The mainstream media has started referring to the recent surge of protests in Iran as “the tipping point” for the opposition movement. While this assumption isn’t totally baseless—as evidenced by the spread of protests from Tehran to the heartland—there’s still a sense of wishful thinking that pervades the coverage.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is not a radical reformer, which means he’s not interested in doing away with the Islamic system. This should be a sign that the greater social freedoms sought by the protesters do not go hand in hand with his assumption of power. By resting their so-called revolution on the shoulders of a politician like Mousavi, Iranians may end up with little more than a kinder gentler oppressive regime.
Perhaps that’s something we Americans can relate to. The movement that helped usher President Obama into office was motivated by his message of hope and promise of change. But after almost a year in office, he has shown himself to be scarily similar to his predecessor. Even the harsh treatment of activists has continued—something the much-maligned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently called to attention in his own defense:
When asked about the “awful scenes of violence on the streets” of Iran during the crackdown on demonstrators who claimed that his election victory was a fraud, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, “the American police beat people in Pittsburgh, they arrest people and use batons and tear gas against people.”
Given this sad reality, we should all realize how little change actually occurs when a movement only seeks to replace a leader. For real revolutionary change to occur, the entire system of government needs to be overhauled as well. It’s not clear if that is a demand of the Iranian opposition movement. Right now it seems to be more about election fraud. Perhaps the movement will evolve to incorporate radical reform, as well as address the interests of the poor and marginalized—a characteristic of a strong nonviolent movement. When that happens, there will be no question that a tipping point has been reached.