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Iran’s house of cards teeters on the brink
Iran’s clerics are facing a crisis of legitimacy that could see the end of the Islamic Republic in its current form, says Trends magazine.
March 8, 2010 5:18 by Iason Athanasiadis
Hamid Ramenzadeh was in the process of applying to study at a British university and join the 150,000 Iranians annually leaving their country when the greatest crisis in the history of the Islamic Republic erupted this past summer. After participating in the extraordinary scenes of social defiance unfolding on Tehran’s streets, Ramenzadeh decided to postpone his departure and join the push for reform.
“I felt I had no right to flee the country [and go] abroad when my generation’s defining challenge came,” he said during a brief visit to Istanbul. “How could I face my colleagues or later my children if I hadn’t been on the streets during the crisis of 2009?”
Seven months spent on the streets and university campuses that form the seething backdrop to this movement culminated in December’s ‘Bloody Sunday’. Government forces killed at least eight and as many as 37 demonstrators in countrywide violence commemorating the Shiite festival of Ashura. Ramenzadeh has been out on the streets all along, watching the pace of change in demonstrators’ attitudes evolve with frightening speed.
“We started with peaceful silent protests but then [the] slogans got more radical,” he said. “At first, all we wanted was ‘our vote back,’ then ‘our presidency,’ and when there was still no answer we demanded ‘Death to the Dictator.’ If this continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start hearing the cry ‘Death to Islam’.”
Ramenzadeh’s fears that the regime’s behavior is jeopardizing ordinary Iranians’ faith in Islam have been echoed by the dissident Ayatollah Mohsen Kadivar.
“The Shiite theocracy in its present form has failed,” he said in a December interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. “I do not know when exactly but I am convinced that the regime will collapse.”
This is not to say that Iranians are any less religious today than they were in 1979, when they overthrew the pro-Western Shah and welcomed back Ayatollah Khomeini who ushered in three decades of Islamic rule.
Ramenzadeh was born after the Revolution, one of the 40 million Iranians under the age of 30.
The experience of growing up in an Islamic republic has turned him in a firmly secular direction. But he still represents only a sizeable – though vocal – minority of middle class urbanites mostly clustered in Tehran. By far the largest demonstrations to break out in support of the Green Movement – as it has come to be known – outside Tehran were in Qom on the funeral of dissident ayatollah Ali Montazeri. And January has been marred by claim and counter-claim over who behaved more sacrilegiously on Ashura: the demonstrators for taking advantage of the holy day to protest and then skirmish with pro-regime vigilantes, or the police for assaulting them in the first place.