John Simpson on Iran
A few more thoughts on John Simpson's broadcast (*), prompted by Jeff Weintraub's post.
I agree there was something strange about the broadcast. Of course, working for the BBC, he has to be "balanced" and careful not to step over the line from "analysis" to "opinion".
Still, it was odd that he was a little negative about the outpouring of popular feeling against the regime in Iran. He was more enthusiastic about other such situations, comparing Belgrade 2000, for example, to Berlin 1989 (I think).
He was also though there in Tehran in 1978-9 and the bloodletting that followed that has to be remembered.
Simpson is right in a way, to focus on the manoeuvres at the top. Even without popular support (and, whatever support they had previously, several reports indicate that it has all but evaporated following the events of the election), Ahmadinejad / Khamenei could hold onto power, as regimes that are too numerous to mention have managed to do for decades. But when political elites are divided, things become a little more complicated. The fact that Mousavi has remained at relative liberty shows that he retains some support in the political establishment and, just as importantly, among leading clerical figures, in Qom.
Some news that was breaking Friday / Saturday (24-5 Jul) seemed to me significant. Ahmadinejad was forced to cancel the appointment of a vice-president who did not take a hard enough line, as it happens with regard to Israel. Interestingly, the FT's report ('Iran's supreme leader orders dismissal of vice-president') indicates that Khamenei sent a letter demanding this the previous weekend, but Ahmadinejad attempted to ignore this, until it was made public.
It seems that a familiar logic is at work: when a leadership group becomes detached from public opinion, it turns in on itself and becomes more and more narrowly based. The logic applies to counter-revolutionary situations as much as revolutionary ones.
On the other hand, on the question of the treatment of prisoners, Ahmadinejad is coming under pressure to take a softer line, even from conservative members of the Majlis (parliament). Lindsey Hilsum, on C4 News, went so far as to say that it was the supreme leader who was pressing him to take a softer line, but I don't think this is the case.
* The BBC Radio 4 version was about 28 minutes, edited down 24 minutes for 'Assignment' on the World Service. The latter should be available indefinitely here.