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Jewish World Review
June 19, 2009 / 27 Sivan 5769
The Man of the Hour
Someone few Americans had ever heard of one week ago now stands
poised to alter history. His name is Mir Hossein Mousavi and his case
utterly debunks the school of historians who insist that history is made by
large impersonal forces rather than by key individuals. While it is
certainly true that Iran's current crisis had many antecedents, it is
equally true that the decisions of this one man will play a decisive role in
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accepted the congratulations
of Syria's Bashar Assad and Russia's Dmitri Medvedev on his wonderful
victory. Many people find it wonderful, though not in the sense he or
Supreme Leader Khamenei would prefer. Ahmadinejad has assured observers that
"Iran is the most stable nation in the world." But on the streets of Tehran,
Isfahan, Shiraz, and other Iranian cities, a broad alliance of Iranians are
literally shouting from the rooftops that they will not accept the risible
vote tallies announced by the government a two-to-one landslide for
Ahmadinejad. "Death to the Dictator" is on many lips.
The unfolding drama in Iran is at once thrilling, disturbing,
and ambiguous. It's thrilling because for the first time since the Khomeini
revolution in 1979, a spontaneous, grassroots movement threatens the rulers
in Tehran. The mullahocracy, deeply unpopular with the Iranian people, has
held power through violence and terror for 30 years. As much misery as Iran
has spread worldwide through its sponsorship of terror and its pursuit of
nuclear weapons, it has visited even more wretchedness on its own people.
The economy, despite Iran's oil wealth, is crumbling, with double-digit
unemployment. Corruption is endemic: Freedom House reports that even mail is
not delivered unless the postman gets a payoff. Repression on a totalitarian
scale is a fact of daily life. Though Iran's people have repeatedly given
evidence of their disgust with the clerical leadership, they have been
unable to escape the boot on their necks. Particularly during the past four
years, shortages, corruption, and privation have plagued Iran. A survey
conducted by the Ministry of Intelligence for the Majlis (parliament) a few
months ago found that only 13 percent of Iranians would vote for
But popular uprisings often end badly. They did in East Germany
in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and in China in
1989. As we watch smuggled amateur video of Basij militia clubbing peaceful
demonstrators with batons from the backs of motorcycles, and government
thugs descending upon Tehran University to the sound of screams and breaking
glass, we reflect that this junta has been preparing itself for resistance.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was recently overhauled to focus on
"domestic foes" and placed in command of an estimated 2-5 million Basij
militia. Foreign press are being hustled out of the country in a possible
prelude to more savage repression.
Alternatively, if a severe crackdown does not materialize, then
what? The millions of Iranians thronging the streets are testimony to the
yearning for reform among the people. But what shape that reform would take
is anything but clear. Mir Hossein Mousavi has become the repository for the
people's hopes. He is, for better or worse, the face of the resistance
movement. He ran for president of Iran as an alternative to Ahmadinejad. But
now, with an unprecedented popular uprising at his back, can he become an
alternative to the whole clerical establishment? Does he possibly have such
ambitions? Reportedly a "favorite" of Ayatollah Khomeini, Mousavi served as
Prime Minister from 1981 to 1989, during which time he oversaw Iran's
initial moves toward obtaining nuclear weapons. He has served in a variety
of advisory posts since then. He has never by word or deed signaled any
willingness to depart from an Islamist dominated state.
His campaign was Gorbachevian in that he promised to make the
Iranian government more transparent and permit more freedom of the press
("glasnost"), as well as to examine laws that discriminate against women
But in one week everything has changed. What seemed impossible
last week seems very possible today. So much now depends upon what Mousavi
does with his de facto mandate from the people. He calls the demonstrations.
He delivers the speeches. It is his photo they carry and his color (green)
they wear. If he is a true reformer, this could be a turning point in world
history. But we don't know yet what he believes or intends.
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