On the 22nd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, in the midst of the heated political climate in Iran and weeks of rivalry between the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps, with a seemingly uncomfortable President seated near two of his rivals within the establishment — judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani — the Supreme Leader spoke to his supporters, keeping to the script that he has been reciting since the string of uprisings in Arab countries started a few months ago.
Khamenei and other government officials, including Ahmadinejad, have been hypocritically supportive of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain, claiming that they are “Islamic” uprisings. They do so as they equate the uprising within Iran, following the disputed 2009 Presidential election, with a seditious movement supported by what Khamenei refers to as “The Enemy” of the US and Israeli-Zionists.
This in part is why the Supreme Leader highlights “anti-imperialism”. At one point today, referring to the regimes’ actions in the countries where he would like to see the uprisings succeed, such as Bahrain and Yemen, he said, “These crackdowns are non-starters. They are useless. When nations are vigilant and recognize their true power, they will follow the righteous path.”.
The irony and hypocrisy in this statement cannot be missed by anyone with even a cursory knowledge of events in Iran over the last two years. The Green Movement, rallying behind one of the Presidential contenders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, asked, “Where is my vote?” after the Interior Ministry announced within a few short hours of polls closing that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the victor.
Without hesitation or remorse, Khamenei’s forces that brutally cracked down, beat, and killed people, and subjecting them to torture. A week after the election, the Supreme Leader called the protesters enemies of the system, giving a green light to his forces to spill blood if people dared to protest further. Since then, there has been a string of intimidations, asssaults, and arbitrary arrests of dissidents and anyone whom the regime even remotely felt posed a threat. This culminated on Wednesday in the attack on activist Haleh Sahabi during the funeral of her father, leading to her collapse and death.
And still the Supreme Leader says, without apparent recognition of the irony, “These crackdowns are non-starters. They are useless. When nations are vigilant and recognize their true power, they will follow the righteous path.”.
In this same vein, here are some more excerpts from his speech:
Enemies of Islamic nations, the global hegemony, the Great Satan, the U.S., the Zionists, are making every effort to thwart us….We will oppose any movements that the U.S. is behind….The U.S. is trying to bring nations that have been victorious under its own hegemony…After the Nasser era [1952-1970], after the enemy left Egypt, they returned. This should not be repeated again in Egypt….People in these countries will emerge victorious but they need to take care about divisive plots by the Enemy….
All of this was trotted out to distinguish between the “worthy” uprisings in the Arab world (except for Syria, which only got this indirect mention, “we will oppose any movements that the U.S. is behind”) and the not-worthy-at-all uprising in Iran. Khamenei said that he believed, though he could not produce specific evidence, that the “Enemy” had twice attempted to implement 10-year plans to overthrow the system. The first supposedly occurred ten years after the passing of Khomeini — in 1999, during the Khatami Presidency, a week of student protests and unrest followed the closure of reformist publications, leading to a brutal crackdown by the regime. The second after the 2009 Presidential election: “You saw that they created some unrest only for two or three months in Tehran.”
In fact, there have been major protests far beyond “only for two or three months”. The immediate challenge after the election lasted for six months, culminating in a protest on Ashura, in December 2009, that activists and even some regime insiders claim shook the very foundations of the regime.
The Supreme Leader, ignoring this lapse in mathematical skill, continued, “On Ashura, the people turned out to foil the plots.”
In Khamenei’s parlance, “the people” typically means those who have a vested interest in the system, such as the Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and other forces that suppressed the protests. But even those forces were unable to check the uprising on Ashura.
Instead, it was a regime-organised rally three days after Ashura, on 30 December 2009, that pushed back against the Green Movement. And it was only in February 2010 that the regime managed to turn things around during the celebrations of the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic. They managed to prevent large crowds of opposition from forming, leading many to declare the Green Movement dead.
For a year, despite pockets of opposition here and there, this narrative held. But last February, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, requested permission to rally in support of the uprisings. This was a crafty move: since Khamenei himself had voiced his support for these movements, rejection of the rally would lay bare the hypocrisy of the Islamic Republic.
And so it proved.
On 25 Bahman (14 February) the Iranian people again showed up in large numbers in the streets, chanting “Mubarak! Ben Ali! Now it’s the turn of Seyed Ali [Khamenei]!”. Of course the regime cracked down again, arrested more people, incarcerating them in the overcrowded prisons of Iran, and continuing to claim that the uprisings in the Arab world are Islamic in nature. Meanwhile, Mousavi and Karroubi and their wives were put under house arrest and cut off from the outside world. They are still being held to this day.
Almost four months later, the Supreme Leader declared, “Fortunately the movement of the people has been fruitful thanks to their trust in the authorities.” A generous translation might be, “Fortunately my security forces were successful thanks to their blind trust in me.”
The inversion is complete: those forces are the “movement of the people” while the real movement of the people — those who protested since June 2009 and were put down for it — are the Enemy.
There were other inversions in the speech. Despite the serious economic problems in Iran, Khamenei was elegaic about prosperity and the Government’s achievements: “Based on international figures, it has been announced that the pace of Iran’s scientific progress is eleven times faster than the world average. The enemies themselves are telling us this.”
And there were the required formalities. And the address closed with the mandated reference to Palestine, “A referendum must be held by Palestinian people, whatever government they want they should get. Then they can decide what to do with the Zionists that have settled in Palestine.” The audience offered the required slogan for the occasion, “Death to America!”, to the point where even Khamenei got a bit frustrated: “Please let me finish, we are short on time.”
All of this was expected. None of this offered much for evaluation. Instead, it is in Khamenei’s consideration of what is “new” — the uprisings in the Arab Spring — that significance lies.
For the Supreme Leader has to go through the looking glass to explain why these demands for rights, justice, and legitimacy of rulers are very, very good from Tunisia to Bahrain and, at the same time, to portray why they are very, very bad in his own country. In that looking glass, however, there is no resolution, only the paranoia, delusion, arrogance, and hypocrisy that mark Khamenei even as he pays homage to his predecessor and the Islamic Republic.