Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 09:02 UK

Viewpoints: What next for Iran?

There is an uneasy stand-off in Iran after a deadly weekend of clashes, and skirmishes on Monday between police and protestors. Four experts assess possible developments.

Kasra Naji

Kasra Naji, special correspondent for the BBC Persian Service

Professor Haleh Afshar

Baroness Haleh Afshar, Professor of Politics & Women's Studies at the University of York

Karim Sadjadpour

Karim Sadjadpour, associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Elaha Mohtasham

Elahe Mohtasham, senior research associate at The Foreign Policy Centre in London

What will happen next is anyone's guess. The fact is that both sides are weighing their options.

On the government side, there are signs that Iranian leaders are divided as to how to proceed and how to crush this movement. Some are more hardline than others. Some want to give some concessions to the opposition in the hope that it will be enough to calm tempers.

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's hardline speech on Friday in which he again put his approval and seal on the election results, makes it difficult for the government side to back down even slightly.

On the opposition side, obviously, the realisation that the hardliners are going to use all means at their disposal, including violence, has led to some soul-searching. There is a debate about whether a nationwide strike is an option.

My guess is that sporadic street violence will continue in big cities and at universities and people will continue to shout "Allahu Akhbar" ("God is Great") from the rooftops every night.

There will also be more trouble on the streets on the third, seventh and the 40th day after the deaths of the demonstrators according to the Muslim Shi'ite tradition of remembering the dead - occasions for more demonstrations.


Will the protests continue? If they do, how will the authorities respond? It is impossible to predict, not least because of the volatility of the situation.

However, what is certain is that the deep fractures in Iranian society have finally ruptured and the leadership has shown itself to be out of touch and unable to gain public trust and support.

I cannot see that the attacks and bloodshed that has occurred would be easily forgotten or could in anyway be attributed to foreign intervention.

By resorting to brutal force the regime has lost what legitimacy it had.

Thus without the re-run of the elections it can only continue by extreme oppression, which I do not think would be acceptable to Iranians.

What this means in terms of outcome, I hate to think.

The regime has not left itself much room to manoeuvre.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly supported President Ahmadinejad's bid for re-election and denounced allegations of fraud.

Despite popular outcry, Khamenei is unlikely to cede ground in the short-term, believing that compromise projects weakness and will encourage greater unrest.

However, the regime's indiscriminate use of violence - graphic videos show how women, the elderly, and even children have been targeted - has only further eroded people's lack of respect for the government.

But the demonstrations may decrease in scale, given the regime's ability to limit people's movements in Tehran (which as a city is large and spread out, like Los Angeles) and prevent large masses of people from gathering in the same place.

There are already signs that the opposition is entering a new phase.

Instead of mass rallies they are now focusing on civil disobedience, including strikes among merchants (bazaris), labourers, and key arteries of the Iranian economy (like the petroleum industry and oil ministry).

So while the crowds may not be as large as before, the conflict is certainly far from being resolved.


It is difficult to predict what is going to happen.

Neither the government nor the opposition are necessarily in a winning position and among parliamentarians and the Assembly of Experts there appear to be differences in opinion on how best to move forward.

President Ahmadinejad's government will have to take into account the wishes of all the Iranian people and unless rapid and tangible reform is initiated, it would be quite difficult to imagine how the government could prevent demonstrations in the future, even if it succeeds in clamping down on the current demonstrators.

Last week's demonstrations were centred in the centre of Tehran, mainly in the area around the University of Tehran and Azadi Square. Demonstrations also took place in a number of other towns, such as Shiraz, Esfahan, Tabriz and Yazd, but many other major towns, such as Mashhad, have been relatively quiet.

However, unless the opposition manages to spread the demonstrations to other parts of Tehran and other cities around the country, or nationwide strikes are organised, for example by oil workers and the Bazari (merchant class), it would be difficult to imagine that the demonstrators could continue their protests indefinitely.

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