Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Iranian Protests Re-Emerge, With a Difference

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 10, 2009

During the dramatic June protests that rocked Tehran and other Iranian cities, one thing became obvious from the Twitter feeds and new reports coming out of that nation– everything was being fueled by passion without organization. Massive protests would break out in Tehran, but Kerman would be quiet. Esfahan would be in the streets, but Shiraz would be silent.

One of the primary features of  warfare in the Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries was the perpetual quest not to get caught on a narrow front with many of your formations still in column. Think of an army of those days as a “T”– formations would get fed down the vertical column of the “T” while they marched and then deployed wide along the horizontal line at the top of the “T” so that they could attack or defend all along a broad front; to have to weather an attack while still in column would almost inevitably lead to being defeated “in detail”, as one unit after another falls because they couldn’t coordinate their actions and receive the attack as a whole rather than as individuals. So, too, was this the major problem with the Iranian protests; lacking coordination borne of the lack of communication, individual protests never coalesced into a cohesive movement, allowing Revolutionary Guard and other security forces to deal with the protests one by one, limit and handle them, and then redeploy to handle another outburst. In essence, the protest movement was caught marching in column and its units were dispatched in detail by a deployed force.

How did this happen, with so many people across the nation energized and seeking change? The presumed demise of the “Twitter Revolution” lay in its most noted feature– the reliance upon overt and easily monitored social networking and communication sources for coordination. During the first days of protest in Tehran, flash mob style protests were effectively organized via Twitter and Facebook with the more technologically savvy of the Iranian security services trying in vain to convince the command structure that the regime was actually being endangered by these foreign doodads. Once that message got through, about 48 hours into the uprising, things started to change dramatically– Twitter users were being rounded up, the Basij, IRGC, and other security forces were deploying in advance of protests and more importantly were deploying along the lines of advance of protesters, defeating the smaller protests as they marched to designated squares or other meeting points to coalesce into larger mass protests. It was easy to do in the end– they turned off cell and text service to ensure an end to any semi-covert communication and coordination between protest leaders in Tehran and in other cities, then they simply logged on to the Twitter Feeds and Facebook conversations so that they, too, knew exactly what was going to happen where and when.

Twitter is a great way to recruit your army due to its overt and self-disseminating nature , not a way to give it marching orders for those self-same reasons. The Mousavi forces were not able to overcome that obvious fact during the initial outbreak of uprisings; they were not prepared for the scope and nature of the wave that the electoral outcome set off and had no national, or indeed even Tehranian, covert communications net. Nearly all successful uprisings need at their base a cell-based C3I (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence) that can not only organize and give orders to the field forces but also withstand assault by security forces without compromising the entire enterprise. From the 19th Century Russian Narodnya Volya , the modern progenitor of the cell structure, to the Bolsheviks to the French Resistance to the Viet Minh to the 1970s PLO to al Qaeda and indeed the Iranian Revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to the fore, the concept of the cell structure has been proven time and again to be integral to major operations against a state security apparatus.

Today, in his Informed Comment Blog, Juan Cole notes that the re-ignition of protests today in Iran shows a major difference from the earlier protest wave– it broke out simultaneously in several cities, hinting at the emergence of a national structure underlying the movement.

If this is the case– and I strongly suspect it is– then the “Green Revolution” may indeed have legs to carry it beyond the spasm of activity we saw last month. While the real possibility existed that the relative quiet of the past two weeks signalled the ultimate victory of the Khameini-Ahmahinejad Regime over the Mousavi faction, it now seems that the Mousavites have constructively used this lull to organize a cell structured, covert C3I network and have trotted it out today in an obviously successful trial run. On what the exact mechanism of this structure is I won’t speculate, but Cole did report that the Iranian security structure disabled the cell texting network today but that did nothing to stop the coordinated civil disobedience. Moreover, the regime has allegedly responded quickly with deadly force, perhaps signaling their surprise at the developments of the day and unpreparedness to deal with it.

It will be interesting to see if the Mousavi faction will use this new structure in a very public and showy wave of new protests in an attempt to effect the quick collapse of the regime or if they will go to ground  and use it in a long, strategic campaign to destabilize and ultimately depose the Iranian theocratic structure by using popular unrest and the weight of the regime against itself. I view this in the same light as the “Daily Kos” vs. Obama fight that we saw in the Democratic Party in 2007 & 2008– there will be a strong will amongst the younger, more passion driven foot soldiers to get back in the streets and stay there, while the deceivingly conservative Mousavi and his leadership circle will likely look more to the mid-term and a campaign of destabilization that will ultimately lead to a more gradual change.

The coming days, months and year will be very interesting to watch.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: