The revolt has only just begun

This is a guest post by Garvan Walshe

They told themselves they had founded a new form of government. One that set up bulwarks against foreign domination; against corruption; against the usurpation of power. They knew that political rule – the day to day use of power to cement state authority; the deals and compromises that are factor inputs in the manufacture of laws; the impossible task of rendering infinite justice with finite means – corrupts. Theirs would not be a crude theocracy, as they recalled Calvin’s Geneva to be. No. They would install a constitutional theocracy, with a Chief Jurist as its guide. He wouldn’t sully religion with parliamentary sausage-making; he would protect it from such unclean work.

In the sixteenth Christian century, ‘magistrates’ once imagined to do the same. Whether they inherited their crown or had their offices bestowed upon them by the knights and burgesses of the realm, they were supposed to embody the eternal qualities of their nation. They held an office of stewardship from God. His ‘vice-gerents,’ they ruled above ephemeral squabbles of party and clique.

But constitutional magistracy proved an unstable equilibrium. Power flows up, resting at the point of last decision. Iran’s Leaders, like the Dutch Stadholders, or the Consuls of the Roman Republic, would breach the boundaries of their office and become kings.

Representative institutions might continue in being, but as ciphers, ever weakening. ‘you pretend to’ vote for us, and we’ll pretend to listen.’ A regime willing to maintain this fiction can last a long time – years, even decades – but it must take care to keep plausible the willing suspension of disbelief. It may manipulate the press, but quietly. Intimidate opponents, but selectively. Rig elections, but subtly.

Ascribing 63 per cent of the vote to Ahmadinejad broke the spell.

Millions came out on the streets demanding a new vote.

The regime had a few days in which to back down, accept irregularities, and sacrifice Ahmadinejad to preserve the system. He must go, so that we can stay.

Khamene’i, at Prayers the following Friday, chose not to. He could not have been clearer: the system will not be reformed. La republique Islamique, c’est moi.

For the next week or so the police and basij rioted. Arresting those they could, beating up those they couldn’t. They limited overt violence (no tanks rolled along Tehran’s boulevards) yet this is repression unencumbered by the conventions of civilisation. They have taken the injured from hospitals, banned funerals, ‘to disappear’ has once again become a transitive verb.

Ten years ago the students had protested, alone, and were crushed. This time: businessmen in middle age, old women in chadors, the spell had broken for them too.

Last Thursday, to commemorate the student protests, thousands returned to the streets. We’ll never know exactly how many…

And the opposition has support among the clergy.

A Grand Ayatollah issues a fatwa against the regime Supreme Leader (the convention is that a follower asks for guidance from the Ayatollah).

A political system based on force, oppression, changing people’s votes, killing, closure [of organs of civil society], arresting [people] and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate.

(Translation by tehranbureau)

Now this was Ayatollah Montazeri, long an opponent of the regime. Their response: he’s senile.

And another, Grand Ayatollah Shirazi, who hadn’t commented on the election, was blunt about Xinjiang:

the political and economical co-operation between Iran and China should not be taken into consideration when our Muslim brothers and sisters are getting killed

Whatever your interpretation of Islam, the Chinese security forces attacking Muslims is not it. Lacking all legitimacy, the regime relies on force alone.

This coming Friday, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the insider who has been pushed into the opposition camp, is to lead Friday prayers at Tehran university. Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Kerroubi, the opposition candidates, have called on their supporters to attend…

The constitutional theocracy is over. The second constitutional revolution has only just begun.