Leverett and Mann Leverett's argument in the New York Times last week, that there will not ultimately be a revolution in Iran is misguided. Their case is not only divorced from facts on the ground, but based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the present crisis.
There are some basic inaccuracies in the article. For example, they argue that 'antigovernment Iranian web sites claim there were "tens of thousands" of Ashura protesters; others in Iran say there were 2,000 to 4,000.' This is a correct statement; however, most opposition sites in fact cited hundreds of individuals, rather than tens of thousands. Further, according to Iran's former president A. H. Banisadr, demonstrators in greater Tehran numbered over two million.
As always, "official" statistics must be treated with caution -- lest we forget, for example, that Leverett and Mann Leverett's figures are produced by a regime which also estimated that only 5,000 people gathered for Montazeri's funeral, at which only 200 were supporters of Montazeri and the rest were sent by the regime, contrary to numerous foreign reports, films and pictures which indicated hundreds of thousands had turned out. This is also the regime which claimed that over five million of people in Tehran and 40 million of people nationally demonstrated in their support after Ashura.
This raises a question. If the Iranian regime is so breathtakingly popular, why can it not afford to give the streets to the opposition for a single day so the world can see just how small their numbers are?
According to the constitution, individuals do not require permission to participate in demonstrations. So why then, at such a cost to national and international reputation, does the regime stubbornly not only refuse this right to the opposition, but continue to shut down communication systems and prevent foreign reporters from filming the events? Opponents are taking to the streets in any case, despite systematic intimidation, and each time the regime unleashes brutal forces to arrest, beat and shoots them, throw them from bridges and run over them by cars.
Leverett and Mann Leverett also claim that traditional mourning rituals have failed to mobilize people as anticipated, explaining how the murder of writers and students during Khatami's presidency were not used as instigations for political opposition. What they fail to understand is that at the time, society was still filled with high hopes for reform. There would have been no will to mobilize. Nor is it the case that the death of demonstrators in the present uprising, 'even that of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose murder became a cause célèbre of the YouTube age,' have not sparked significant protest. On the contrary, it was on the day of her murder and despite fierce intimidation tactics that we first saw demonstrators shift from asking 'where is my vote?' to demanding regime change: 'freedom, Independence, Iranian Republic.'
Finally, Leverett and Mann Leverett argued that 'much of Iranian society was upset by the protesters using a sacred day to make a political statement.' For Shia Muslims, however, Ashura is sacred precisely because it marks a day when justice stood against aggressive power. As it is a day dedicated to challenging oppression, any group oppressed by a tyrannical force can use to express its discontent.
Thirty years ago, the biggest political demonstrations against the Shah were held on this very sacred day. This is why Khamenei, the supreme leader, was called the 'Yazid of time' (Yazid being considered the first tyrant to violate the sacredness of the day by murdering the prophet's family). A similar analogy had been made with the Shah of Iran during the 1979 revolution. This month's demonstrations would thus not have been seen as a profanity by many, but are rather in accordance with the embedded norms and values of the culture. What is forbidden on Ashura, however, are the acts of intimidation, violence and murder that were committed by Iran's 'Islamic' regime on that day. Even the Shah's government did not attack demonstrators during Ashura, let alone throw them off bridges, run them over with police car or shoot them. This is why Banisadr recently sent a message to Iran's armed forces and argued that 'the blood shed by the regime [on Ashura] should tell you that this regime had condemned itself to collapse... When a regime sheds blood on Ashura in the name of Islam, it has to go, and go it will.
The main instigators of social revolutions are dictatorial regimes, which leave people with no options other than total submission or revolution. In 1979, the Shah became the negative leader of the revolution in this way. Khamenei takes this title in 2010. The next Iranian revolution has already begun, and the world had better to come to terms with it.