A coup and its aftermath

Even if the popular protests are brought under control, Iran’s political landscape has been redrawn: this election has engaged and polarised not just Iranian society but also the political class, both clerical and laity. These protests differ fundamentally from previous post-revolutionary protests including the student riots of a decade ago. The demonstrations yesterday are much more significant as they are combined with an acute crisis in the machinery of the state. This crisis will largely play out behind the scenes with complex machinations determining the ultimate victors. At this initial stage Ahmedinejad seems to have a clear upper hand.

Iran’s political earthquake clearly has domestic roots. As I have argued previously, the televised series of political debates between candidates was seminal. In particular, the Ahmedinejad/Mousavi debate broke established boundaries limiting discussion and placed before record public audiences allegations of corruption, misrule, nepotism, and even dictatorship. Was Ahmedinejad laying essential groundwork for his takeover during this debate? He pointedly linked Mousavi to both ex-President Rafsanjani and Khatami – declaring he was running against all three. Rafsanjani’s open letter of protest to the Supreme Leader following Ahmedinejad’s invectives yielded an ominous silence making possible Ahmedinejad’s coup attempt. Was the Supreme Leader too unsure, too slow to act, or was he already backing Ahmedinejad?