„Quiet encroachment“ of evolutionary change lays foundation for democratic resurgence.
As Iranians poured into their nation’s streets in June 2009 to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, the world watched with awe and anticipation. Anger over the manipulated poll results and dissatisfaction with the general mismanagement of the state’s affairs appeared to fuel a popular resolve not seen since the Islamic Revolution. At the time, commentators prognosticated that if the dissenting Green Movement failed to achieve its objectives in the immediate term, a continued process of collective resistance would eventually force structural or systemic change.Nader Hashemi’s statements to Time in early July 2009 echoed the assessments of many. In his view, „the ruling elite has suffered a huge blow to their credibility,“ and that with a large number of Iranians unified behind the Green Movement „it will be very difficult to forever crush the opposition and go back to the way things were.“
As is widely known, the Islamic Republic, after recovering from the shock of the unrest, initiated a campaign of intimidation and persecution to subdue the opposition. Security forces detained and tried inciters of the „sedition,“ stepped up surveillance of ordinary Iranians, and forcefully disrupted unsanctioned public gatherings. Reformist newspapers were shuttered and the state-run media disseminated propaganda aimed at undermining the reformists‘ political platforms and reputation for personal integrity.
Yet, despite these coercive tactics, the defeated presidential candidates and the movement’s de facto leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi actively denounced the election as fraudulent, pointing to the heavy-handedness of the authorities as evidence. The government’s inability to effectively muzzle the two men, combined with the opposition’s intermittent organization of protests, sustained the initial optimism the Green Movement inspired among both Iranians and outsiders. Author and journalist Robin Wright, for instance, confidently proclaimed six months after the election that the movement’s resilience and courage was „setting historic precedents“ and that the „the opposition has the momentum.“