How will Islamic Iran look a year from now? This ostensibly is not a very complicated question. Although we are swimming in the troubled waters of the Middle East, we can still make reasonable predictions about the future of many of the region s countries in a year. Yet such an exercise is difficult if not impossible regarding Iran.
The reason is the much-disputed presidential elections that took place last June. Before then it was still possible to make predictions about the future of Islamic Iran. But the elections changed many things; it would be no exaggeration to say they shook the Iranian political landscape in much the way earthquakes shake the physical landscape of cities.
When the first wave of street protests erupted after the announcement of the election results, followed by a crackdown by the Islamic government, many Iranians felt that life would soon go back to normal; but it didn t. Then came a wave of arrests; more than 100 aides of Mir Hosain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two reformist candidates opposing President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, were detained along with political activists and journalists. Again the government, along with many Iranians, felt that the crisis was over and life would gradually go back to normal; again it didn t. Each time the government thought the crisis was ending or at least appearing to subside, a new wave of unrest dashed its expectations.
Thus the current political crisis in Iran appears to be following a certain pattern. The opposition, which has no other alternative for presenting its protest, takes advantage of official occasions to demonstrate against the regime. A lull, during which many Iranians begin to wonder if life is going back to normal, is followed by a sudden abrupt wave of political unrest. Last time this cycle shook the country was a month ago during the Shi ite holy occasion of Ashura. Even though the government had severely warned the opposition it would not tolerate rallies or protests, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets defying the government ban. More than 30 people, including Mousavi s nephew, were shot dead by the security forces in Tehran alone. Once again the Islamic regime resorted to the only solution it has known since the crisis erupted: more arrests.
A lull has prevailed since Ashura while the authorities have detained yet another hundred political activists, journalists and aides and supporters of Mousavi. We now approach the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. To commemorate the revolution, each year Iran s leaders celebrate a ten-day festival that culminates on February 9, wherein rallies are held in every town and city. The revolutionary anniversary rallies will provide yet another opportunity for the opposition to come out and demonstrate against the regime.
The most accurate description one can apply to the present Iranian crisis is an unfolding process. Neither the government nor the opposition could have possibly imagined last June that well into 2010 the election crisis would still continue. During the past seven months the opposition has demonstrated a remarkable degree of resiliency despite the government s heavy handedness. We can only conclude that it is very unlikely the opposition will diminish during the next 12 months.
By the same token, the Islamic regime too has demonstrated that it has no intention to back down. That being the case, the Iranian crisis will continue into the coming year. Here, judging by the events of the past seven months, one can essay a few more specific projections.
First, there is the state of the country s economy, which has been one of the principal victims of the current crisis. While the government has been busy confronting the crisis, the economy has more or less been left to its own devices. Foreign investment has declined enormously and since the crisis is continuing, we can only conclude that the decline will continue during the next year. Unemployment, which even before the crisis was one of the country s acute problems, has been exacerbated during the past seven months; here too, we can only conclude that it will not improve during the next 12 months.
Economic sanctions are another problem facing Iranians. The current crisis has actually intensified western pressure on the Islamic regime. Although both European Union and American leaders have condemned the Islamic leaders for suppressing the Iranian people, they seem inclined to invoke heavy sanctions against Iran that will only worsen the country s economy – regardless of whatever feelings and sympathy western leaders may have for the Iranian people.
Amid all the gloom, both political and economic, that confronts Islamic Iran during the coming 12 months, there is one ray of hope. If the Islamic leaders and the opposition can reach some sort of compromise or understanding, the crisis could decline and the country s overall situation start to improve. But the hardliners in Tehran have so far refused to take that route.
Sadegh Zibakalam is professor of political science at Tehran University. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with bitterlemons-international.org.