The State of Protests in Iran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 20, 2011

More demonstrations occurred today in Iran, and it is clear that the government is worried, as the security forces came out determined to put as much of a lid on unrest as possible:

Antigovernment protesters gathered throughout parts of Iran on Sunday, most concentrated in the capital Tehran, to mark the deaths of two men killed during demonstrations last Monday. The government mounted a stultifying security presence in the capital, with the police making arrests and using tear gas to try to prevent the unrest from escalating.

Despite a steady rain, large crowds gathered intermittently throughout Tehran, from the main thoroughfare to city squares, according to opposition Web sites and witnesses.

The security forces seemed prepared for them, and in some locations, witnesses reported that police officers and baton-holding mercenaries outnumbered the protesters. There were reports of police officers firing on the crowds, although those could not be confirmed, because most foreign journalists were not allowed to report in Iran.

Opposition Web sites and witnesses said that ambulances were driven into the crowds. Security forces, including riot-control units on motorcycles, deployed tear gas to disperse crowds in several places, including near Valiasr Square and Vanak Square.

Plainclothes officers stopped and frisked people on the streets and removed people from vehicles, witnesses said.

Among the people detained–if for a short period of time–was the daughter of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. No one doubts that the government is resolved to do its worst, but it ought to be clear that Iranian demonstrators are equally resolved to do their best, when it comes to keeping the protests alive:

“This was the most violent protest we’ve had by far, and people were also really angry and fearless,” said one witness from Tehran, adding that the public seemed resolved to stay on the street.

[. . .]

The opposition movement is banking on momentum created by a wave of antigovernment uprisings across the Middle East, as well as public uproar at the killing of the two students and the government’s attempt to exploit their deaths by claiming falsely they supported the regime.

“Freedom is near, join us in the streets,” said one posting on the Facebook group created for Sunday’s demonstrations.

“Step outside your door, every street is Freedom Square,” said another.

In Tehran, protesters targeted government buildings such as the national broadcast company Seda va Sima—seen as a mouthpiece for the regime— chanting “God is great” and “Death to the dictator,” witnesses reported on opposition websites.

Protesters continued to focus on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shouting, “It’s the season for revolts; it’s the end of Khamenei.”

Tehran’s municipality reportedly removed trash bins from most neighborhoods because they were being set on fire by crowds, according to witnesses.

Amir Taheri presentscomme d’habitude–a good overview of the state of the opposition in Iran. He acknowledges that in its current form, the opposition is unlikely to bring about regime change in the country, but he also points out that the opposition is transforming in nature. Taheri’s conclusion?

Many Iranians believe that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings that toppled two Arab despots were inspired by Iran’s pro-democracy demonstrations of 2009. This week’s protests revealed three things: Iran’s opposition movement is wounded but alive; it is united in its rejection of Mr. Ahmadinejad; and, slowly but surely, it is discarding the option of change within the regime and seeking to change the regime.

From Taheri’s pixels to God’s computer screen.

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