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Iran: 1986 Again?

June 17th, 2009

Surprisingly, I have not heard much comparison between what is going on in Iran and what happened in the Philippines in 1986–namely, the “People Power Revolution” that threw out the Marcos regime. In both cases, there was a stolen election which led to mass protests which lasted for a few weeks until the regime collapsed. The two cases are hardly identical, but there are some interesting parallels.

One of those parallels is communication. In the Philippines, the government controlled communications, but one channel–Radio Veritas–was in the hands of the opposition. Those involved said that “Without Radio Veritas, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize millions of people in a matter of hours,” and “Radio Veritas, in fact, was our umbilical cord to whatever else was going on.”

In Iran, Twitter is the modern equivalent; it is being used to maintain communications, organize events, and keep the outside world informed of what’s going on inside Iran–even as the American media virtually ignore what’s happening. Twitter is of such value, in fact, that the U.S. State Department specifically asked Twitter to delay maintenance on their servers that would have caused downtime in Iran.

There are a lot of gun advocates who say that their guns are ultimately the only things which keep an oppressive government at bay; I think that this idea is simplistic and wrong. (In fact, we have seen quite clearly that all to many gun nuts are willing to allow the the dismantling of civil rights, so long as they can keep their guns; the dictator will be welcomed by the armed, not fought by them.) Of the revolutions in the last hundred years that unseated oppressive governments, most–if not almost all–were achieved by an unarmed populace. In fact, I don’t know if there has been a single overthrow of a government using personally-owned firearms in the last century. Armed uprisings that have been successful have probably been armed from the outside, not from mantlepiece firearms.

No, what truly makes the dictator tremble is communications. Communications can make or break an uprising far more surely than any number of firearms.

The uprising in Iran right now may ultimately fail, but if it succeeds, it will owe a lot to a software package with a silly blue bird mascot.

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  1. Tim Kane
    June 17th, 2009 at 14:10 | #1

    Excellent catch Luis. In regard to communications: where would conservatism be today without Fox News and AM Talk Radio?

    Also a good catch on the Phillipines as a precedent. I had been probing my memory trying to find the best precedent to this event to try to predict its outcome, to my own satisfaction, what the eventual out come might be. The Philippines is an interesting precedent that mirrors this situation.

    Politically, Iran has always been like a very active volcano, and the street has an excellent record of success there – they are 3-2. As I recall, they propted up Mossedegh in the 1950s, and after he tried to usurp all power into himself, and with the help of British and American chiding, the street brought Mossedegh down and installed the Shah. Then in 1979 they brought the Shah down and installed the current clique. The street has two failures in the last ten years. But the structure of what they are up against is much more sophisticated (allowing elections while still retaining control) and it has perhaps the most intractable ideology: “Revolutionary Islam”- hard to be revolutionary when the other side can be both deeply conservative, claim title to revolution, and has God’s backing.

    To a certain extent, it appears that they lack good leaders in the opposition. They got behind the Shah in the 1950s because he was the only alternative to Mossedegh. They got behind the Ayatolla for the same reasons. In each case they got behind the only person who was available to represent an opposition. I’m not sure if the current symbol Mousavi is much better. He came up through the hierarchy of the Islamic Republic. The real liberal appears to be his wife (and in general, I am taken aback by Iranian women, both for their political courage and zeal, and their physical beauty – some quite stunning.)

    What bothers me most about the United States is our political lazyness and lack of zeal. We have a health care system that exposes 50 million, 20,000 people will needlessly die this year because of it, has helped destroy our Auto Industry and our economy and jobs in a situation where the U.S. government already pays out more, per capita, in health care than any nation in the world except Norway (that includes the golden model of France) – meaning the switch to universal single payer would be essentially free.*

    (The compromise position shouldn’t be Obama’s public option because it’s expensive, but instead single payer for all with a private option – you can keep your private health care, but it would be redundant or you can have the benefit monetized and roled into your pay). Once upon a time Obama said “Yes We Can” now he’s saying “No, We Can’t”. American’s are being over charged and under served and Obama doesn’t have the will to do anything about it. American’s should, then, take to the streets and demonstrate. An afternoon walking in the street with friends would buy a life time of free** health insurance. The Iranians are risking life, limb and property, we have nothing to loose like that, and everything to gain. I am gravely disappointed in Americans.

    *See Top Graph on Page 13 of this OECD Study: http://www.olis.oecd.org/olis/2009doc.nsf/LinkTo/NT00000B6A/$FILE/JT03259332.PDF

    **Free, because we are already paying for it.

  2. Tim Kane
    June 17th, 2009 at 14:16 | #2

    one other thing – long winded again

    Over the long term, Iran is strating to remind me of France. It took a long time for France to arrive at a model with stability and democracy: First, there was a Monarchy, then Republic, then Empire, then Monarchy, then Citizen King (was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy but no one told the King), then 2nd Republic, then 2nd Empire, then 3rd Republic, then after WWII, 4th Republic, then around 1960, the current 5th Republic.

    Given that the Iranian people, like the French, are quick to the streets, eventually it should dawn on everyone that the system of institutionalizing the sovereignty of the people is the only way to stabilize the country. Still as the French have demonstrated, this can take a while. (like Iran, France had a strong, conservative religious section of its society).

  3. Todd Thompson
    June 18th, 2009 at 13:04 | #3

    Finally, someone caught onto the Philippines example. It seems to me that this is a much better analogy than Tiananmen or Wenceslas Square in ‘89, as others have opined. Macros held an election to legitimize his rule, and when it became clear he could not win, the deck was stacked. I think A’jad and his supporters assumed the same in Iran and had the same response. In the case of The Philippines, the clergy was key to the outcome. I suspect the same will be true for Iran, although I am less hopeful that the more entrenched and rigid religious elite in Iran is capable of sufficient compromise to allow “people power” to prevail peacefully.

    One more thing, most commentators say that the electoral outcome was either fair or it was completely cooked. I am assuming that the truth lies somewhere in between. From what I have read, it is plausible that A’jad was in fact the first-past-the-post, with perhaps even a 10-20% margin separating him from Mousavi. It seems to me that if there was fraud, it was done primarily for the purpose of making sure A’jad’s share was above 50%, in order to avoid a runoff. Apparently those in charge of cooking the outcome either got carried away or simply underestimated A’jad’s “real” share of the vote. The point is, one doesn’t have to believe that that Mousavi would have won in order to suspect substantial fraud. Mousavi wasn’t necessarily robbed of the presidency as he was deprived of the chance to fight in Round 2, the outcome of which would have been less than certain. Rigging elections is risky business; and as with Marcos in the Philippines, the Iranian regime’s plan has seemingly backfired.

  4. kensensei
    June 18th, 2009 at 17:42 | #4

    Do you, uh…, Twitter?

    I do not twitter but I’m gald it’s there as a resouce for revealing what goes on behind political smoke screens.

    Here in China, whatever web content is deemed offiensive or politically dangerous, is blocked by a govt web censoring bureau. They can literally turn on and off any web content (including Twitter, Yahoo, you name it); even turn off the entire web access in China if they want to.

    Sadly, I imagine it won’t be long before Iran gets access to the same kind of web-blocking technology. Then where will all those Twitterers be?

  5. June 22nd, 2009 at 05:33 | #5

    I think that things would be considerably different in terms of what the Basijis are getting away with in Iran if more people had guns.

    It’s one thing for them to be out there enforcing the religious codes- at least that’s semi-legit in the Iranian way of life. (I think it’s against basic human rights, but even Mousavi believes in the religious side of things- he was tied closely to Khomeni.)

    But right now they’re just running around putting the beat-down on people for purposes of power and upholding election fraud. I have to think that in this case, a couple of Basijis getting shot by some private citizens would make a big difference in how things are going.

    Right now, all the power is held by the guys who have pretty much all the guns. If they lose their **** and just start mowing people down in the streets, do you think that the outside world would be able to put a stop to it?

    I think the protests would break and the folks in power would remain in power. It went that way in Tianamen- shoot enough people protesting and they’ll quit protesting.

    I hope that the Iranian people can pull this off like the Philipines, but I’m not optimistic.

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