German Iran Coverage

The German press has lately also taken to covering events in Iran in a big way. First a couple of informative articles from the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, both from reporter Wolfgang Günter Lerch: here you’ll find a handy diagram (title: “Who has authority in Iran”) showing the formal structure of governmental power in Iran; helpfully, the most important Machtzentren, or “power-centers,” are outlined in red. They are, from left-to-right, the Guardian Council (twelve persons total, made up of six religious personnel and six jurists/legal experts); the Supreme Spiritual Leader, which is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (in English spelling); and the State President, which is still our good friend Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad. Then you also have this interesting article, entitled “Fragile state of many peoples,” about Iran’s ethnic and religious make-up. (If you visit, do be sure to click to check out the fantastic color-map at the upper-left.) We tend to think of Iran as Shiite and Persian/Farsi, but only the Shiite part is really true (90% of the population); the Persians make up only about 50%, followed by ten other ethnic groups, of which the Azeris are the next-largest. They are to be found in the northwest (near neighboring Azerbaijan, naturally), speak a different language that is close to Turkish, and boast a capital city, Tabriz, that is the home-town of presidential challenger Mir Hussein Musavi.

Meanwhile, commentator Karl Grobe has some interesting points to make in the Frankfurter Rundschau (Culture war in Persian). One thing people tend to forget – which he reminds us of here – is that Musavi has quite a hard-line reputation himself, harking back to the years he served as prime minister back in the 1980s, under and with the the blessing of no less than Ayatollah Khomeini. (I also recall reading that he played a major and somewhat cold-blooded part in the 1979 revolution, but his Wikipedia page is not helping me out here; indeed, the entry is surprisingly short, and what there is features phrases like he “has a reputation for ‘being honest, humble and a supporter of the masses'” that remind me that the inner-Iranian political conflict can also spread to this particular precinct of cyber-space.) Back then, during the Iran-Iraq War, there was surely no scope for maverick “tribunes-of-the-people” to attain any positions of political power at all, much less that of the premiership, so you know that Musavi had to have been a radical-religious team-player. For that matter, the very fact of his being allowed to stand as a candidate for president this time also has to attest to the Iranian Establishment assuming that he is “safe.”

It doesn’t seem that way anymore; what happened? Either Musavi really put the wool over the eyes of that Establishment – or, as Grobe thinks is more likely, he remains fundamentally a “safe” candidate, in his heart-of-hearts, but one whose candidacy and political role has been expanded by circumstances far beyond the man himself and whatever personal political and religious views he may have. Similarly, much analysis of the current power-struggle in Iran posits Musavi as some sort of tool for former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to regain a leading position of power within the regime. Many reports describe Rafsanjani as a “reformer”; Grobe, however, characterizes him as “kleptokratic,” i.e. mainly interested in being government in order to gain power and riches for himself. (It is known that he is involved in many Iranian businesses, and, for what it’s worth, his own Wikipedia article does state that “[m]any believe Rafsanjani to be the richest man in Iran.”) But the larger point is that the analytical framework in play here to analyze the current political unrest is merely that of an internal power-struggle within the Iranian ruling elite, whereby those who were once “in” but are now “out” try again to get “in.”

But it’s doubtful that those masses of hundreds of thousands, of millions evening, demonstrating out there in Tehran’s streets (and other major Iranian cities as well) are much interested in that framework, either. What this means is that Iran is simply in uncharted territory when it comes to how its government will look like – if the demonstrators (the “Musavi” side, so to speak) prevail. We can only be sure of the following: according to Grobe, the new Opposition

. . . is mainly a Culture Revolution in the Western sense. It struggles for freedom for literature and songs, it desires freedom and equal rights for women, it also wants to have music, film, and TV in the capitalistic Western style; but it doesn’t want to become westernized like a clone. It is Islamic; [but] it rejects the dogmatic Islam of the powerful under the Ayatollahs, indeed it abhors that.

In Grobe’s view, though, the guns that the Government can wield – especially the notorious Basij forces, the lynchpin of President Ahmadi-nejad’s power – are just biding their time to intervene and make the desires and ideological make-up of the street-protestors again irrelevant. His point is that this is an all-or-nothing contest; victory by the “Musavi” forces is sure to bring unpredictable, massive changes to the Iranian government (which, indeed, may not ultimately even involve Mir Hussein Musavi), while defeat will restore a sullen status quo. Sooner or later we will all witness which outcome it is to be.

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