When comparing the events of the past week and a half in Tehran to the Islamic revolution in 1978-79, it becomes apparent why this time around the regime had the upper hand.
1. Cruelty and determination – The Islamic revolution pitted the ill shah, who refrained from widespread bloodshed, to the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was willing to sacrifice thousands of people in order to realize his vision. Today the opposite is true. The Iranian regime is showing great determination and has resorted to brutal violence that deters many Iranians from joining the protests. Yet the suppression was undertaken in a sophisticated manner that did not prompt uncontrollable rage.
2. Mousavi is not Khomeini – The engine that led the Islamic revolution was Khomeini’s charismatic leadership. One of the main weaknesses of the opposition today is lack of leadership. Mousavi is considered an introvert, and he lacks Khomeini’s charisma and determination. Even though in his last speech Mousavi accused the regime of distorting the revolution’s way, he is unable to speak out against the very existence of the current regime as Khomeini did.
3. Twitter is not enough – Khomeini had at his disposal an efficient network of thousands of mosques spread across Iran that he used in order to recruit the masses. Mousavi does not have a national organization that can activate the masses over time, despite the protestors’ impressive utilization of online social networks.
4. The merchants shied away – Opposition members failed to enlist the support of two social groups that played a crucial role in past revolutions: Bazaar merchants, who always excelled in their highly developed organizational ability and willingness to fundraise, and labor organizations, whose strikes prompted the collapse of the Shah’s regime. The merchants, who tend to be religiously conservative, back the regime or maintain their neutrality, while labor groups hesitate to join the demonstrators as all their past protests were repressed with an iron fist.
However, there is still hope. Despite signs that the protests are fading, the uprising may resume in days or weeks (for example, at the end of the 40-day Shiite mourning period for those killed in the unrest.) Yet even if the current wave of protest ends, Iran will apparently not be the same.
The blatant election fraud and the brutal suppression that followed it eroded the regime’s legitimacy and forced it to rely on military force instead of religious ideology. Iran’s history shows that such victories sowed the seeds of the greater revolutions, even if they came later.
The writer is a senior researcher at the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University