Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where is Bijan Khajehpour?

Tehranis took to the street once again today for demonstrations ostensibly marking the tenth anniversary of the 18 Tir massacre. We don’t yet know how many Iranians were beaten, arrested, or even killed in open defiance of the Khamenei regime. As the uprising continues and the beatings, arrests, and repression become common place, it is difficult – but imperative – to not become desensitized to their plight. It is also imperative that we remember those Iranians who have just simply disappeared. Bijan Khajehpour is one such Iranian.

Bijan Khajehpour, a prominent political economist and CEO of Atieh Bahar Consulting, arrived in Tehran on June 27. When his flight from Britain arrived at Imam Khomeini airport, Dr. Khajehpour was snatched. Dr. Khajehpour’s whereabouts remain unknown, though some assume that he, like many Iranians, has been detained in the notorious Evin Prison.

While Dr. Khajehpour is just one of maybe thousands of Iranians who have disappeared since the June 12 election, his disappearance is particularly disturbing because he was neither a street protestor nor a leader in Mousavi or Karroubi’s campaign. Instead, Dr. Khajehpour was a public intellectual and businessman. His arrest represents a regime striking out at civil society. It is indicative, as if we needed any more indicators, of a regime in distress, acting out of fear for its very survival. Such a regime is very dangerous; it will likely continue to consolidate power not just into institutions but individuals it deems reliable (like Mojtaba Khamenei) and its brutality towards its own people will increase in proportion to the regime’s relative isolation.


bbarrowm said...

its probably too late. my sense is that most people are already "desensitized." I saw an interesting tweet the other day from a guy wondering what the decay rate is on green tinted profile pictures on twitter. like any web 2.0 fad, youtube, facebook, and twitter produced a torrent of information, while decreasing the gravity that information. its unfortunate that this technology made a trend out of a movement that desperately needs help from the outside because it will not succeed on its own. securing that kind of assistance requires the sustained, serious coverage from the mainstream media.

bbarrowm said... assertion that Khajehpour's disappearance indicates a desperately weak regime is pure conjecture. As an intellectual and businessman, he would posses the necessary social and economic capital to facilitate opposition movements in the future. That the regime recognized that and acted efficiently to preempt him could just as easily be an indication of the regime's capacity as of weakness.

Ben said...

Bret, I didn't mean to intimate the regime was incapable - all the facts indicate that the regime is very capable of exerting oppression - rather, I meant to convey that the regime's behavior is consistent with a regime acting out of fear for its survival. I think that is indeed the case.

bbarrowm said...

in that sense, anything any regime does is out of fear for its survival...even democratic ones. was the CP in China acting out of fear for its survival at tiennamen? Karimov in Andijon? or take an example of a corollary to that logic. did shevardnadze in georgia and kuchma/yanukovich in ukraine not repress because they thought they were relatively secure? maybe, but my point is that repression cannot be taken as ipso facto evidence that the regime perceives an immediate threat to its existence.

Ben said...

Well, assuming every regime is rational then yes of course everything every regime does is out of a desire to survive.

Obviously repression is not ipso facto indicative of a regime preceiving a threat to its survival. However, comparing the methods a regime uses at one time to its historical methods can be elucidating. That is the case here. Dr. Khajehpour's arrest falls outside the norm of repression by the Khamenei regime, and even outside the norm for this particular crackdown. It is, to me, indicative of a regime that preceives a significant threat to its survival. It is not an isolated indicator that the Khamenei regime perceives such a threat. It is certainly conjecture - what else can we do? - but I would say its conjecture rather well buttressed with evidence.

bbarrowm said...

it could just be learning or contagion effects. they could be credibly signaling potential opposition groups that their defection will be punished. your only empirical observation is that they are doing something different. there are any number of alternative explanations for this variation. id have to think about this, but it seems the only convincing supporting evidence of your hypothesis would have to come from an internal account of regime communications on strategy, which is not likely to surface. what's doing your buttressing is more conjecture masquerading as evidence.

to be fair, my one of my few potentially publishable academic pieces is based on the same logic, which is partially why i have resisted sending it out for almost 3 years.

Ben said...

Well, I think that’s an inaccurate characterization of what I’ve done. And I think your requirement for a regime communication ignores deduction and Occam’s razor. Here’s the way I see it:

1. Before June 12, Iran’s regime was moderately repressive.
2. The most significant instance of repressions in the last 10 years were the so-called 18 Tir massacre in 1999, where the regime attacked students who had demonstrated in protest of the closing of a reform newspaper and the 2003 national day of protest marking the 18 Tir massacre. In 2003, the regime used a sophisticated mix of tactics to neuter the protest and limit its impact.
3. Following the June 12 election, large protests broke out.
4. The regime, after initially not confronting the protestors, began beating street demonstrators, arresting street demonstrators, arresting the middle-tier leadership of Mousavi and Karroubi’s parties, closing their newspapers, and of course disabling cellular service.
5. Dr. Khajehpour, is not a member of Mousavi or Karroubi’s political parties, does not publish a newspaper, and was not a street demonstrator.
6. The IRGC has taken control of the security of Iran.
7. Ayatollah Khamenei’s son has been put in charge of the Basij.

Those are the facts as I know them, not conjecture. From those facts, it appears to me that Dr. Khajehpour’s arrest is outside the norm of the regime’s reaction. If you have some facts to dispute that notion, please share them. It further appears to me that Ayatollah Khamenei is attempting to consolidate power in the levers of the state that he most trusts.

If we view this as a system, the inputs are the protests following the election, the outputs are abnormally brutal repression, the arrest of a figure not associated or involved with the protests, and centralization of power. To me, that indicates a regime battening-down the hatches. That is a regime concerned about an unprecedented threat to its legitimacy.

You obviously disagree. What do you think is going on?

bbarrowm said...

occams razor does not just mean the simplest explanation tends to be the right one, ceteris paribus. it's not a tool for adjudication between theories, but a guide for theory development, which states that it is preferable to eliminate all redundant and non-operative (that is, those that have no observable effect on the phenomenon you're trying to explain) hypotheses. my point is we have no idea what any of the observable effects of any of these alternative potential causes are.

if were trying to explain this change in the character of repression, sure, major splits in the elite that threaten the regime could be a cause. sure, the size, scope, and intensity of protest could be a cause. but so could rational signaling (either to protesters or elites) to preempt dissent. i am not convinced that these facts can credibly adjudicate between these explanations. isn't it every bit as possible that this is a reasonably secure elite clearly transmitting information in a period of relative uncertainty, as it is a regime teetering on the brink?

if you painted a dartboard with two colors with the respective areas painted in proportion to the percentages of times a revolt is successful and unsuccessful, and placed a bet on which section you would hit after being blindfolded and spun around ten times, which would you put your money on? in the absence of adjudicating evidence, im going with the percentages: unsuccessful.

Ben said...

1. I don't claim the regime is teetering on the brink.

2. Your explanation and mine are not mutually exclusive, rather they are complimentary. A regime acting out of fear for its survival would of course be attempting to preempt dissent. That's the point.

3. You're right about success rates. But then again, I don't claim that the uprising is going to be successful, I'm just trying to analyze it based on the, albeit limited, information available.

bbarrowm said...

but you're using "fear for survival" in a sense that's so broad that it becomes meaningless. from the context of your comments it seems like you want to use it to mean "perception of immediate existential threat."