Vail Valley Voices: Seeds of an uprising |

Vail Valley Voices: Seeds of an uprising

Matthew Kennedy
Vail, CO Colorado

The Middle East is currently experiencing a series of unprecedented revolutions and uprisings. It started with Tunisia, spread to Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain and is gripping Libya now. The events are compelling Saudi Arabian, Jordanian and Omani monarchies to introduce political reforms. And yet one country is lurking below the media’s coverage that may have a bloodier revolt than any uprising witnessed so far – a country with the potential to shift the region’s strategic environment more than any nation outside of the United States.


Rumblings within Iranian society for more political freedom started in June 2009. It began when Iran’s current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fraudulently won re-election in the country’s presidential vote. Many Iranians were shot, tortured, given lengthy jail sentences and/or raped in prison after protesting the election’s results.

Libya’s uprising may instigate a violent revolt in Iran under the right


There are similarities and differences between both countries’ situations. Iran’s government is more stable than Gadhafi’s regime. A solid set of government institutions loyal to Iran’s leaders exists, whereas Gadhafi created a divide-and-conquer system that prohibited similar entities from forming. A second difference is that Iran’s military and law enforcement organizations are more faithful to Iran’s leaders than Libya’s armed forces are to Gadhafi. A key similarity is that each country’s opposition forces are spread throughout its major cities. And a final commonality is that those same organizations in Libya and Iran became or

are becoming emboldened to challenge local authorities.

The seeds for an Iranian uprising are planted. The elements for fertilization are coming together. And a little water may push it to the surface.

The direction, magnitude, nastiness and success or failure of an Iranian revolt are contingent upon several groups: hard-line versus reformist elements within Iran’s government; the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council; the Basij; and the opposition Green Movement, plus its leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi. The government’s hard-liners are led by Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The reformists are spearheaded by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and parliament speaker Ali Larijani. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council was organized after the 1979 revolution to protect the government against internal and external threats. The entity’s role was expanded in 1997 by opponents of former President Mohammad Khatami to counter his reformist agenda. Its political clout grew under Ahmadinejad. The other organization to monitor is the Basij. The Basij is a voluntary group, sponsored by the government for law enforcement purposes. Its loyalties lie with Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei. Both entities are instrumental in suppressing the opposition’s activities. The Green Movement was created shortly after the 2009 elections to challenge Ahmadinejad’s controversial re-election. Its leaders, Moussavi and Karroubi, both served in different government positions. These included prime minister and former Parliament speaker. All of the above groups will play a major role in influencing the outcome of a potential uprising.

What’s interesting is that none of the above individuals and entities has made any public comments about Libya – and for understandable reasons. Ahmadinejad and Iran’s other hard-liners realize a Libyan-sized uprising might topple the regime. Moussavi, Karroubi and the Green Movement’s other leaders are most likely calculating how to oust Iran’s government. Any media-related statements by either side about Libya may adversely impact their plans. A high-stakes game of cat and mouse is probably occurring behind the scenes in Tehran. A nationwide revolt may transpire if the game


It’s too early to tell whether Iran’s opposition will follow Libya’s example. There are several situations that may indicate how circumstances might unfold. First, Gadhafi’s ouster. Second, imprisonment and/or execution of Moussavi or Karroubi – both of whom are under house arrest. Such an action might catapult Iran’s opposition movement to take extraordinary actions beyond demonstrations. Third, coordinated protests and/or similar uprisings in Iran’s major cities. Fourth, the successful neutralization of Iran’s hard-liners by the regime’s reformist elements. And finally, divisions within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council and Basij. It appears that won’t happen, considering both have demonstrated a deep loyalty toward the government, but the scenario can’t be discounted. It’s an event that will only transpire if a large-scale uprising occurs.

The cards for an Iranian revolt are in the Green Movement’s hands. The country will probably experience a large-scale uprising if the opposition leaders instigate it. The decision will mandate nerve, stamina, persistence, grit, resolve and a willingness to shed more blood than any Middle Eastern uprising to date. Time will tell if they pursue it; I will be very surprised if they don’t. Much of their momentum, motivation and inspiration will come from the outcome of Libya’s ongoing uprising.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to

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