June 19, 2009
The main goal of Khamenei’s speech this morning was consolidation. The recent demonstrations have been unprecedented. The Supreme Leader is aware of their impact, and the main goal of today’s speech was first and foremost to create some kind of cohesion in the system. This was done by emphasizing the large number of people who took part in the elections. He also tried to reiterate that despite their differences, his relations with Rafsanjani are important, and that any accusation against his children should be settled in court, rather than on the street or television screens. He also said he is close to Ahmadinejad and that his point of view regarding domestic and foreign policy is closer.
Furthermore, by warning the demonstrators to “to end street protests, otherwise they “will be responsible for its consequences, and consequences of any chaos”, Khamenei is setting the ground for the upcoming crackdown. As far as the Supreme Leader of Iran is concerned, the demonstrators have shown their opposition, and now, it’s enough. These elections are over, and the result is set. Opposition should be shown at the ballot box, not on the streets. Should they continue they bear the responsibility.
What is even more interesting is his statement that he is willing to put his life on the line to defend the revolution. This statement has religious and political meaning.
Religiously, it reminds Iranians of the story of Imam Hussein, whose martyrdom is mourned in Ashura. In the recounting of the story of Ashura, the story teller talks about how Hossein, knowing full well that he could die, still took part in the epic battle against Yazid. This gives Imam Hossein the image of a hero, who is willing to risk all to defend his beliefs. Ayatollah Khamenei, though his statement is trying to provoke the same sentiments and emotions.
In terms of political outlook, what this message means is that this is one battle which Ayatollah Khamenei can not afford to lose, and he is willing to use whatever means to come out as the victor.
The question to ask is: will his speech achieve its goals?
The warning against the demonstrators could decrease the number of people who are willing to attend demonstrations, in the short term. It is also likely to lead to more use of physical violence against demonstrators.
However, looking over the horizon Khamenei’s refusal to order a recount, plus his statement that he is closer to Ahmadinejad is likely to create even more tension and upheaval. As far as the demonstrators are concerned, no concession was made to them.
What must be noted that is that this will not only anger the reformists. Moderate conservatives will also feel isolated and disappointed. Yesterday, Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, in an interview with channel 2 of Iranian TV viewed his displeasure at the way the elections were carried out. Although he did not attack Khamenei, he stated that people attach utmost value to their vote, and this must be respected. Rezai warned that this is an important asset, which must not be abused.
The opposition is not after Khamenei’s life. The majority of them are not after regime change. What they want is a fairer electoral system, which respects their vote.
The very fact that Ayatollah Khamenei sees this as a prelude to the overthrow of his administration, is a clear sign that he feels his position is in danger.
If we look at this from a logical point of view, the more Khamenei takes on the opposition, the more it could backfire. He could defuse the situation by making some kind of compromise to the opposition.
However, what probably motivates Khamenei is the lessons learned from the Shah. When he compromised, by allowing Bakhtiyar to become Prime Minister, the people of Iran saw that as a sign of weakness. This emboldened them even more to take on his allies and security forces. Khamenei may be worried that giving in to the opposition may have the same result.