Co-opting Quds Day
17 Sep 2009 12:00
Kayhan's banner headline quotes from Ayatollah Khomeini: "I'm going to smack this government in the mouth." By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 17 Sept 2009
Comment This year Quds Day has taken on additional significance. The Green Movement has called on its supporters to use the occasion to showcase the Movement's strength, since the demonstrations will take place all over Iran, and the hardliners could not cancel them. At the same time, due to the demonstrations being held everywhere in Iran, a strong turnout by the Green Movement's supporters will display its depth and breadth, and will provide an effective response to those critics who claim that the Movement is limited to the middle and upper classes in large cities.
All the important reformist leaders, including Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and former president Mohammad Khatami, have called on people to participate in the demonstrations, as has Rafsanjani. Formally, they have invited people to show up for the demonstrations to protest the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel, but it is clear that they have something else on their mind: To demonstrate once and for all the overwhelming strength of the reform/Green Movement not only the hardliners, but to the entire world.
All the reformists groups and political parties, including the leftist Association of Combatant Clerics, the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization, and Islamic Iran Participation Front, have asked people to participate in the demonstrations under the guise of the Quds Day protests. Other important clerics who support the reformists, including Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanaei, the outspoken critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have also called on the people to come out for the demonstrations.
Perhaps the strongest call for participation in Quds day came from Hojatolleslam Sayyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini. In a thinly disguised rebuke of the hardliners, he announced that "Quds Day is International; it is not exclusive to Quds. It is a day for the oppressed to resist against the oppressors," implying that it is also a day of protest against repression and oppression in Iran. In effect, he was responding to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who, during his sermons in last Friday's prayer, declared that, "Quds Day is only for Quds [Jerusalem]."
The possibility of a great show of strength by the Green Movement has terrified the hardliners. The show would debunk their claim that the 85% of the eligible voters who voted in the rigged presidential election of June 12 did so to express their support for the political system, not as a peaceful way of making deep and lasting changes in Iran, as the reformists claim.
Thus, to prevent a strong show of strength, the hardliners have resorted to a manner of tricks. First, Mr. Rafsanjani will not be the leader of the Friday prayer in Tehran, which is conspicuous since he has led nearly every Quds Day Friday prayer during the Islamic Republic's 30-year history. It has been announced by hard-line news agencies that Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a hard-line cleric and supporter of Ahmadinejad, will lead the Friday prayer, and that Ahmadinejad himself will also speak.
A reliable source in Tehran told the author that the decision to set aside Rafsanjani was made by Ayatollah Khamenei himself. The last time that Mr. Rafsanjani led the Friday prayer in Tehran on July 17, at least 1.5 million people participated in the prayer, the largest of such gatherings since the heyday of the Revolution in 1979.
Second, the government announced that people can take today (Thursday, September 17) off -- the day before Quds Day -- as well as Saturday, the day before the Eid-el Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan (which will be on Sunday, September 20, and is a national holiday), in effect giving people a four-day vacation.
Third, in his sermons during last Friday prayer, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that, "Quds Day is for Quds [Jerusalem]; no other slogan should be used" on that day during the demonstrations. That was a signal to the security forces to prevent people from carrying any symbol or chanting any slogan that would indicate support for the Green Movement.
Fourth, all sorts of unfounded rumors began to spread, in order to discourage, and perhaps even scare, people from attending the demonstrations. They have included rumors of the imminent arrest of Karroubi and Mousavi, the cancellation of the Quds Day demonstrations, and similar rumors.
Another reliable source in Tehran told the author that there were three separate plans presented by the hardliners to Ayatollah Khamenei as to what to do about the Quds Day.
The police believed that by giving people today and Saturday off, a large number of people will take short vacations and large crowds will not show up, which will enable security forces to better control the masses.
The Ministry of Intelligence believed that Quds Day must be cancelled altogether, with the excuse being "preventing the rioters to abuse such a holy day." The body believed that it would be dangerous to hold the demonstrations, as they could easily spiral out of control.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) suggested to hold what is called in Iran as tazaahoraat-e masnouei (superficial demonstrations), whereby the IRGC would bring out a large number of the Basij militia members and peasants from the villages near Tehran in order to saturate the streets and prevent the formation of large groups of the Green Movement's supporters.
It appears that Ayatollah Khamenei and the hardliners are going to use a combination of the police and IRGC plans. He made this clear during his sermons in last Friday's prayer when he called for large demonstrations.
The Green Movement has called on its supporters not to pay any attention to any rumors. It has asked its supporters not to attend the Friday prayer, or at least its speeches and sermons, but participate in the demonstrations afterward. It has warned its supporters that security agents may try to provoke them into shouting radical slogans, in order to
be able to arrest them and disrupt their gatherings.
The government has granted a large number of visas to foreign reporters to travel to Tehran and attend the demonstrations. The goal is to put up a show of "unity" in order to demonstrate to the world that the country has passed the deep crisis gripping the country after the election, and is now back to normal.
The question is: How can a government that commits fraud in the election, uses violence to crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations protesting that fraud, and commits all sorts of other cruel and inhumane acts, such as rape, murder, stages Stalin-like show trials, shuts down reformist newspapers, and imprisons reformist leaders -- in short, brutally oppressing its own people -- actually claim to be supporting, and in solidarity with other oppressed people around the world, including the Palestinians?
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau