By Dave Siavashi:
I’m guessing not many people expected this move (Associated Press article) today by Iran’s unelected leader, Khamenei:
Iran’s supreme leader pardoned 81 jailed opposition supporters who had been found guilty of having a role in the unrest triggered by last June’s disputed presidential election.
Wednesday’s pardons were seen as a gesture of goodwill by Iran’s leaders just days before the anniversary of the June 12 election, when the opposition says it will attempt to mount the first street protests in months. Authorities have warned they will confront any unauthorized gatherings.
Khamenei has yet again shown himself to be one shrewd, calculating politician.
As the anniversary of the rigged presidential elections of a year ago looms, sources inside Iran report that the mood in the capital, Tehran, as well as in other cities, is a volatile mix of fear, anticipation, despair, and hope at the same time.
In the days after the elections massive opposition street protests took place in Iran.
On June 19th, after days of massive protests, followed by horrific crackdowns by Iran’s police, revolutionary guards, and plain-clothed quasi-vigilante volunteer militiamen (called Basij), Khamenei gave a friday “prayer sermon” in which he condemned the protests, strongly cautioned the people against any further protests, and threatened harsh reprisals if his warning wasn’t heeded.
His warning wasn’t heeded.
People protested in major cities throughout the nation. Hundreds were killed, raped or tortured for the ultimate crime in Iran, literally punishable by death: by asking “Where is my vote?” and peacefully marching in the streets in non-violent protest, they directly disobeyed the Supreme Leader. How can one ever forget witnessing Neda Agha Soltan die after being shot in the street during the protests following Khamenei’s friday prayer speech?
There have been numerous protests in Iran since, with widespread expression of opposition to the regime–moving beyond just the question of “where is my vote?” to demand basic civil liberties, competent and compassionate government, independent judiciary, a free press, the right to gather peacefully in public and in private, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom from tyranny.
The people of Iran and many people from around the world have been consistently demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners from all known and unknown prisons in the country.
Even as the regime continues to arrest the opposition, with thousands of people languishing in the torture and rape chamber jails of Iran, Khamenei makes the move of releasing 81 prisoners. The gesture is a clear one, and it remains to be seen what the reaction will be. It’s a shrewd political move, because it publicly attempts to project an image of a modicum of compassion by Khamenei, meant to act as a pressure release to diffuse the built up tension and anticipation–likely on both sides–prior to the anniversary of the rigged election.
While the expressed intention is clearly disingenuous as thousands of prisoners of conscience still fill Iranian prisons, there is a calculus to the move.
Khamenei likely realizes that he won’t be able to change the views of the majority of the opposition with regards to his character or his government, although some on the fringes may be influenced. He is looking to improve his image for certain, but he has demonstrated throughout his years as a power broker in the Islamic Republic that his image is far less important to him than keeping power. He also likely realizes that if he is perceived to be immovable when it comes to the demands of the people, the days are potentially numbered for his government–and by extension–for himself. Perhaps despite the fact that he has a complete monopoly on force at his disposal, he believes that he may have used up that card to the extent that it will have any effect on quelling the persistent resistance that continues to show itself in Iranian society. That is, he likely knows he can continue to crush protests with brutal force, extending his reign for at least the near future, but that if he does this without at least being able to say “look I tried to be a nice guy” it will continue to enrage the society even more, leading to the possibility of things getting out of hand for his regime, politically and economically (due to completely incompetent management of said economy by the Ahmadinejad government).
So, he’s had a year to think things through. He sees the writing on the bus, and decides to try something new, making a concession by releasing 81 political prisoners. It’s not insubstantial because 81 human beings are out of the brutal Iranian jails. But it is a small concession, relatively speaking, if one takes into account the rest of the thousands that didn’t get released.
He has nothing to lose, because in the opinion of the author, he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
He has yet to meet even a single demand that the opposition has made. The demand with respect to political prisoners isn’t “release some political prisoners”, it’s “release all political prisoners”!
And that’s just one of the many demands of the Iranian people, all of which will eventually have to be met, whether this regime wants to meet them or not. Nobody can predict when this will happen, whether it will be an immediate shift, or a change that blossoms inside Iran over time because the people will accept no less, it is inevitable. It isn’t just written on the wall, or the bus, or on paper currency.
It is enshrined in the will that emanates from the Iranian people–a people with a history thousands of years longer than this 30 year anomaly of government.