Daniel W. Drezner

An open question to Iran watchers

On the 30th 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, lots of people are clearly out in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities.  Andrew Sullivan has/will have posts galore on the Green protests — and I have every confidence that the Leveretts will have a post up soon minimizing the significance of said protests ...

On the 30th 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, lots of people are clearly out in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities.  Andrew Sullivan has/will have posts galore on the Green protests — and I have every confidence that the Leveretts will have a post up soon minimizing the significance of said protests (UPDATE:  they do not disappoint). 

As I’ve posted on Iran, I’ve been intrigued by all of the commenters arguing back and forth on the precise power of the Green movement.  Some have argued that the current regime is doomed; some have argued that it’s much ado about nothing. 

So, here’s my question to those readers — what observable evidence would convince you that your analysis is wrong?  If supporters of the Green Revolution movement only saw evidence of anti-government protestors in the hundreds, would that convince you that the regime will be standing for quite some time?  For those who believe the regime is here to stay, would millions in the streets chanting "Death to the Dictator" make you think twice about your assumptions? 

Think hard about this question and post your answer in the comments. 

UPDATE:  Just to provide an example, this excerpt from a NIAC post bolsters the Leverett position on Iranian state strength:

It’s still very early to be drawing conclusions from today’s events, as people are still out in the streets.  But one thing I’m struck by is just how much the government has been in control today.  Sure, they chartered busses and lured tens of thousands to the official government rally with free food, but they have also managed to keep the opposition activities largely on their terms today.

The government’s strategy is to depict the protesters as a small group of rioting thugs, burning trash cans and disrupting order for their own radical, “foreign-backed” agenda.  Toward that end, they have been very effective at keeping the demonstrations today dispersed and nervous — less of the “million man march” and more like Seattle WTO protesters.  Above all else, the ruling elites know the danger of big crowds: strength in numbers takes over and individuals no longer feel like they will be held accountable for their actions, thus their demands get more radical and their tactics more extreme; this forces a harsher backlash from security forces, possibly including using lethal force.  And then that’s the ball-game.  That’s exactly what happened in 1979, and Khamenei learned that lesson well enough that he’ll do his utmost not to repeat it.

So today’s events (like previous ones) have seen security forces disrupt crowds before they can coalesce into a large group, arresting numerous individuals as a way of controlling the crowds before they get out of the police’s hands….

Interestingly, many accounts we’ve been hearing involve protestors being hesitant to wear green, flash a V for victory sign, or even chant openly out of fear of backlash from security personnel.  In some cases, particularly at Azadi square where Ahmadinejad addressed the official government rally, security forces scanned the crowd for any signs of "green" activity, and quickly pulled people out of the group as soon as they were given cause. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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