Iranian Clerics Draw Up Battle Lines
A day after bloody battles played out in Tehran's streets on Saturday, Iranian security forces swarmed the streets as the divisions between some of the country's ruling clerics seemed to be intensifying. Although there were scattered reports of clashes, the Washington Postand Los Angeles Timesboth say there was "an uneasy calm" on the streets of Tehran yesterday, while the Wall Street Journalcalls it a "relative and tenuous calm." Government supporters labeled the protesters "terrorists," while opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi called on supporters to continue demonstrating peacefully. In one of the day's most important developments, the police briefly detained five family members of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who is one of the country's most powerful clerics. The New York Timesnotes that the move suggested Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "was facing entrenched resistance among some members of the elite."
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There is still no verifiable death toll from Saturday's clashes in Iran, with the state media saying that 10 people had died, while radio reports put the number of dead at 19. More than 450 people were arrested. The LAT reports that western officials believe 100 people across the country have been killed since the protests began. The WSJ reports that yesterday afternoon, "hundreds" of family members of victims from Saturday's clashes tried to hold a sit-in but were forced to move by security forces. Meanwhile, Mousavi told protesters that regardless of what Ayatollah Khamenei said, "Protesting to lies and fraud is your right." But it is unclear whether large numbers of demonstrators will be willing to take to the streets again.
The state-run news media carried a comment from a law professor calling Mousavi's actions criminal in a move that the WP says "could be the government's way of preparing the ground for his arrest." Iranian state television said that "the presence of terrorists … was tangible" in Saturday's clashes, and asked for the public's help in arresting the perpetrators. The government also continued its crackdown on journalists, ordering the BBC's Tehran correspondent to leave the county within 24 hours and arresting Newsweek's correspondent. According to local media, 24 journalists and bloggers have been arrested since the election.
While the clashes on Saturday played out on the street, yesterday the big drama was inside Iran's complicated power structure as the divisions between some of the country's senior clerics "took on a harsh public tone," as the LAT puts it. The NYT points out that while political rivalries are nothing new in post-revolution Iran, "open factional competition amid a major political crisis could hinder Ayatollah Khamanei's ability to restore order." Rafsanjani, whose eldest daughter was arrested for a few hours yesterday along with four other relatives, is the head of two influential organizations. One of them, the Assembly of Experts, theoretically has the power to replace Khamenei, the country's supreme leader. In a piece inside that takes a deeper look at Rafsanjani, the NYT declares that the division now evident within Iran's political elite "threatens to paralyze the state and undermine the legitimacy it has tried to construct since the 1979 revolution."
The WSJ says Mousavi called for a general strike. It's not clear whether there would be enough support for such a measure, "but a strike would be immune to the heavy hand of the state and could wield leverage by crippling the already stumbling economy," notes the NYT.
The NYT points out that amid the flurry of images and Twitter messages from Iran, the video of a young woman, called Neda, dying in the street after purportedly being shot by security forces has emerged as "a powerful and vivid new image." The Web site for one of the reformist candidates referred to Neda as a martyr who "became a victim by thugs who are supported by a horrifying security apparatus." The WSJ fronts a large screengrab of the video above the fold, noting that Neda has "become an iconic image." Watch the disturbing video here.
In an analysis piece inside, the NYT points out that both sides of the struggle "are deploying religious symbols and parables to portray themselves as pursuing the ideal of a just Islamic state." Previous student uprisings were easier to defeat because those protesters were seeking a complete change in the system. But now, demonstrators argue that all they want is justice. Some analysts suggest that if the government steps up the level of violence against the opposition this week, more senior clerics are likely to speak up against its actions, prompting more people to side with Mousavi.
In a front-page piece, the WSJ looks into how, with the help of European telecommunications companies, the Iranian government has created "one of the world's most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet." Besides simply blocking sites and cutting down connections, the government appears to be monitoring the transmissions and collecting information about users. The technology even enables authorities to make changes to transmissions to disseminate disinformation. This may help to explain why Iran hasn't chosen simply to cut the Internet and also why the Internet has been running so slowly lately: The so-called "deep packet inspection" delays data transmission. "This looks like a step beyond what any other country is doing, including China," one expert tells the paper. At least part of this monitoring capability was provided by a joint venture of Siemens and Nokia in late 2008 that built a "monitoring center" for the government.
The NYT fronts the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan curtailing the use of airstrikes to try to decrease the number of civilian casualties. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said airstrikes would only be used when American or NATO forces are at imminent risk, and even then, their use would be limited if the battle is taking place in populated areas. "Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction if we do not use it responsibly," McChrystal told senior officers last week.
Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.