04 November, 2009

The slow revolution

Today was an important day in Iran's history - 13 Aban, the anniversary of the day that Islamicist students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and began a hostage crisis that would last 444 days. While this day has usually been marked in Iran by state-sponsored anti-US protests, today was a little different:

The pro-reform movement, again spreading news largely through social media, has once again turned out in what appears to be impressive force in an apparently deliberate attempt to embarrass the regime on one of its most mythologically potent days. Watching most of the news coverage of the past couple months, there's been a sense that the moment has passed, the movement has been surpressed and the momentum has died. In reality however, what we appear to be seeing is a long-term, cyclical pacing that eerily mirrors the 1979 revolution. Remember, it was more than a year, between 1978 and 1979, from when the protests started to when the Shah finally took his leave of Iran.

The reformists are not going away. The regime has missed its chance to crush them decisively, and it threw away its chance to co-opt them by allowing a run-off. The end result is still unpredictable, but Iran is a polity in tremendous flux, even when the movement isn't visible in the form of protestors and tear gas. Thats important to keep in mind when talking about the ongoing negotiating process - what kind of decisions is this regime capable of coming to at a moment like this? I am not among those who think that this should cause us to back off our policy of engagement, however - we must not do the regime that favor . The hard line elements of the revolution have always used noisy confrontation with the west to shore up support and justify draconian measures. Obama's open hand has thrown them off balance.

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