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Iran – a power structure cracked but far from swept away

22 June 2009. A World to Win News Service. Rage continues to sweep Iran. Young women and men are prepared to offer their lives to confront a brutal regime. The pillars of Iran's power structure have been shaken and cracked.

At Friday prayer services on 19 June, "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei firmly took the side of President Mamhoud Ahmadinejad in his electoral dispute with the opposition and announced that any attempt to repeat the week-long protests would be crushed. Nevertheless, thousands of youth and others came out into the streets the next day, knowing very well that they would face batons, teargas and gunfire.

The security forces tried to create an atmosphere of terror around the area between Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) and Enghelab (Revolution) squares. Nobody was allowed to gather. People of all ages were beaten indiscriminately. Then the security forces closed the cross streets to prevent those in one area from joining those in another. Some people, feeling powerless and discouraged, chose to go home. But thousands of youth had the courage and ingenuity to get around the obstacles. They gathered and marched toward Azadi Square. More people joined them and the crowd – tens of thousands according to some reports, hundreds of thousands according to others – began marching together from there. That was not the end of it. The protesters had to confront the forces of reaction blocking the way. Clashes continued throughout the day and until midnight. Some people who couldn't get to the main crowd joined another large march in Forsate Shirazi Street or smaller ones in various Tehran neighbourhoods.

People also protested in other cities, particularly Shiraz, Isfahan and Rasht, as well as others where confrontations with the security forces were reported. They faced special anti-riot police wearing body armour and the vicious club-wielding two-man motorcycle teams of the Basij, a volunteer vigilante corps led, trained and armed by the regime’s elite Revolutionary Guards. The regime presents the Basij as representatives of the masses of people, especially the poor.

Protestors shouted, "Death to dictators, Death to Khamenei, Death to this deceitful regime!" During moments when the reactionary forces were preparing to attack and moments when the protestors decided to break through the lines of the reactionary forces, they boosted their own spirits and the spirits of their comrades by chanting, "Fear nothing, we're all together, fear nothing…"

As the bullets of the reaction targeted the hearts of the precious children of the masses, this strengthened the determination of their comrades, as they shouted, "Death to Khamenei, Death to Ahmadinejad." A young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan got out of the blocked car where she was riding with her music teacher to get some fresh air and sat down on a kerb. She was shot in the chest by a Basij sniper and fell to the ground. People all over the world saw a video showing the last moments of her life. She was murdered on Amirabad Shomali Avenue just north of Enghelab Square. People in the crowd that day vowed it would be renamed Neda Street.

On some of the footage that has appeared, groups of Basij militiamen can be seen firing their handguns directly into crowds – and people charge them anyway, running toward them under fire until the Basiji turn and run – and are overrun. The regime says 10 people were killed that day; others put the toll much higher. Angry protestors set fire to a Basij base facility and two petrol stations that night.

Sporadic protests continued on 21 June and the cries of "Death to dictators" echoed even louder. The next day, the Revolutionary Guards issued a threat that they would put down any further unrest themselves. Until then, the regime often tried to hide behind the phoney ''civilian'' Basiji and pretend that it didn’t know who was shooting protestors.

An hour later, thousands of young demonstrators gathered in Haft-e Tir Square in the more southern part of Tehran to express their determination. They shouted that they would rather die than accept being treated with contempt.

The significance of this protest stands out even more when Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech after Friday prayers at Teheran University is analysed. Many people were waiting for this speech to see how he would resolve the electoral dispute between the president and the opposition. Khamenei’s speech was unprecedented, and shocked some people. He not only took Ahmadinejad’s side more enthusiastically than ever, but also condemned and threatened anyone who questioned the election results. Cheating was impossible in the Islamic Republic, he said, and any suggestion otherwise represented impermissible questioning of the Islamic Republic itself.

This was aimed at opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has tried to keep the protest movement entirely within the framework of the Islamic Republic founded by Ayatollah Khomeini. Khamenei said that the election was a referendum on the Islamic Republic and that the 85 percent of the voters who allegedly took part were voting for the system. Then, using very strong language, he threatened protesters. He demanded that the candidates pursue their complaints through the legal system. But he also clearly said he did not recognize the legitimacy of any opposition to the Islamic Republic. He put aside the unbiased father-of-the-nation role that he had long cultivated and came out as the godfather of one faction of the Islamic Republic, claiming the right of that faction to bully the whole nation.

This Friday prayer service was a show of force, since the heads of all the military bodies, parliament and court system were present to show their solidarity and intimidate the people. He was clearly issuing orders to the other factions to shut up and accept his decision, submit to his faction and call off all protests – or else.

Yet while the people’s uprising was what had terrified the dominant faction and made the people the real target of Khamenei and his clique, there is no doubt that the internal conflicts were what triggered the whole upsurge. This speech was the sign of a new stage in the deepening crisis.

This speech could be taken as a parallel to Khomeini’s speech on 18 June 1981, which marked the end of the alliance between his Islamic fundamentalists (including Khamenei and Akbar Rafsanjani, now Iran's richest man, a pillar of the Islamic regime and a powerful backer of Mousavi) and the so-called Islamic liberals such as Abul-Hassan Banisadr, who was president at that time. Khomeini stripped Banisadr of his title as commander of the military forces and forced him out of office. Khomeini's coup d'état and the establishment of the Islamic Republic provoked mass protests. But the Islamic regime responded with extreme brutality. The arrest, imprisoning and massacre of the communists and other revolutionaries started immediately. The reign of terror continued all through the 1980s until the Iran-Iraq war ended. Then to try to make sure nothing of the spirit of revolution was left, in the summer of 1988 they massacred thousands (according to some accounts tens of thousands) of the communists and revolutionaries who were still in prison.

Despite the similarities, the situation today is not the same. Most importantly, a huge and growing part of the people no longer have trust or faith in the regime. People who had not yet voiced any response to the political situation clearly shouted, "Death to Khamenei", a slogan seldom if ever heard before at any protest in Iran. Others shouted, "You want a fight, let’s fight – we are fighting women and men!"

But Khamenei and his clique are not the only ones trying to maintain the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic and the economic and social system this power structure serves. While fighting for the interest of his faction, Mousavi is trying hard to restore the "values of the Islamic Republic of Imam Khomeini". These are not words – the state system called Velyat-e-Faqih, the regime's foundational doctrine of "the rule of the Supreme Jurisprudent", is the apple of his eye. In a statement to his supporters he said, "We are not confronting the Basij, Revolutionary Guards or the army. The Basiji are our brothers, the Revolutionary Guards are the protectors of our revolution and our system. The army protects our borders. We are not confronting our sacred system and its legal institutions. We are confronting the wrong-doing and the lies, and we are seeking a reform that requires going back to the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution."

As the "reformist" ex-president Khatami, warned Khamenei, "When you close off the legal avenues of protest, you are in fact opening another way, and god knows where it may lead."

Because of the determination and persistence of the people's struggle, what began as a quarrel within the regime has brought Iran to a crisis of legitimacy and an institutional crisis. During the 1979 revolution, when the Shah could no longer hold onto power, the U.S. convinced him to abdicate to preserve the cohesion of the army and prevent the revolution from going any further. That's how that crisis was resolved, to the advantage of the imperialist system, and the people paid the price. The U.S. and the other imperialist powers have long done their best to determine events in Iran (invasions, coups, etc., not to mention the workings of the international market itself) and will do whatever they can to push this crisis toward a resolution that is to their relative advantage, which would certainly be to the disadvantage of the revolutionary interests of the people. Several observers have commented that American indignation about a stolen election is criminal hypocrisy coming from a power and a government that has for so long held up puppet tyrants like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, whom Obama embraced just a few weeks earlier in Cairo. When it comes to rigged elections and torture-enforced repression, Mubarak is hard to surpass.

As the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) said in one of their frequent leaflets addressed to the Iranian people during this period, "One thing is clear: We still have a long way to go on what we’ve started. People should prepare themselves for days and months ahead, to remain in the streets in different forms. The slogans of the uprising should become clearer and deeper, and the level of struggle raised so that it can seize victory."

CPI(MLM) communiqué no 6: "People Beware! Mousavi is not your brother and he is not on your side!"

CPI(MLM) communiqué no 7: "We will smash the state of siege!"

Saturday, Azadi Street, Tehran