Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets.

Roger Cohen in Iran sums up what Khamenei has done by his recent actions:

Khamenei has taken a radical risk. He has factionalized himself, so losing the arbiter’s lofty garb, by aligning himself with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against both Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of the revolution.

He has taunted millions of Iranians by praising their unprecedented participation in an election many now view as a ballot-box putsch. He has ridiculed the notion that an official inquiry into the vote might yield a different result. He has tried pathos and he has tried pounding his lectern. In short, he has lost his aura.

He has decided to use force to get his way, sending the police on to the streets to force the protesters away.

Garbage burned. Crowds bayed. Smoke from tear gas swirled. Hurled bricks sent phalanxes of police, some with automatic rifles, into retreat to the accompaniment of cheers. Early afternoon rumors that the rally for Moussavi had been canceled yielded to the reality of violent confrontation.

I don’t know where this uprising is leading. I do know some police units are wavering. That commander talking about his family was not alone. There were other policemen complaining about the unruly Basijis. Some security forces just stood and watched. “All together, all together, don’t be scared,” the crowd shouted.

And this use of violence by the state now allows Obama - who has sat on the fence for so long - to loftily declare that the violence must stop.

US President Barack Obama has warned Iran to stop all "violence and unjust action against its own people", after a day of protests over last week's vote.

Witnesses said security forces used batons and live ammunition in clashes with protesters, who had gathered in defiance of the country's leader.

Mr Obama urged Iran's leaders to "govern through consent, not coercion".

Mr Obama, in a statement from the White House on Saturday, said: "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

Obama has played this one correctly, by sticking to the principle that free assembly is a right, not a privilege, and by arguing for this principle rather than appearing to come out supporting one candidate or the other.

Now, we will see how this plays out. It's hard for me, sitting in another country, to imagine that force won't win the day. However, I do take some comfort from the reports from people like Cohen which suggest that the police are finding it hard to impose what Khomenei demands, and that they appear to do so with a heavy heart.

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