Iranian political mood swings back toward the brink

Bob Tippee

Since the revolution of 1979, Iran’s political mood has cycled several times toward and away from upheaval. Now, the Islamic republic finds itself yet again on the brink.

Pressure on the mullahs who run the country comes from several directions.

Increasingly alarmed by Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons, external powers threaten to tighten trade sanctions against the defiant theocracy.

France, in particular, has hardened its position.

“There is no longer any reason to wait,” the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, told the Security Council this month.

His country, the US, and Great Britain have met resistance to toughened sanctions from the other permanent Security Council members, Russia and China, which say they want to persuade Iran by other means to quit enriching uranium.

Inside Iran, meanwhile, protests have spread and intensified—along with reprisals from the government and the thugs who enforce its oppression.

The Iranian citizenry is clearly tired of tyranny, rigged elections, and economic hardship. Protests have begun to target the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rather than political figures.

Iranians also seem to have had enough of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his claims to be preparing for return of the 12th Imam, a messianic figure of Shi’ite Islam.

For doubters, those preparations too frequently involve violent encounters with the Revolutionary Guard and “basij” militia, sometimes ending in notoriously cruel prisons.

Fractures, meanwhile, have widened in the power structure. No less a figure than former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who backed a challenger to Ahmadinejad in disputed June elections, has spoken against the regime of which he remains an important part, lately declaring it to be in crisis.

For that, he provoked an ominous rebuke from Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, who said this week, “Those who themselves are in crisis think the country is in crisis.” He went on to declare, as “an informed official,” that “there is no crisis in the country.”

Such heavy-handedness probably plays well among the powerful mullahs in Qom. Other citizens of Iran, where oil production averaged 3.7 million b/d in November, probably see things differently.

(Online Dec. 11, 2009; author’s e-mail:

To access this Article, go to: