated. A ridiculous move considering Iran's recent history, as it wasn't all that long ago that they overthrew another leader that advocated his way or nothing else.
With this, the current system has undermined its legitimacy in the eyes of the opposition. Before the election the Ahmadinejad-supporting camp was seen as a part of the system that could be voted out of office with enough effort, but now it has become clear that the entire system itself is flawed and needs to go. This is the entropy in national morale that has brought about the end of other governments in recent years (Serbia, Georgia), and is seen most clearly in the form of riot police simply deciding that they care more about the people demonstrating in front of them than the government that hired them.
This erosion of national morale is also seen in other areas as well. Once a government begins to be seen as legitimate, all of a sudden every cent (toman) paid in taxes is seen as support for an unlawful regime, every statement made on national media is suddenly more suspect than before, those working within the government that feel sympathetic may decide to leak information that they wouldn't have before. It's this constant erosion of belief in the legitimacy of the system that weakens it and eventually brings it to an end.
The only question is how long this will take. Serbia (Yugoslavia) for example had mass protests in 1996 and 1997, but it wasn't until 2000 that it resulted in the downfall of the government. Sometimes a government can survive by making huge concessions, but Iran is probably too late for that. The video of the young woman killed yesterday (Neda) itself is turning out to be a huge symbol of just what the current system stands for - a government that is willing to execute the young in order to stay in power. How many within the government are willing to give their all for the current system when the results have become so clear?
Some other links on this subject:
Even state-run media is running articles like this one
A supreme leader loses his aura
I'll begin keeping track of events again as they happen later in the day.
One quick note a few hours later: there's also a strong possibility that the Islamic Republic of Iran could continue to exist with the same name but a vastly different system in the end. An IRI with an elected president (and fair elections) instead of a Supreme Leader would IMO be a completely different country from the one existing now, even if it ended up keeping the same name in the end. Don't forget that names themselves mean very little - the Korea with Democratic in the name is the one without any form of democracy, and as Jon Stewart put it, the Canadian Conservative Party's US equivalent would be Gay Nader Fans for Peace. Titles mean very little.