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Iran, a Democratic powderkeg?


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The subject has come up in the "Moderate Arab" thread, but this deserves its own discussion. Ripped from today's headlines:

Reform Protests in Iran Enter Third Day

1 hour, 28 minutes ago

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran - Pro-clergy militants on motorcycles chased down protesters and beat them with clubs early Friday, the third night of anti-government demonstrations in Tehran, witnesses said.

AP Photo

AP Photo

Slideshow: Iran

The student-led protests were aimed at Iran's hard-line clerics, who control the security forces and are locked in a power struggle with reformist President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites).

Hundreds of young Iranians, many in their teens, took to the streets around Tehran University and the Laleh hotel, formerly called the Intercontinental, about a mile away, witnesses said. The protesters denounced the country's supreme leader, hard-liner Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Khamenei, the traitor, must be hanged!" they chanted, according to witnesses. Criticism of Khamenei is usually punished by imprisonment, and public calls for his death had been unheard of until this week.

In some parts of Tehran, activists who support the clergy-led regime circled knots of student protesters, gunning their motorcycle engines and, according to some witnesses, using cattle prods. Some of the demonstrators fought back, punching the attackers and setting their motorcycles on fire.

The unrest subsided by daybreak, and few injuries were reported. One pro-government activist was admitted to a hospital with a stab wound but the injury was not life-threatening, according to Shariati Hospital staff.

At times, riot police prevented the government supporters from confronting the protesters and did not respond to stone throwing, witnesses said. At other times, police rushed the protesters, sending them fleeing into the darkness.

The pro-Khamenei activists chanted: "Oh, exalted leader, we are ready to follow your instructions!"

Thousands of people looked on, sometimes clapping with the protesters and taking up their chants. Residents near the university hospital left their doors open so demonstrators could find quick shelter if the authorities moved in.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper in downtown Tehran until the early hours as curious residents stayed out to watch developments.

Khamenei warned of a major crackdown in a speech broadcast on state television and radio Thursday.

He referred to violence in 1999, when security forces and extremist supporters of hard-line clerics attacked pro-democracy demonstrators after a student hostel was stormed. The raid on the hostel led to the death of at least one student and generated the worst street battles since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"If the Iranian nation decides to deal with the (current) rioters, it will do so in the way it dealt with it on July 14, 1999," Khamenei said.

"It should not be allowed that a group of people contaminate society and universities with riots and insecurity, and then attribute it to the pious youth," he said.

Meanwhile, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani called on Iran's youth not to fall into what he described as an American trap by denouncing the country's political leadership.

"I advise the youth, especially students ... that they should be careful not to fall into trap dug out by the Americans," Rafsanjani told worshippers at Friday prayers at Tehran University.

Rafsanjani said it was Iran's policy to "act resolutely" to prevent demonstrations from getting out of hand but "not to be harsh on protesters."

While the overnight protests seemed to be disorganized, with no clear leaders, some demonstrators vowed to keep up the pressure until next month's anniversary of the 1999 protests.

However, Iranians who packed the 100,000-capacity Azadi stadium for a soccer match between Tehran's two most popular teams ignored calls for more demonstrations and the crowds left peacefully.

Reformist newspapers, which reflect the thinking of liberal politicians fighting for change, offered little commentary on the unrest.

Exiled opposition groups have been encouraging dissent in Iran through U.S.-based Persian language TV channels. U.S. pressure on Iran, which Washington accuses of hiding a nuclear weapons program and harboring terrorists, may have further emboldened those who hope to see the regime toppled.

This week's demonstrators have also called for the resignation of President Khatami, accusing him of not pushing hard enough for democratic reforms.

Khatami does not have the support of the hard-liners who control the judiciary, the security forces and other unelected bodies. But the hard-liners do not enjoy popular support, leaving the two sides of government in a stalemate.

So, can Iran successfully become a modern democracy?
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Doubtful. The Mullahs adopted the methods of the Savak (sp?){insert Star Trek joke here...}, the Shah's old secret police. Khomeini was even more brutal than the Shah. He also encouraged the Iranians to reproduce as rapidly as possible, proclaiming that every child born is an arrow pointed at the heart of America, the Great Satan. Well, turns out those arrows are now pointed inward. Combine enormous baby-boom with a state-controlled backward-looking economy and you've got massive unemployment. I can't recall the exact statistic, but among those under 30, the unemployment rate is staggering. And that's in a fairly well-educated country with tremendous natural resources. :doh: Certainly all the elements are ripe for unrest, but my guess is the country will simply revert to the police state it had in the 80s if this continues. After all, remember how hopeful we were about China until Tiennemen (sp?) Square.

Originally posted by Henry

Well, maybe this makes me an unwitting accomplice to Evil, but I'm rooting for the pro-Democracy crowd on this one.

Spoken like a true minion of the great satan:silly:

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Originally posted by redman

So, can Iran successfully become a modern democracy?

Good question, redman.

Here's another good question: has anyone checked the recent whereabouts of Norman Schwarzkopf and all the surviving descendents of Teddy Roosevelt?

When they're demonstrating in Iran, it's always helpful to count your Schwarzkopfs and Roosevelts . . . . All present and accounted for? :)

Boy, doesn't it just feel like 1953 all over again?

By the beginning of August, Tehran was afire. Mobs working for the CIA staged anti-Mossadegh protests, marching through the streets carrying portraits of the Shah and chanting royalist slogans.

Oh, the wonders of spontaneous demonstrations! Oh, such memories -- every 50 years, another summer of love in Tehran!

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