‘A specter is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called ‘dissent.’ . . . It was born at a time when this system, for a thousand reasons, can no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity. What is more, the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures,” wrote Czech dissident writer and later president Vaclav Havel in his seminal 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless.”
Havel’s essay proved prophetic. State control of citizens did not last for long. The very moment that ordinary citizens risked trouble with the police and refused to follow the party line at every turn — the humble grocer in Prague, for example, took down the party slogans he’d been displaying over his onions and carrots — the very foundations of Communist regimes began shaking.
For the past six months, the foundations of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been shaking. No longer spellbound by Islamist ideology, hundreds of thousands if not millions of Iranians are listening to their consciences rather than the tune of opportunism or fear of the mighty state. Iranian citizens demand answers in the aftermath of a fraudulent presidential election. Rather than shouting “Death to America” at Orwellian “Hate Weeks” and rallies of the state — designed to create hatred for imagined “enemies of the revolution” — Iranians shout “Death to the Dictator.”
In its response to anti-regime demonstrations of the Ashoura days of mourning, the Islamic Republic had to “order” all public-sector employees out to pro-government rallies Tuesday and Wednesday. But the “epic demonstrations” hardly lived up to the language of the official propaganda — they were small, revealing that the citizens are breaking the rules of the game. Many could be found attending another demonstration, the one summoned to by the opposition Thursday, ignoring threats of the Law Enforcement Forces and the Revolutionary Guards. It is as if the citizens have no fear of the oppressive state. Prevailing over this fear marks a new chapter in the struggle of citizens against the state in Iran.
– Ali Alfoneh is a visiting research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.