A Saffron Revolution in Iran? I Doubt It

I'm a little tired of "colored revolution" talk, mostly because what we've learned lately from Georgia and Ukraine is that getting rid of a bad government is the easy part; figuring out ways to institutionalize democratic governance is much, much harder.

There's not a lot of good news coming out of either country. Saakashvili has revealed himself to be the garden-variety post-Soviet tyrant that many already believed he was and the Ukrainians just this week forming a ruling coalition two months after the election.

So, when talk starts about a "Saffron Revolution" in Iran starts, I roll my eyes a bit. Be careful for what you wish for.

More to the point, I'm skeptical that preconditions for a color revolution in Iran are in place. Revolutions or "democratic transitions" or whatever you want to call them, don't happen spontaneously. I have about one million posts I could do on this topic (particularly on what happens when such conditions don't exist), but briefly, half a million people didn't just get up one morning in November and decide to go sit on Maidan in sub-freezing temperatures to demand the resignation of a criminal regime. Ukraine's criminal regime didn't decide to throw in the towel just because it was getting noisy out in front of Parliament.

Ukraine had, among many other things, a functioning civil society, active youth groups willing to take risks, somewhat organized political parties that offered a credible leadership alternative, media outlets that were not controlled by the government, wealthy people willing to chip in and an electorate fed up with the stealing, murdering and general criminality of the Kuchma regime.

Georgia had many (but not all) of the same pre-conditions, including a wildly unpopular president (Eduard Shevardnadze) who was still held in high esteem by the west. The opposition in both countries used stolen elections as a pretext to bring good old-fashioned political organizing together with people's outrage at the blatant abuse of political power. What both also have in common is assistance from the Serbian youth group OTPOR, which is also, it turns out, advising Iranian activists.

Other than help from Serbian youth, I'm not convinced Iran has much in common at all with Georgia and Ukraine.

So, with that bit of editorializing over, this is still a very interesting article in Jane's Intelligence Weekly by my friend Iason Athanasiadis, a Greek journalist who lived in Tehran for three years, about efforts to coax Iranians into activism. It's available only to subscribers and is rather long, but since I am quoted in it, I will post it in its entirety below. No promises on the links.

A Saffron Revolution in Iran?

A series of 'colour revolutions' have rippled across the post-Soviet world since Vaclav Havel's 1989 Velvet Revolution in the then Czechoslovakia. Taking place across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and