Saturday, June 20, 2009

Does the state have the upper hand?

Crossposted with From the Field.

Judged by firepower and control of the communications network it does seem to have the open hand. But this is not a one-sided contest at all. Provided the demonstrations are not geographically limited to one or two cities, there are several factors that favor the protesters even if they only deploy in smaller numbers in the days to come:

Dealing with civil disturbances is a labor intensive work. The natural response is to arrest the leaders and cut their communications, but those steps do not seem to be working to this point. People who are sufficiently inspired to join a demonstration at some risk to their lives constitute a movement not a bureaucratically organized unit. Particularly in fast-moving street confronations where wile, personality and courage are the currency unexpected leaders quickly emerge. As important, people learn quickly how to test, taunt and stretch the government forces. Provided the demonstrators desist from using deadly violence, their moral legitimacy will be enhanced. Plus, the government forces are hardly a monolith.

At least four distinct security institutions are involved in suppressing the demonstrations that have erupted since the June 12th election: The Pasdaran, the Army, the police and the Basij.

The Pasdaran or Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp have the primary mission of protecting the Islamic Revolution. The Pasdaran number more than 100,000, or roughly one-sixth the size of the standing Army. I have not seen any indication in recent days of any hesitancy among thePasdaran leadership in putting down the disturbances, but I have read some unconfirmed reports of a division between Pasdaran officers and troops.

The Army may be another matter. Soldiers share an heroic self-image as defenders of the nation and they certainly do not like suppressing civilians, especially unarmed, relatively respectful ones. Moreover, responding to civil unrest is hardwork. Soldiers hate doing it in my experience.

The demonstrators can scatter and reform repeatedly throughout the day and night. Meantime, the soldiers are on the job continuously with limited breaks. Morale can be expected to dip as the demonstrations go on; if they go on.

Police have the task of keeping civil order, but once the numbers of demonstrators grew into the thousands and the demonstration sites increased, they lacked the numbers needed to maintain order. At present, the role of the police seems to be relatively unimportant.

In the Iranian case, the Basijis are the heavies who use thuggery to intimidate demonstrators. The higher the profile of the Basijis in suppressing demonstrators, the higher the reputational costs for the regime of suppression. When mobilized, the Basij are supposed to be subordinate to the Pasdaran, but I cannot tell if this is actually the case at present.

Meantime, highly respected clerics including Grand Ayatollahs Montazeri, Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili and Saafi Golpaygaani have either condemned the government for its handling of the disputed election and its reaction to protests, or they have taken symbolic steps to signal their disapproval as in the case of GrandAyotollah Yousef Saneei (thanks to x for this information on Saneei). Saneei has traveled from Qum to Tehran's Jamaran Husseiniyya (where Ayatollah Khomeini lived) silently protest. (Also see)

What all the major figures in the ruling establishment must now be watching for anxiously is any sign that the security forces are losing the will to contain the demonstrations. Pious Iranian deployed to quell civil disturbances will be torn when their officers tell them to use force and the Ayotallah who they revere warns them that they will be responsible before Allah for following illegitimate orders (as Montazeri as already said).

If the demonstrations continue for many days, even at the reduced levels seen the day following Khamenei's speech, it is hard to imagine a beneficial outcome for the Leader. His reputation, such as it is, will be further chipped away making him even more vulnerable to criticism from leading clerics. Yet, if an even bloodier crackdown is ordered the regime may insure the unrelenting hostility of many millions of Iranians. Men ofKhameinei's generation will understand the gravity of risk quite well.


Anonymous said...

It seems that to some within and outside of Iran, it's not important any more if the elections were really rigged, as long as the post-election mayhem could be utilized as an opportunity to achieve their larger, long-term goals, however disregarding the will of, arguably, more than 60% of 40 million voters in Ahmedinejad's favor.

Because if truth were the concern then the media and pundits should address two related questions: 1. How did this mass voter fraud become possible? This is an important question cos if there was no voter fraud, then the primary excuse for the current crisis disappears. I have failed to see any attempt at reconstructing the presumed crime. I have read nothing about how many voting stations there are. I have read nothing about how many vote tally locations there are, and what methods are used to tally the vote. I have read nothing about what procedures are used to limit voter fraud. All I have read is the presumption of crime on a massive scale, with no plausible description of how this massive crime could have occurred. The argument so far has not moved forward than 'Mousavi was supposed to win. But he did not. Therefore, the election must have been rigged'.

2. If Ahmedinejad did win the election with such a huge mandate what were the factors that allowed him this popularity. By the same token, why did the opposition lose?

Anonymous said...

Following up on the above note, here is something a little different than the readers usually get from the abcnnbcbsfox homepage:

[1] The "Bomb Iran" contingent's newfound concern for The Iranian People

[2] The Guardian: Iran’s election result may not be fraudulent. Our
polling suggests that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory is what voters

[3] Reuter’s on Pre-election Polling: Ahmadinejad lead by a 2-to-1
ratio, greater than the announced results of the “contested” vote.

[4] Why the US Wants to Delegitimize the Iranian Elections

[5] Are the Iranian Protests Another US Orchestrated "Color Revolution?"

[6] Who Put the ‘green’ in the Green Revolution?

[7] Iranian Elections: The ‘Stolen Elections’ Hoax
By James Petras
Thursday, Jun 18, 2009

tylerh said...

"How did this mass voter fraud become possible?"

Simple. The interior ministry never counted the votes.

In past elections, it's taken three days to count the vote. That's because all the ballots in the Iran are taken to the interior ministry for counting. This time, the results were declared before the final polls had even closed.

How could all the ballots from such a large country as Iran find their way to the ministry and get counted so quickly?

Easy. The posted numbers were made up. Indeed, there is a little known mathematical method call "Benfords law" for spotting made -up numbers -- and the official results have the Benford fingerprint.

Anonymous said...

More circumstantial evidence.....

Anonymous said...

English translation of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi remarks on election:

Translation of Iranian Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

balkanization said...

Anonymous worries that we don't have any evidence of fraud and that we should perhaps assume that Ahmedinejad was the clear victor. But evidence is hard to come by because the government refused to let any observer near the polling stations, refused specific polling data, and, of course, refuses post-polling. What is probably true is that there is some real support for Ahmedinejad, although that is difficult to gauge because there are a lot of "supporters"out there like the police chief who state, "I have a family." Collaboration takes its toll on the soul. I'd venture a guess that Ahmedinejad won the most votes, although well short of the 50% to prevent a run-off. But, it also seems that much of that support is weak. All circumstantial? I live in the USA, and we got very tired of our most unpopular president, Richard Nixon, claiming to speak for the "silent majority" (who, by definition, haven't said a thing). I suspect Iranians have tired of having Ahmedinejad and Khemeni claim the same, unprovable, mantle. As for Republicans moving from bomb Iran to our brother freedom fighters, well international politics means you cannot choose your "supporters." It doesn't damn the cause.

Anonymous said...


source of all that??

According to the National Democratic Institute (, an organization founded by the US government:

There were 45713 voting centers. Each voting center has at least six people administering the election including a chief, a deputy, three secretaries and a member assigned by the governor. The candidates can introduce supervising representative(s) at the polling stations. Candidate representatives can be present at all polling stations for the balloting, counting and transfer process. Once a polling station is closed, the counting process begins. Results will be announced within 24 hours.

In other words, there were at a minimum of 274,278 officials involved in the vote counting. That does not count the more than 45713 Mousavi representatives.

That is a lot of people to involve in vote rigging.

Additionally, I've read many times, in our press, how it would be impossible for the votes to be counted so quickly. Since every polling station had at least 3 secretaries, assuming only they did the hard work of vote counting, and with 46.2 million voters divided among 45,713 stations, that is a bit over 1000 votes per station. I have no doubt, that 3 people could count 1000 votes in an hour or two.

balkanization said...

Excellent post from Anonymous and I am happy to change my view, except the source given is actually from before the election (it was a report based on the ideal of what was supposed to happen; and we know that as long as you are reporting on what is supposed to happen you can simply report what the government notes). Do we know any of these people were there? Do we have any reporting on the election? There are claims that observers were barred from the election centers Again, judging from the tea leaves, which is all we have, the present government would be likely to win the election. But the present government would not like to see even a sizable minority in opposition. And the crackdown on communication was much harsher, it seems, than in 2005 when there were also charges of fraud. This might all be besides the point. Revolutions are never lead by the majority, witness Ireland 1919-21. But when you have lost the support of the students, of those vocal, of the streets, you have, I think, a problem.

Anonymous said...

"In the Iranian case, the Basijis are the heavies who use thuggery to intimidate demonstrators."

In the Israeli case, the IDF are the heavies who use thuggery to intimidate demonstrators.

Anonymous said... 24iran.html

June 24, 2009

Obama Assails Iran for Violent Response to Protests

During a news conference on Tuesday, President Obama that the U.S. and international community were “appalled and outraged” by the violence against peaceful protesters.

[This from a President who refused to comment when people in Gaza were being mercilessly smashed. I know, I know, we can never say such a thing, but this is true. American values are clear.]

Anonymous said...

Iranian Reformist Clerics Speak Out

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