New York Times: Beatings, arrests, show trials and even killings have failed to discourage Iranians from taking to the streets in protest.
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Beatings, arrests, show trials and even killings have failed to discourage Iranians from taking to the streets in protest. But those same tactics may be taking a toll on the government itself, eating away at its legitimacy even among its core of insiders, Iran experts are saying. The evidence? Leaks.
They began in December. Leaks about private meetings of the intelligence services and Revolutionary Guards; an embarrassing memo from state-owned television on how to cover the protests; a note about how the security services have been using petty criminals to fill out the ranks of pro-government demonstrations.
There is no way to verify the accuracy of these leaks. But the government appears to have grown so angry and frustrated with what it calls a “soft war” to overthrow the state that it recently made it a crime to be affiliated with many foreign news outlets, dozens of nongovernmental organizations and opposition Web sites deemed “antirevolutionary.”
Iran has always been deeply factionalized; even the ideologically grounded Revolutionary Guards is far from monolithic. That may be even more true today, since the outbreak of a political crisis following the disputed presidential election in June. Even among the most ideologically committed, there are signs that some recognize that the government’s iron-fisted approach to the protests is not working, and that it indeed may be backfiring.
“I think the purged and discontented officials are the sources of increasingly revealing leaks to the press and to the Green Movement of activities and plans by leaders of the regime,” said Abbas Milani, director of Iran studies at Stanford University and a critic of the government, referring to the opposition movement.
The leaks could be a symptom of disillusionment and, perhaps, of the supreme leader’s decision to marginalize all but the most loyal. Yet, while the leaks provide evidence of divisions, they cannot answer questions about how deep the rifts go or what they say about the trajectory of the crisis or the stability of the government.
At the moment, at least, few if any experts are predicting that the government will fall.
“There is enough commitment to the survival of the Islamic republic among an array of forces in the government and society to assure the continued use of repression and violence,” said Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii. “But it is precisely the ineffectiveness of the methods used in controlling the crowds, combined with the unsuccessful effort on the part of some very hard-line forces to cleanse the Iranian political system of all rivals, that may persuade some leaders to change their minds.”
So far, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has shown no willingness to compromise with the opposition. He also retains the allegiance of the primary levers of power — the leadership of the Guards, the intelligence services, the Basij militia, the regular armed forces and the judiciary, Iran experts said.
But it is possible that internal pressure could — at some point — force a political compromise.
“Since June, there has been much anecdotal evidence that suggests deep divisions between the hard-line commanders of the Guards and between the Guards and members of the regular armed forces who are dissatisfied with the election and its aftermath,” said Alireza Nader, an analyst with the RAND Corporation. “The extent of these divisions are hard to gauge, but they have the potential to weaken Khamenei’s grip at a critical juncture.”
The main opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, demonstrated his own willingness to compromise when he issued a statement last week saying that the leadership could restore its legitimacy if it took several steps to loosen its grip on the opposition, freeing political prisoners and allowing freedom of speech, media and assembly.
But his overture was ignored, and for now the atmosphere remains hostile — and the leaks continue.
Mr. Milani, for example, pointed to what he said was a credible report based on information from the Military Command for Greater Tehran that the authorities have used criminals and prostitutes to intimidate protesters and fill the ranks of pro-government demonstrations.
“I was told the police call them ‘percentage ladies,’ and they come from the ranks of women arrested for a variety of petty crimes,” the note said. “The smartest are handpicked and then offered their freedom in exchange for working for intelligence” or the Revolutionary Guards.
On Jan. 2, the Rouydad News Web site said that an opposition supporter within the Guards, or I.R.G.C., provided a detailed account of the funeral for Ali Moussavi, the assassinated nephew of the opposition leader, which was controlled by the Guards’ internal intelligence service.
“From early in the morning, the I.R.G.C. intelligence people arranged with, the telecommunications organization, that mobile phones be cut off in the area of Behesht-eh Zahra cemetery to make it impossible for the people to receive word,” the account said. “The I.R.G.C. intelligence people told Mir Hussein Moussavi’s bodyguards to bring him only at the very last moment for prayers.”
Recently, a memo was leaked from the state-owned national broadcaster IRIB that offered a guide for reporting on the protests, including ways to undermine the credibility of opposition claims of brutality by the Basij and other security forces. “In continuing with the policies of normalization, pacification and clarification of national media to confront the sedition, the propaganda should focus on seditious people’s hostility toward the Islamic regime and Islam,” the memo said.
Apparently in another leak, at the end of December, the Jaras opposition Web site reported on a meeting it said was held to discuss arresting the principal opposition leaders: Mr. Moussavi; the cleric and former parliamentary speaker, Mehdi Karroubi; and the former president, Mohammed Khatami.
The participants were said to include some of the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence Ministry, as well as a representative of the supreme leader’s office. The report said that representatives of the Supreme National Security Council opposed the arrests while others supported the action.
So far none of them have been arrested. But if the three are arrested, if the repression continues and if the calls for executing protesters are heeded, some experts predict more leaks and perhaps more cracks in the leadership’s base of support.
“There will come a point where people within the system, from the Basij or Revolutionary Guards, will start to question what they’re doing and whether they can continue to be loyal to this regime,” said Michael Axworthy, a former British diplomat and Iran expert who lectures at the University of Exeter.