In Iran the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, known as perhaps the most erudite of Iran's Islamic scholars and a recent critic of the current regime, has sparked another round of massive protests by regime opponents, followed by another vicious crackdown by the forces of phony but brutal authority. The fact that almost any event can set off anti-regime protests suggests that the regime is at least a bit more vulnerable than it might seem, although the mullahs who rule in the name of religion are clever and pragmatic wielders of power who have so far managed t0 keep the oppositioon under control with fairly carefully calibrated violence.
Next Sunday is Ashura, the emotionally charged last day of Muharram, the commemoration of themmarftyrdom of Muhammad's grandson, whom Shia consider the rightful successor, the main thing that differentiates Shia from Sunni. It will fall 0n the seventh day after Montazeri's death and will not doubt be marked by more protests from Inran's Green M0vement, whose slogans (Montazeri is not dead, the government is dead) have become bolder.
Whether this latest protest is a precursor of eventual regime change is difficult to tell, but some of the conditions that might lead to such cvhange are clearly present. About half of Iran's population was born after the mullah's took over 30 years ago and many view the theocracy as the ancien regime, the old guard clinging to power and suppressing their various aspirations. Iran's population has long been well-educated with a tendency toward cosmopolitanism.
One hopes this article by Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project, wiull get some play inside Iran. It questions one of the founding myths of the labeling of the U.S. as the Great Satan. Most people believe now that the CIA was the key to the coup that toppled Mohammed Mossadegh from power in 1953. Milaniu argues that the CIA was a late entry in the game and probably had little or nothing to do with the success of the coup, which was already underway -- but Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy's grandson later wrote a self-serving memoir claiming full credit, but its claims are dubious. Interestingly, my friend former British parliamentarian with extensive personal experience in Iran and the region, Sir Eldon Griffiths, in his book, "Turbulent Iran," also raises serious doubts as to whether the U.S. was the key to the coup's success or was even a serious player. If the U.S. didn't engineer the coup, the regime's labelinmg of the U.S. as the Great Satan is suspect by Iranian and Shia lights. Yet another regime vulnerability.
This may be just the beginning. And it's been precipitated internally, not by the U.S.