Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Perfect Storm: How to Sink the Iranian Regime

Barack Obama's speech in Egypt set the tone for change in the Middle East. His words and admonitions for the Iranian leadership since its recent election have also provided a guarded, yet serious, warning for Iranian oppressors.

Although Obama and the rest of the world may inject their perspectives and thinly veiled threats for change to occur in Iran, it is important to understand that the mission for change is the Iranian people's responsibility. This will require much struggle, suffering and even death. It will require, as well, much organization and strategy, elements we do not read about very much.

Neda Soltan is a young woman killed by security forces, and hers has become the face of the movement. Her name in Farsi means "voice" or "calling." Indeed, her face as she lay dying has become the "voice" of this movement. Through her death, she has become a martyr for freedom. It is not a cosmic coincidence that Neda is a woman and young. Her face, her voice, and her person represent the future that Iranians are struggling for.

Neda's face is an extremely powerful symbol, but what is actually sought by the demonstrators in Iran, this Sea of Green? There are three possible levels of change that may be sought, and all these forms of change have been shared by various analysts of the Iranian situation:
  • Policy - more openness domestically and internationally
  • Leadership - Remove Ahmadinejad or, even, Khamenei from power
  • Systemic - Dismantle the Islamic republic and replace with a modern democracy
I believe that the first two are more probable than the final option. If the protests continue to grow and swell beyond the supporters of Moussavi and the demand for a repeat of the election, greater change may occur. If this is to take place, the strategic approach of the opposition must be carefully structured using nonviolent tactics. If they were to turn to violent approaches on a mass level, they would be crushed and thirty years from now they would be remembered as brave, but ineffectual, souls.

If the Sea of Green truly wishes to bring down the current, unjust system, there are various nonviolent strategies that can be applied. What needs to be developed is a "Perfect Storm" of nonviolent strategies and actions to sink the Iranian regime.

First, the organization and tactics of the movement must be developed in a "horizontal" fashion. In other words, many people at various levels must be "in the know" regarding how to organize and confront the Iranian power structure, which will attempt to destroy the movement's leadership.

If there exists only one leader or a few, the powers that be will have no trouble "cut off the head of the 'serpent.'" Already the government is arresting journalists and bloggers to try to undermine the negative communications coming out of the country. They have also already arrested or threatened to arrest primary leaders, such as candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's daughter.

On the other hand, if plans, tactics and training have taken place among various levels of the movement (the 'serpent'), it will have a greater chance of survival. And, the movement's simply surviving will frustrate the government leadership, which will ultimately make tactical mistakes.

So, how can the Iranian system fall or, at least, be pushed to make profound changes?

According to Gene Sharp in Waging Nonviolent Struggle, the "pillars of support" for the unjust system must be brought down. First, how are they upheld and continued? Through the obedience and consent of the people. Once the people refuse to consent to the power of the tyrant and unjust system, eventually they must fall.

What are the "pillars of support" for the Iranian system? There are four that typically uphold an unjust system:
  1. Politics
  2. Communication
  3. Military/Police
  4. Economy/Finance/Commerce
Picture four individuals holding up a mattress on the four corners. These folks represent the pillars of support for the mattress (the unjust system). As these pillars are brought down one at a time, the balancing act of holding up the mattress (maintaining the system) moves from difficult to precarious to impossible. This is what happens when the public consent of these pillars is removed in reality. The tumbling of the pillars in quick order can become a perfect storm for the unjust government. The question is: Will such a perfect storm occur in the case of Iran?

So, where has the Iranian opposition fared regarding these pillars of support? It has basically brought the government into question in the political realm. The political support has not yet been brought down, but it is certainly toppling.

The opponents have taken control regarding the communication of events on an international level. It is not clear yet how that has played out within Iran itself, however. This is something that we may learn at a later date, after the fact.

Thus far, militarily, it appears the movement has the advantage at this point. Yes, there have been people killed, but the numbers are far fewer than those that could have been suffered if there had been a full-fledged military reprisal. So, why hasn't this occurred? There are reports of division within the military, to such an extent that some generals have refused to retaliate against the protesters.

This is a huge reality if it is so! If the military continues to refuse to attack the demonstrators, the current system has lost tremendous credibility within Iran and allows for the relatively smooth continuation of the movement for change.

Finally, any economic impact has yet to be developed and realized. Moussavi has reportedly called for a general strike if he were to be arrested, but neither has yet occurred. What should we look for in this area of finances? Oil and shopkeepers. Oil is Iran's large moneymaker. If there were to be a strike in the oil industry, it could cripple the government.

In addition, if everyday shopkeepers were to support a general strike, the economic impact would be large, but the demographic impact would be even greater on the government and its survival. Khameini and the other supreme leaders would then understand that they have lost the middle, fairly conservative, support that sustains them.

Iranians have shown enormous courage and a willingness to die for their cause of freedom. At this point, however, the pillars of support for the unjust regime have only been shaken, but not toppled. There is much more work to do. The journey is still long and arduous for the opponents.

Do I hope that they come tumbling down? Yes! But I also hope that strategies are being enacted to bring them down, as well as to implement a just, democratic system in its place after they have come down. This will require the incredible courage displayed so far, plus enormous creativity to make it happen and to rebuild afterward.

Is there currently a perfect storm brewing in Iran? I believe it's developing. We are currently in the early phase of bringing down the the pillars of injustice. Nonetheless, the pieces are beginning to fall into place.

The storm is certainly forming. May the Iranian Sea of Green remember Neda Soltan and meld her memory with their emotional and spiritual power to continue to move forward. May they also find creative, nonviolent means to pull down the pillars of support to sink the autocratic system and to bring about a just and long lasting democratic society for the future.


  1. excellent! and I like your blog list too.

    jill chesler
    aptos ca

  2. thanks for the comment, jill! i'm glad you visited =-)


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