The Protests in Iran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 19, 2011

There is talk of demonstrations in Iran tomorrow against the regime. Naturally, the regime is terrified, and has therefore decided to try to prevent protests by threatening the opposition:

Iran warned the opposition on Saturday against staging demonstrations after calls were posted on websites for a rally on Sunday to commemorate two people killed during protests this week, state media reported.

Opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi’s and Mehdi Karoubi’s websites have called for nationwide rallies on Sunday, which they also said were intended to show “decisive support to the pro-reform movement and its leaders.”

“They will be confronted as per the law,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar as saying, when asked about planned opposition rallies.

The authorities, seeking to avoid revival of the mass anti- government rallies that erupted after the disputed 2009 presidential vote, say they will confront any “illegal” gatherings by the opposition, state media reported.

Doubtless, these “confrontations” will involve violence. As this article notes, the reaction of the hardliners to the protests has been to either demand the execution of Green Movement leaders, or to insist that they be put under house arrest, with no contact with the outside world. The second alternative is probably preferable to the first one, as far as the hardliners are concerned; they have little interest in creating martyrs, after all. But don’t put it past them to murder.

This account is one of the more fascinating and moving that I have read:

I was at home on the morning of February 14th, a gray, wintry day in Tehran, when I heard the unbelievable news: a young man had climbed up onto a crane, where Ghasr crosses Shariateri Avenue in east Tehran, and was holding a green ribbon in one hand and two big photos—apparently of “martyrs,” though that wasn’t clear—in the other.

By the time I got to the scene, at around 2:45 P.M., the man was gone. He had been up there on the crane for a few hours, but police and fire fighters managed to take him down. His picture was on Facebook, I heard. The place he had selected for his protest was not far from Imam Hussein Square, where, thirty-two years ago, Air Force technicians had an armed confrontation with other Air Force officers who had remained loyal to the Shah. The banks and shops around the square were doing their regular pre-Iranian New Year business; people in casual clothes, young women and girls with their parents, were filling up the sidewalks. Riot police were hanging around, near their vans, sipping fruit juice and eating snacks. They had been on standby since the morning because of calls for a protest march that day.

The night before, Hamid, a nationalist-secular friend of mine, had predicted a poor turnout. “Iranians are too arrogant to copy the uprisings in Egypt. At the bottom of their hearts, they regard themselves to be culturally superior to the Arabs.” The fact that the February 14th Facebook page had more than sixty thousand supporters hadn’t impressed Hamid. “The number on Facebook means nothing,” he said. “At the end of the day, out of all the people on Facebook who claim to be for a cause, we may only see fifty protesters in the streets who cannot brave the batons more than ten minutes or so, and will be dispersed as always.”

It was now about 3 P.M. All of a sudden, the shops emptied and the two pedestrian bridges on the west side of the square filled with people chanting “Death to the dictator,” and calling to the riot police, “Support us! People, join us!” Soon they were streaming on the sidewalks, moving west toward Azadi Square. As I walked among them, I thought about how even in a despotic country like ours, Facebook and Twitter were taken seriously. There were thousands of people now, and the pioneer demonstrators from the pedestrian bridges were elbowing their way forward and braving the batons and tear-gas canisters and shouting, “No Mubarak in Egypt, no rulers in Tehran, I sacrifice myself for Iran!”

Looking on, Ahmad, fifty, a paper recycler, expressed his astonishment. “I cannot believe it. I thought the sissy movement of the middle class had died out for eternity, but it seems it isn’t so.”

Iranians yearning to be free are anything but sissies. Be sure to read the whole thing–the last paragraph is particularly powerful.

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