Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, made a public speech today endorsing Ahmadinejad as the winner of the presidential election, denying that any election fraud took place, and telling Iranians that they must stop protesting the establishment government.
Many view the speech as little more than a threat to the protesters in the streets of Iran to shut up and go home… or else. Essentially, this speech removes all possible alternatives to the situation but two. There will be no recount. There will be no new vote. There will be no dialogue with Mousavi and the protesters. The only options left are (1) do exactly what the Ayatolla says and accept the status quo or (2) continue to protest and face the wrath of the Supreme Leader of Iran who commands the police and military of that nation.
Clearly Ayatollah Khamenei is gambling that the threat of retaliation will force the protesters to accept his ruling. But his move escalated the situation to the threat of widespread military crackdown on the protesters, which might only make things worse.
The protesters believe they have been cheated by the election. They believe their vote has been ignored. They believe Mousavi won the election and the government is ignoring those results. But the Ayatollah’s speech adds more to the list of grievances being protested. Now the supporters of Mousavi have been told that they have no right to free speech, no right to dissent, no recourse to deal with perceived injustices. Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters marched peacefully through the streets of Iran. If all these protests had been violent demonstrations, one might understand the Ayatollah’s calls to end the protests. But the most recent and clearly massive protests have been peaceful. And the Ayatollah demands that even peaceful marches be stopped.
Even if the Ayatollah wins this round and the protests stop, there is no way these Iranians, these peaceful protesters, these supporters of Mousavi, there is no way these people will forget the injustices their government has done to them.
How this ends, I still cannot see. The only non-violent solution right now is for the protesters to shut up and go home and accept the establishment as it is. The alternative is to continue protesting, which will certainly lead to violence. Whether it looks like a Tieneman Square crackdown with massive deaths and a massive government coverup, or whether the protesters can somehow leverage the abuse of the government into some sort of “velvet revolution” and a peaceful change to their government, is unknown. Both outcomes are possible.
Those of us not in Iran will have to wait and see. That assumes the outcome isn’t buried under a mountain of government coverup to the point that there is nothing to look at.