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World News

Q+A: What might happen next in Iran

TEHRAN (Reuters) - In the aftermath of disputed presidential elections, Iran is experiencing its worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution as opposition protesters take to the streets in a rare challenge to authorities.

Supporters of defeated moderate candidate Mirhossein Mousavi on Wednesday staged huge demonstrations in Tehran for a fifth successive day in protest against the victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Below are key points to watch in the next 72 hours identified by Reuters correspondents.

* IS THERE ANY SIGN SENIOR CLERICS MIGHT WITHHOLD LEGITIMACY

FROM PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD?

The possibility is almost zero, because since the election, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his speeches and during his meeting with Mousavi, has emphasized the importance of unity among Iranians and has referred to Ahmadinejad as the country’s legitimate president.

What also may prevent Khamenei from withholding legitimacy from Ahmadinejad is that such move would implicitly confirm allegations of election rigging, claimed by reformers.

And because Iran is under mounting international pressure over its nuclear program, any such move by Khamenei would widen rifts in the ruling establishment.

ARE THE PROTESTS LIKELY TO CONTINUE OR LOSE MOMENTUM?

It is difficult to predict whether the protests will continue because many factors come into the equation.

The authorities are using various tactics to end the protests, including discrediting activists and protesters by calling them rioters and saying the protests are organized by foreigners.

They are also allowing protests to proceed without major confrontation to let frustrated middle-class Iranians vent their anger. They hope the protesters will eventually lose interest and the protests will die down.

If other tactics do not work, the authorities may opt for a violent crackdown. So far, young and middle-class Iranians are protesting in urban areas. If the protests are taken up by poor people in rural areas, then even force will not be able to stop them.

It is possible that, in the coming days, the protests will subside but will not fizzle. The establishment’s handling of the issue is the most decisive factor.

IS THERE ANY ROOM FOR KHAMENEI TO MAKE MORE CONCESSIONS WHEN HE SPEAKS ON FRIDAY?

In his Friday speech, Khamenei is likely to call on all Iranians to be calm and may urge rival groups to recognize each other’s right to exist. It is highly unlikely he will say something to please the moderates.

Giving reformers any status is unlikely, unless the situation deteriorates drastically and we have not reached that stage yet. People are proceeding with their normal lives despite the demonstrations.

IS MOUSAVI PREPARED TO RISK FURTHER CONFRONTATION ON THE STREETS?

Mousavi will possibly continue his activities and, at certain points, his allies may adopt an even more aggressive stance. If the situation gets out of hand and threatens to harm the establishment, Mousavi will give way because he is essentially unwilling to go against the interest of the Islamic Republic.

If he gives in, then a large group of pro-reform Iranians will become disillusioned and it will mark the end of Mousavi’s political career as well as that of many other leading reformist figures. This will lead to conservatives winning the next elections to the national parliament and city councils.

IS THERE AN ALLIANCE BUILDING?

An alliance has emerged against Ahmadinejad. It includes Mousavi, former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran. Because Khamenei is fully backing Ahmadinejad, this alliance can be interpreted as an alliance against Khamenei.

Editing by Samia Nakhoul

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