The elections are over, the result has been declared, the mass protests have been broken up – but the struggle for the future of Iran is far from over. A memorial gathering for those killed in post-election violence was held at a cemetery in Tehran yesterday. Mourners were arrested and the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was prevented by police from paying his respects. The Iranian authorities seem to have interpreted this as a continuation of political protests by other means, and they probably had good reason to do so.
There is still intense anger among many Iranians at what they regard as a stolen presidential election last month. Their grievances have been compounded by the treatment of protestors arrested in last month's demonstrations. So how should we read what is taking place in the country? There is, it is true, a basic tension between conservatives and reformists. But that, alone, is a misleading characterisation of what is taking place in Iran. This is a struggle between generations and also within generations. It is a battle between rival religious convictions. The conservative/reformist prism also misses the serious divisions in the conservative camp.
The crucial point is that this is not a stand-off between a distant regime and an oppressed population, but rather a struggle within that regime. Mr Mousavi is backed by Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the powerful Council of Guardians and confidant of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini. Mr Rafsanjani made a speech earlier this month which was framed as a call for unity but was, in fact, a challenge to the authority of the Supreme Leader.
The forces in Iran are delicately balanced, and no one can say with any certainty which will prevail. But what was true at the height of the post-election unrest remains true now: outside interference would be dangerous and counterproductive. Those who wish to see Iran accept President Barack Obama's offer of a new beginning to US-Iranian relations, understandably, hope the reformists prevail. But any attempt by foreign interests to tip the scales in their favour would merely push that prize further away, and perhaps destroy it altogether.Reuse content