The Economist has published a very provocative piece on how, three months after his disputed re-election, Ahmadinejad is still failing to reassert his grip on power. This view is only underscored by today’s mass demonstrations in cities all across Iran, in direct defiance of a government ban on opposition activities.
Though it has crushed street protests, jailed dissidents, mounted show trials and hardened censorship, Iran’s ultraconservative, military-backed government remains shaky as it faces a string of testing challenges, including a looming diplomatic showdown over its nuclear ambitions. For sure, it has a physical hold on the Islamic Republic. Its increasingly militarized look, its uninhibited resort to coercion, its domination of parliament and the state-controlled press, and the tacit approval all this gets from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, show its determination to prevail at any cost. But opposition has not faded. Not only do the two defeated reformist presidential candidates still insist they were cheated, but other powerful figures, including top clerics, persist in decrying the abuse of human rights.
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A lot of ordinary Iranians, including many who used to back the conservatives, scorn Mr Ahmadinejad’s claim to have foiled a foreign plot. Instead, they have added charges of the rape, murder and slander of its opponents to the regime’s alleged initial sin of massive voting fraud in the June election. Some argue that the scale and brutality of the regime’s crackdown reflect not strength but desperation. Such worries have already prompted Mr Ahmadinejad to cancel several public observances, an unusual step in the anniversary-obsessed Islamic Republic.
This could hurt Mr Ahmadinejad as he embarks on the first important foreign tour of his second term. Next week he is to join a host of leaders in New York, where he will address the UN General Assembly shortly after America’s president, Barack Obama. Mr Ahmadinejad may eschew the inflammatory talk that prompted a walkout at a UN gathering last year in Geneva. But Iran’s diplomatic isolation will be exposed on September 24th, when Mr Obama is to chair a Security Council summit on nuclear proliferation. American diplomats, keen to help Mr Obama in his stated intention to engage Iran, have been careful to portray the Security Council’s agenda as broad—and targeted at no particular country. Security Council members, such as Russia and China, behind a stiffening of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran in 2006, after it refused to obey a demand by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to suspend the enrichment of uranium. The aim is to make Iran more co-operative at multilateral talks due to start on October 1st, probably in Turkey.
That much-anticipated meeting will confront Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator with representatives of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany. Earlier this month Iran countered the so-called P5+1 group’s longstanding demand for talks with a flowery proposal for broad strategic negotiations that would bury the nuclear issue. But since Mr Obama dropped his predecessor’s more-stick-than-carrot approach, the big-power enforcers may let the Islamic Republic pose as having won respect for its nuclear rights. Such diplomatic forbearance may not endure for long, if Mr Ahmadinejad shows the same disregard for world opinion as he does for his own voters.