Endless columns of uniformed soldiers marching in front of a podium, saluting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; regime-organized and carefully choreographed “spontaneous rallies” of public servants and school children renewing their allegiance to Ayatollah Khamenei; the mass media keeping alive the “anti-imperialist” mythology of the Islamic Republic by instigating anti-American hysteria. Welcome to the Feb. 11, 2010 Revolution Day rallies in the Islamic Republic of Iran, commemorating the 31st anniversary of the 1979 revolution — a revolution that forever changed Iran and the Muslim world and has since served as a model for Islamist political activists all over the world in their struggle to seize power from secular governments.
This year, however, something seems to have changed and the regime leadership seems genuinely concerned about the Revolution Day demonstrations — fearing that the same mechanisms that led to the collapse of the Shah’s regime also would lead to the collapse of the so-called Islamic Republic.
On Jan. 19, 2010, Khamenei, addressing the committee in charge of the Revolution Day celebrations, stressed: “Presence of millions of people [in Revolution Day rallies] is a symbol of the Islamic revolution and the regime emerging from it.” Khamenei also warned the public against “enemies who claim cohesion [of the elites of the Islamic Republic] has degenerated into factionalism” and urged the members of the elite to “abstain from making ambiguous statements” that could be exploited in the enemy’s attempt at “planting discord.” A few weeks later, Ayatollah Emami Kashani, Tehran’s Temporary Friday Prayer Leader, in his February 5, 2010 Friday prayer sermon, begged the public not to allow anyone to “infiltrate your ranks [on Revolution Day] in order to chant that kind of slogans!” Chiefs of the General Staff, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Law Enforcement Forces have also warned the public against chanting “deviating slogans.”
The Iranian leadership’s concern is not unwarranted. Ever since the fraudulent June 12, 2009 presidential election, the Islamic Republic has gone through the worst political crisis in its three-decades-long history. The crisis is one within the regime, which has alienated large parts of the elites, but also large parts of the Iranian public — a public that not only challenges the election result but also, increasingly, the leadership of Khamenei and the regime in its entirety.
The regime has used every imaginable tactic to silence the opposition, the Green Movement. It has tried to split the leadership of the opposition movement and has authorized the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia to kill unarmed protesters; the Judiciary has televised forced confessions of former cabinet ministers and vice presidents who “confess” having started a “velvet revolution” aided by the CIA and the MOSSAD. But none of these tactics have proved efficient and the Islamic Republic has not managed to terrorize the public into submission. The Green Movement still manages to mobilize the public and, 31 years after the revolution, the situation in Tehran resembles the political crisis that led to the collapse of the Shah’s regime.
The revolutionary dynamics underlying the Green Movement are bound to endure. But revolution can’t easily be attained without significant struggle. The revolution of 1979 was the result of several decades of revolutionary activity; Feb. 11, 2010 Revolution Day protests against the Islamic Republic may not be the end of the Islamic Republic’s tyranny, but it could be the end of the beginning of the necessary revolution.
— Ali Alfoneh is visiting research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.