Posted with the permission of Gary’s Choices
By Gary Sick
Michelle Moghtader of CNN has collected a set of reasons why Iran is not experiencing the same kind of turmoil as are other countries in the Middle East. The commentators she quotes are expert, and their reasons are sensible.
Basically, they say, Iran has recently had a revolution and is reluctant to repeat the experience; it already had its own full-blown revolt in 2009 that was brutally suppressed, with most of its leaders still imprisoned; the Iranian leadership has been able to maintain its coherence in the face of opposition; and the regime benefits from having been in radical opposition to the West for many years; among other things.
I generally agree, but I would add that the regime has maintained absolute unity with the security forces, specifically the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, unlike Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen where the military split away from the leadership.
Bahrain and Syria are cases of unity between leaders and the military, and they also are not collapsing at the first push. However, if popular opposition continues on a large scale (as in Syria), the military may tire of shooting their fellow citizens and begin to put some space between themselves and a murderous regime. There are some small signs that that is beginning to happen in Syria.
Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian dissident who was one of the leaders of the Tahrir Square rebellion, tells CNN that the 2009 uprising in Iran was inspiring and instructive to the Egyptian protesters. Perhaps before this is over we are going to go full circle.
Will the Iranian Green Movement, which has gone underground almost to the point of invisibility, take heart from what is happening in the rest of the Middle East and come back for a second round? That is not an impossibility, particularly since the Iranian elite is in the midst of its own internal battle for control.
Syria may be the key for Iran. Not only is it the channel for Iran to maintain its strategic political and military relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but it is also a possible template for Iranian domestic turmoil. If mass popular demonstrations eventually prove able to overthrow a crypto-Shiite (Allawi) political-military dictatorship in Syria, that will inevitably play back into Iranian internal politics.
Basically, in Syria as in Iran, the rulers have no alternative to complete control. If they slip, they know they will face not only overthrow but potentially much worse. They know what happened to their defeated opponents in the 1979 revolution, and there is no reason to expect that their own treatment would be any more lenient.
As Samuel Johnson famously noted, the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. That is what holds together the Syrian and Iranian leadership. And that is the obstacle that must be overcome if there is to be real change.