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A Very Special Anniversary

Paul Marshall

Thirty-one years after the Iranian Revolution, National Review Online asked a panel of experts: is a new revolt due? The following is Paul Marshall’s response.

The fact that the Iranian regime’s power base is shrinking is revealed in its strenuous, and crude, efforts to shore up its weakening religious credentials.

One tactic is to accuse the opposition of religious crimes. After the renewal of protests in December 2009, Khamenei and government loyalists called for protesters to be arrested and executed for offending God, as well as for insulting the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Demonstrators are now being charged with mohareb, or “making war against God and His Prophet.” The penalty for mohareb is death.

The government is also further vilifying minorities and trying to tie them with democracy activists in the hope of demonizing the latter. It is busily arresting Christians, continuing the trial of seven Baha’i leaders, and alleging that arms and ammunition were discovered in the homes of Baha’is recently arrested in Tehran. It alleges that civil unrest on the holy day of Ashura was the work of Baha’is, and that senior opposition members, including presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, are really closet Baha’is.

Despite these frantic efforts, the government appears to be losing the theological battle. When Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had far more religious prestige than Khamenei and who opposed the regime, died in December, his funeral became the occasion of anti-government demonstrations. Other prestigious clerics, including several of the most senior, the Marja’iyat, “objects of emulation,” have turned against Khamenei.

This leaves the regime ever more reliant simply on its security forces, especially the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij. It is not yet clear how brutal the government is willing or able to be, but even here it must exercise caution. Montazeri and others have warned Iran’s security forces that they will have to answer to God for their actions against protesters.

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