Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A way forward for regime change in Iran


Mullahs join protest?

If true: a big step.

Much of the following information, and all links, came from this Richard Fernandez post.

Here's a how a revolution succeeds: the people with the guns abandon their commanders and join the revolutionaries. It happens all of a sudden. Some police and security forces switch over, then most police and security forces see them and suddenly join them. Voila. Successful revolution.

It's been hard to see, from my end zone in Texas, if that will happen in Iran. But here is a way forward:

Influential Shiite Clerics throw their allegiance away from Khamenei and Amadinejad and towards a more representative form of government. Iranians and police and security forces follow the guidance of the clerics. Voila. Successful revolution.

It could happen.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are fundamentalist to the core. They believe an Islamic state is incompatible with democracy.

However, the most influential Shiite cleric in the world is Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Of Iraq. America expended years of effort in lobbying and in courting the favor of the ancient (in his 80s) and inscrutable Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Sistani was a coy tease. In the end, however, Ali Sistani was willing to consider whether or not America might have the best idea in some instances, and was willing to consider whether or not America's idea might be consistent with Islam. Ali Sistani is a liberal Shiite cleric who now believes Islam and democracy are compatible. Ali Sistani was an important voice supporting a democratic Iraq. Ali Sistani has huge following and influence in IRAN. Threatswatch quotes Ayatollah Sistani in a 2007 proclamation:
"I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shiite or a Kurd or a Christian."
Okay. So what? This what: Al Arabiyah:
Religious leaders are considering an alternative to the supreme leader structure after at least 13 people were killed in the latest unrest to shake Tehran and family members of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were arrested amid calls by former President Mohammad Khatami for the release of all protesters. … The discussions have taken place in a series of secret meetings convened in the holy city of Qom and included Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq. An option being considered is the resignation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president following condemnation by the United States and other European nations for violence and human rights violations against unarmed protesters.
Threatswatch again:
In November 2007 at National Review Online, I wrote about this aspect of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, including a reference to another analysis I had written earlier in the spring.
In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi’a faith. While the Khomeinist revolutionary Khameini clearly believes in Shi’a theocracy, the Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani believes that the faith can exist within a democracy without theological conflict. And while the Iranians work to spin the growing Sunni tribal rejection of al-Qaeda as Americans “negotiating with terrorists,” Sistani himself has always had open channels of communication with American forces and the Iraqi government.
Why does this matter for Iran and Iranians? Pay close attention here, for Iraq’s Sistani carries great weight among the Iranian Shi’a faithful.
Sistani’s appeal does not end at the Iraqi border, as Iranians increasingly observe his leadership with interest and fondness. Some are “intrigued by the more freewheeling experiment in Shi’ite empowerment taking place across the border in Iraq,” which is fundamentally different in approach than the Iranian theocratic brand of dictated observance and obedience. The Boston Globe’s Anne Barnard reports that within Tehran’s own central bazaar, “an increasing number of merchants are sending their religious donations, a 20 percent tithe expected from all who can spare it, to Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric.”
If that didn’t quite sink in, go read that paragraph again. Many Iranian merchants have been sending their 20% tithes to Sistani, not Khamenei. Since at least 2007. I spoke to the significance of Rafsanjani seeking Sistani’s support earlier on ‘The Steve Schippert Show’ on RFC Radio just before the al-Arabiya story broke. His name is an attention-getter for those aware of players and forces in both Iran and Iraq. And for good reason. Perhaps in Iran, just as in Iraq today, true democracy can exist “without theological conflict” with the Shi’a faith. And perhaps the most unlikely cast of available men in Iran are set to bring that to be. Perhaps only something close, or closer. But whatever the change, and the extent of the change - and it appears the intent is significant change and not simply a game of Shuffling Ayatollahs - it will be positive for Iranians, for the region, for Americans and for the entire world. I think it is nearly inevitable at his point, and time is not on the regime’s side.
Intrigue has had permanent residence in Persia since Eve ate the apple. I don't know what's going to happen, but it's likely a lot of different scenarios still could happen - including overthrow and liberalization of Iran's government. It wouldn't be liberalization like Sweden, yet it would be a sight better than fundamentalists Khamenei and Ahmadinejad searching out nukes to enact an end of the world scenario. The cleric way is a way forward which is solidly founded and structured. It would not be a Hail Mary. It would be a balanced offense seeking to matriculate the ball down the field. The drive could take weeks or months or years, but it would be grounded and plausible. Those old clerics are gritty, tough, and smart. Think Ali Sistani trading his black turban for a houndstooth hat.

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