Thursday, June 25, 2009

John Simpson - "Secret voices of the new Iran" (BBC)

That title, I might note, has several layers of meaning.

John Simpson, World Affairs Editor of the BBC, left Iran on Sunday. A very interesting piece by Simpson, blending analysis, reflection, and historical background with striking anecdotes, appeared today. Some selections:
For reasons best not explained, I've come to know a former member of the Revolutionary Guards really well.

He's done some pretty dreadful things in his life, from attacking women in the streets for not wearing the full Islamic gear to fighting alongside Islamic revolutionaries in countries abroad.

And yet now, in the tumult that has gripped Iran since its elections last week, he's had a change of heart.

He's become a backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate who alleges fraud in the elections. He's saved up the money to send his son to a private school abroad, and he loathes President Ahmadinejad.

He's not the only one.

I had to leave Iran last Sunday, when the authorities refused to renew my visa. But before I left, another former senior Revolutionary Guard came to our hotel to see us.

"Remember me," he pleaded. "Remember that I helped the BBC."

I realised that even a person so intimately linked to the Islamic Revolution thinks that something will soon change in Iran. [....]

It illustrates the split that goes all the way through Iranian society. [....]

The 11 extraordinary days I spent there was my 20th visit in 30 years. I've been reviewing the material we recorded, taking a second look at what was really going on.

I think that these last weeks may turn out to be as momentous as the Islamic Revolution I witnessed there 30 years ago. [....]
But in some ways Simpson's piece has its own split personality. Despite the massive popular upheaval shaking Iran today, Simpson nevertheless thinks that what is central to the crisis is the culmination of a decades-long personal and factional power struggle at the heart of the regime:
It's as if the fabric of the Islamic Revolution itself has been torn; so much so that individual government ministers, civil servants, Republican Guards, senior military men, and all sorts of others, have taken sides, reflecting a power struggle at the very top. [....]

On one side is Ayatollah Khameinei, the arch conservative who keeps the Islamic revolution together. On the other, a cynical figure who has made a pile of money since the revolution: former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. [....]

But while the idealistic young people rally behind the slogan: "Death to the Dictator," I am not fully convinced that a Rafsanjani Iran necessarily offers the more open form of government they are risking their lives for.

Both sides in this struggle are strong believers in the Islamic Republic.

It may change, but it isn't finished. And the great mass of people who've taken part in the demonstrations could find themselves just looking on from the outside, as they did before.
Could be. Read the whole thing.

--Jeff Weintraub

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