Slow-boil Revolution

The word "revolution" ("mahapekha," in Hebrew) has been mixed up with "upheaval" ("hafikhah") in our lexicon of expectations. The large-scale demonstrations in Iran, the first of their kind since the Khomeini revolution, created the impression that an upheaval was under way. In other words, that the government of the mullahs would collapse and be replaced by an English-speaking reformist, a fan of the West, who would seize the state television station and begin to publish official proclamations. When that did not occur, Iran moved to the inside pages of the newspapers and media interest plummeted.

But what is happening in Iran is indeed a revolution - slow, even cumbersome and mainly frustrating for those anxious to see President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tarred and feathered in Tehran's Freedom Square. This is a revolution in awareness, the kind that primarily makes clear to Iranians that the supreme religious leader, Ali Khamenei, is merely a politician, not the son of God. As such, he also knows how to make concessions, and not only to sic the guard dogs of the revolution on demonstrators.

Even after declaring that the elections had been conducted properly, Khamenei instructed the Guardian Council to carry out a recount of the votes from 10 percent of the polling stations. When that did not placate presidential contender Mir Hossein Mousavi, Khamenei accepted the demand to establish an independent investigative committee, one not affiliated with the council. Those slated to serve on this committee are not necessarily fans of Ahmadinejad: for example, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who is presently Khamenei's diplomatic adviser, and Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, the former speaker of the parliament, who has sharply attacked the president. In the end, however, the Guardian Council simply announced that Ahmadinejad is president. And that's final.

Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, also publicly criticized Khamenei and thus crossed another historical and legal red line. Khamenei's status as mediator among factions has been completely undermined; he is no longer capable of uniting the country. And this may be the most important change brought about by this slow revolution, of which the mass demonstrations were only one element.

The colors of this revolution are still vague. New elections will not be held, and Ahmadinejad will apparently rule for another four years, but this will clearly be a different sort of term: The president will be profoundly affected by the shocks to Khamenei's status and to the very foundations of the Islamic Revolution. We should not judge the nature of this revolution by Ahmadinejad's statements, but by the behavior of Khamenei, the supreme politician, who is incidentally also a scholar of religious law.

It all hangs on Hamas

In the Palestinian realm, another important revolution in awareness is taking place, even though reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas this week in Cairo suffered another setback when Egypt decided to postpone the date on which they are to sign an agreement.

Hamas is starting to be accepted as a legitimate body, equal in value and status to the Palestinian Authority. The understanding that without Hamas it will not be possible to advance a diplomatic process in the Middle East, has been adopted not only by Syria and Egypt, but by Washington and even by some in Israel. Hamas is not only a partner to the discourse concerning captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; everything hangs on this organization: The formal tahadiyeh (military lull) between Israel and Gaza, which depends on an agreement being made for the opening of the border crossings, which in turn depends on an agreement to establish a joint Fatah-Hamas entity that will administer Gaza, which in turn depends on establishment of a joint security apparatus for the two organizations, which in turn depends on an agreement on the manner and date of PA elections.

Suddenly, Palestinian national reconciliation has become the central pillar in the management of the Israeli-Arab conflict and "regional peace." Without it the Arab initiative can not be realized either.

Thus it happened that the rift between Fatah and Hamas that erupted three years ago, and that peaked with Hamas' takeover of Gaza in 2007, has metamorphosed from being a means for Israel to split the Palestinian ranks, to being an important factor in building up the central political power of the Islamic organization. It is not the PA that now has to grant legitimacy to Hamas, but vice versa. Indeed, it is Hamas, if it so desires, that will turn the PA into a genuine "authority."

Morality police

Over the course of two weeks, the reserve of Iranian concepts in the Israeli lexicon became enriched. For example, the Basij - the militia that suppressed demonstrations in Iran - unjustly turned into an overall name for the forces in charge of demonstration dispersal in Iran.

The volunteers of this armed militia, whose numbers are estimated in the millions, serve all over the country as a "religious and morality police." These activists, whose purpose is to preserve the values of the Islamic Revolution, follow and punish anyone suspected of deviating from the proper rules of behavior for believers.

Members of the Basij, for example, are permitted to arrest couples in public places, beat women who do not cover their heads, arrest and sue homosexuals, enter private parties where men and women are celebrating and arrest the participants, and close down cafes that have hosted unmarried men and women.

The activity of these morality inspectors has had its ups and downs. During certain periods, for example under former president Mohammad Khatami their activity was reduced and they refrained from invading private spaces; under current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the militia received permission to expand its activity and to brutally punish anyone suspect.

Saudi Arabia preceded Iran in establishing a morality police subordinate to the interior minister. Its official title is the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices, numbering about 5,000 inspectors, clerics and officials. This body has a special department for supervision in the streets, a department for intelligence and the collection of information from the public and a department of interrogations, which became infamous after several people died while detained there and at least one committed suicide. This authority also has statutory power over foreign citizens, and is allowed to utilize police forces in case of a mass public event.

When demonstrations need to be dispersed, the authority's inspectors act as an auxiliary force to the special unit in the Saudi Interior Ministry. This Saudi unit is ostensibly part of the police force and its budget comes from the Interior Ministry, but its members receive special training and are equipped with state-of-the-art devices for dispersing demonstrations. One unique aspect of this force can be seen in the strict screening process of those serving in it - screening which removes any Shi'ite candidates in order to prevent a situation in which Shi'ite policemen required to disperse demonstrations by the Shi'ite minority, might desert the force to the ranks of the demonstrators.

In Egypt, where a special morality authority does not operate outside of the Justice Ministry or Interior Ministry, the government relies mainly on reports by volunteers or on complaints originating for the most part in the circles of the Muslim Brotherhood. Maintaining order in the streets is usually handled by police forces who have undergone basic training, and whose members are stationed next to every public building - from banks to movie theaters to large cafes. These forces are equipped with obsolete rifles, their budget is meager and they rely on recruitment conducted outside the cities, on the assumption that "foreigners" will have fewer inhibitions about beating demonstrators than officers who are themselves city residents.

Operating alongside them is a dense network of intelligence personnel in civilian clothing, as well as large reserve forces deployed regularly next to sensitive institutions such as university campuses, the U.S. Embassy or tourist areas in the city centers. These are the companies that will use force if necessary to disperse demonstrations, or set up barricades to prevent the gatherings from trickling outside of the permitted areas.

In most other Arab nations, the police are responsible for dispersing demonstrations, while the army is likely to intervene only in exceptional instances. Lebanon is a special case, in which the army is actually in charge of internal security as well, not only because its capabilities are superior to those of the police; the army in Lebanon is considered a neutral body that will not hesitate to treat equally Shi'ites, Sunnis, Christians or Druze.