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The 1979 Playbook

Iran today looks like it did in 1979 for a number of reasons. Such massive demonstrations against the government haven’t erupted once since the Shah Reza Pahlavi fell. And many – it’s hard to say how many – of the demonstrators are demanding an outright overthrow of the regime.

There is a difference this time, however. The political crisis was ignited by a coup d’etat by one part of the regime against another, as if a sitting president of the United States struck a blow against Congress as well as the electorate and sent the Marines into the streets to crack heads. The current uprising, then, is supported and even led by a large part of Iran’s sidelined ruling establishment. Many of these establishment members themselves took part in the 1979 revolution.

Reza Aslan on the Rachel Maddow show elaborated yesterday.

What’s really fascinating about what’s happening right now in 2009 is that it looks a lot like what was happening in 1979. And there’s a very simple reason for that. The same people are in charge — I mean, Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Medhi Karroubi, the other reformist candidate — these were all the original revolutionaries who brought down the Shah to begin with, so they know how to do this right.

And so what you’re going to see tomorrow is something that was pulled exactly out of the playbook of 1979, which is that you have these massive mourning rallies, where you mourn the deaths of those who were martyred in the cause of freedom. And these things tend to get a little bit out of control, they often result in even more violence by the security forces and even more deaths, which then requires another mourning rally which is even larger, which then requires more violence from the government, and this just becomes an ongoing snowball that can’t be stopped.

That’s how the Shah was removed from power, was these mourning ceremonies. And so Mousavi very smartly calling for an official — not a rally — but an official day of mourning tomorrow. I think we’re going to see crowds that we haven’t even begun to see yet, and then follow that, on Friday, which is sort of the Muslim sabbath, the day of prayer, which is a traditionally a day of gathering anyway. This is just beginning, Rachel, this is just the beginning.



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