Thursday, June 08, 2006

What’s Going on in Iran?

Michael Barone was one of the first to note the U.S. media’s lack of interest in recent unrest and demonstrations in Iran. While the MSM remains preoccupied with the nuclear issue and the antics of President Ahmadinejad (will he go to the World Cup?), there have been reports of violent clashes between police and demonstrators in several Iranian cities, including Tabriz.

From what I can gather, many of the confrontations occurred in northwest Iran (where Tabriz is the largest city), and home to a large number of ethnic Azeris. Many of Iran’s Azeri minority would like to be reunited with neighboring Azerbaijan, a prospect that Tehran has summarily rejected. According to Azeri TV in Baku, clashes with Iranian police have claimed the lives of at least five Azeris over the past week, and as many as 11,000 Azeris have been detained. Iranian authorities also temporarily suspended cell phone service in the region, in an effort to prevent unrest from spreading, and keep the story from getting out.

Admittedly, Baku TV isn’t the most accurate or reliable of sources, but at least they’re covering the story. Since Iran’s student movement fizzled in the late 1990s, the U.S. media has all-but-ignored discontent and unrest within Iran’s borders. Time magazine even postulated that student demonstrators had been co-opted by the regime, and were more interested in better paying jobs and creature comforts, than genuine political reform.

In reality, there been a persistent undercurrent of discontent in Iran for years. The student demonstrations of 1999 were followed by a regime crackdown. But there was a second, substantial wave of protests (and some violence) in 2003, followed by another government backlash. Now, public dissatisfaction (particularly among ethnic minorities) seems to be bubbling over again.

It is possible to make too much of this story. Opposition within Iran remains fragmented along ethnic and other demographic lines; at this point, it seems unlikely that opposition groups can coalesce around a central figure or leader and effectively challenge the regime.

But, on the other hand, Iran is hardly the fundamentalist monlith so often potrayed in the western press. There is something going on in Iran, but you wouldn’t know it from the U.S. media.


El Jefe Maximo said...

Michael Ledeen over at National Review has been talking about unrest in Iran for several years; and similar descriptions are available on the Regime Change Iran website.

I have been amazed at how uninterested the MSM is in what really is happening in Iran. I'd sure like to see somebody seriously look into the Iranian internal situation.

Whatever the real situation, presumably the government is in the picture. I mean, the place is not Saddam's Iraq, and if we don't have accurate internal intelligence on Iran, with as many years as we spent there, and with as many Iranians who have studied in this country or in Europe, and given the size of the exile community, we might as well just scrap CIA and start over.

Muslihoon said...

I think the government has plans about using unrest in Iran. In one sense, I'm glad the nation's attention is not on this aspect of Iran because it could potentially lead to the leak of some plan the government plans to implement or has already implemented. Out of sight, out of mind, so the government can do whatever it wants without fearing the public's scrutiny. Although, on the other hand, it may not matter either way. Whatever happens, the Irani government blames foreign powers.

If the government is not capitalizing on this issue, then heads need to roll.

This issue may also shed light on why Ahmadinezhad is focusing so obssessively on the nuclear issue and provocative statements: draw attention away from domestic problems, distract the people, and cover up the fact that he has yet to deliver on his election promises.

Thanks for such a great blog!

Kamran and Tori said...

In defense of the MSM just a bit: journalists need permission to travel within Iran, then they need to find people who will go on record. They are not receiving permission to travel to Ahwaz or Tabriz or the surrounding regions where there is unrest. It's hard to say what the impact of that unrest will be.

They normally (I know that people will disagree vehemently with this) do not report rumor which is what bloggers do. Sometimes the rumors are correct, sometimes they are not. Many of the rumors about Iran have proved wildly inaccurate and inflammatory. Some have proven true.