- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This time the violence is more serious. This time the Islamic Republic is in question. There will be more violence. It could well sweep the Islamic Republic away and bring the reformers to power.

As violence erupted in Tehran and other cities in Iran over the past weekend tens of thousands of protesters clashed with government forces, raising once more the possibility of change in Iran.

“This is a clear sign of the inevitable and imminent downfall of the despicable clerical regime,” said Maryam Rajavi, leader of the position group Mujahideen e-Khalq, or the people’s mujahideen. “All indications bespeak of the countdown of the regime’s downfall,” added Mrs. Rajavi.

Iranian opposition groups, independent Web sites and Iranians living overseas who remain in contact with friends and families back home report of tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in several major cities around the country. At least eight are reported killed, so far.

Authorities in Iran have banned the foreign media from entering the country, and have banned those already in the country from reporting on the unrest.

The first round of violence shook the Islamic Republic after the June 12 presidential elections in which the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was prematurely declared the winner despite irregularities at the polls, as reported by opposition forces.

There are two major differences between June’s disturbances and last weekend’s clashes during Ashura, the holy day when Shi’ites around the world commemorate the killing of Imam Hussein, one of their most revered imams.

This is significant because it contradicts what the Tehran authorities have been saying, that most of the demonstrators were anti-Islamic. The second difference is that this time the unrest goes beyond rigged elections.

Iranian resistance forces speak of antigovernment demonstrations in the cities of Shiraz, Esfahan, Ahwaz and several other locations in Iran; and police sources report five have been killed in the latest clashes. Ali Moussavi, the nephew of one of the principal opposition leaders, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, was reported to have been among the fatalities of the weekend clashes. Opposition sources say he was shot in the head.

Many demonstrators said to be chanting slogans against the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Security forces are reported to have fired tear gas and live ammunition at the crowds.

Defying government orders to stay off the streets demonstrators chanted “Khamenei is a murderer - his rule is illegitimate,” and set fire to a number of government construction projects. Videos of demonstrators setting fire to government vehicles were posted on a number of Web sites. “The great day of liberation for the Iranian people is getting closer,” said Mrs. Rajavi.

This latest round of unrest has some observers asking the following questions: Are we witnessing the beginning of a new era in post-revolutionary Iran? Are these demonstrations powerful enough to bring about the end of the Islamic Republic as we know it today?

And quite possibly many countries in the West as well as a number of Arab countries must be asking what can be done to help the demonstrators without showing that support lest it backfire.

It is certain that no one is likely to shed tears for the demise of the mullahs. Not the United States - since the start of the revolution in 1979 and the subsequent occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the detention of 52 Americans for 444 days, relations between the two countries were never re-established.

Not the Europeans, given their proximity to Iran and with half of Western Europe within range of Iran’s Zelzal missiles.

Not Iran’s neighbors - most would be delighted ,if the current violence would lead to the downfall of the mullah’s rule. Not Kuwait nor Bahrain, which some Iranian officials in the past have said was a province of Iran. Nor the regional giant Saudi Arabia, which regards Iran as a serious threat to its role as the major political power.

There would be four exceptions: Iraq, with which Iran shares a border of some 600 miles, would be one of three Arab countries with mixed reactions. A portion of the country’s Shi’ites would regret the demise of their strongest supporters, while the Sunnis would be out in the street celebrating. The same would apply to Lebanon where Hezbollah would lament the loss of its patron and provider while the rest of the country would be elated.

In Gaza, Hamas would worry about being booted out of power by Fatah. And Syria, which has been relying on the Islamic Republic for political and financial support, would see a real downside in an Iranian reversal.

And last but by no means least given the role it plays in regional politics, Israel, too, would rejoice at the disappearance of the Islamic Republic.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and author of the newly released book “While the Arab World Slept: The Impact of the Bush years on the Middle East” (Xlibris Corp., 2009).

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