D-Day for the Greens
19 Sep 2009 23:28
By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 19 Sept 2009
Comment Quds Day was crucial to both the Green Movement and the hardliners. The Green Movement wanted to demonstrate that it was a genuine democratic movement; and though under relentless assault by the hardliners for the past three months, still vibrant and energetic. It also wanted to show that the movement is deeply rooted in society and encompasses people from all walks of life. It wanted to demonstrate that it is not, as some have claimed, a narrow movement limited to the upper and upper middle classes in large Iranian cities.
The hardliners wanted to demonstrate to the world, and more importantly to the Iranian people, that the country has overcome the deep crisis that gripped Iran in the immediate aftermath of the rigged June 12 presidential election, and that the country is back to a normal state of affairs.
Although the hardliners expelled foreign reporters en mass from Iran only a few days after the election, they granted a large number of visas to reporters to return to Iran to report on the Quds Day demonstrations, and to see for themselves that the country was back to normal.
Throughout the entire week leading to Quds Day, beginning with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Friday prayer sermons in Tehran on September 11, the hardliners did their best to scare and discourage the supporters of the Green Movement from taking to the streets to showcase their strength. Ayatollah Khamenei had declared that, "Quds Day belongs to Quds [Jerusalem]; no other slogans must be used" in the demonstrations, hence signaling the hardline faction's intention to confront the supporters of this democratic grassroots movement.
The high command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also issued a statement threatening "rioters" and "agents of foreign governments" from "abusing" Quds Day.
Rumors were disseminated throughout the country that the arrests of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and former president Mohammad Khatami, the leaders of the Green Movement, were imminent. There were even rumors that the Quds Day demonstrations would be cancelled. As the author reported previously, the cancellation had even been recommended by the Ministry of Intelligence.
The children, grandchildren, and relatives of several outspoken critics of the hardliners, including those of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, and even the brother-in-law of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president in the Khatami administration and still in jail after three months, were arrested. [Update: After posting bails of $20,000 each, the grandchildren of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri were released.]
The government gave Thursday (September 17), the day before the Quds Day, as well as today (Saturday September 19) off to its employees. Given that tomorrow is Eid el-Fitr, the day that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is also a national holiday, the government gave, in effect, its employees a four-day vacation, with the hope that they would go out of town and not participate in the demonstrations.
In the words of Hojjatoleslam Rasoul Montajabnia (deputy leader of the National Trust Party, Karroubi's political organization), the hardliners, who seem afraid even of their own shadows, replaced former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who had been the Friday prayer leader of Quds Day for the last 27 years, with Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (no relation to the former president), a fiery hardliner and ardent supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They also announced that Ahmadinejad himself would be giving a speech before the prayer.
In the end, nothing that the hardliners did yielded the desired result. Hundreds of thousands of supporters of the Green Movement demonstrated, not just in Tehran, but in many other cities around the country, including Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Kermanshah, Rasht, Bushehr, Ahwaz, Kerman, Yazd, and even Qom. There were seas of green everywhere.
In Tehran, supporters of the Green Movement began gathering at the Seventh of Tir Square (a major intersection), and then moved toward the campus of Tehran University, where the Friday Prayer and Ahmadinejad's speech were to be held.
Karroubi joined the demonstrators and walked with them all the way to the vicinity of Tehran University.
To prevent the Green Movement's supporters from penetrating Tehran University, public buses had been used to block all the streets around the campus. Security forces, the Basij militia, and plainclothes agents used tear gas and pepper spray in order to disperse the demonstrators. Meanwhile, access to Yahoo and Google e-mails was greatly restricted, as was access to the internet in general.
Khatami joined the demonstrators close to Palestine Square, a short distance from the campus of the University of Tehran. He was then attacked by a mob led by Abolfazl Shariatmadari, son of Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of Kayhan, the mouthpiece of the hardliners and security forces. One of the assailant was carrying a knife. Khatami sustained minor injuries, but was rescued by the people. He was then whisked away to safety.
Seventh of Tir Square, Karim Khan Zand and Keshavarz Boulevards, Hejaab Street, Fatemi Street (north of Keshavarz Boulevard), and even Motahhari Street (farther north) were completely filled by supporters of the Green Movement. A large crowd also gathered in Azadi (freedom) Square, and walked toward Enghelab (revolution) Square, a short distance from the campus of Tehran University.
The two most important features of the demonstrations, listed below, should not be taken lightly:
First, the fact that there were protests everywhere in Iran demonstrated that the Green Movement is indeed broad and encompassing. The movement has grown in such a way that it has been able to attract a broad spectrum of dissidents, from the most conservative to the most radical. That has become possible partly because of the goals of the Movement, as set forth by Mir Hossein Mousavi in his 11th statement issued two weeks ago: the goals of the Movement must be balanced -- not overly radical to deter the more conservative elements, and not too watered-down to disappoint the more liberal elements. In addition, the goals must be such that they can create the broadest and most inclusive consensus.
Second, despite the fact that thousands of people were arrested after the election, hundreds tortured (some to death), raped and sodomized; the most important reformist strategists and leaders rounded up and locked up; Stalinist show trials staged, and "confessions" extracted under immense physical and psychological pressure, people were not afraid to once again come out to the streets, demonstrate and demand their rights.
Another strength of the Green Movement is that, even if Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami or any other leader were arrested, it would be able to continue to thrive. That is because the organization of the Green Movement is horizontal, not vertical. This means that any supporter of the Movement can act as the local leader. Though the leadership of Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami has been significant, it is not vital to the continuation of the Movement.
Moreover, the arrests of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami will surely make people more determined to continue their struggle. This was acknowledged even by Mojtaba Zolnour, deputy to Ayatollah Khamenei's representative to the IRGC. He said that their arrest "will make them martyrs."
The slogans chanted by the demonstrators yesterday also indicated that the nature of the demands of the people had changed dramatically. Whereas the slogan in the demonstrations in the immediate aftermath of the election was, "Where is my vote?", the slogans chanted yesterday were far more radical. Examples include:
- Quds Day, the day of screams for freedom
- Palestine, we are just like you [as oppressed]
- Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I'll only die for Iran
- Death to Russia, Death to China [instead of usual suspects USA and Israel]
- Torture, rape, no longer have effect
- Real Basijis [were] Hemmat and Bakeri [two commanders killed in the Iran-Iraq
war, whose families support the Green Movement]
- Your criminals [the reformist strategists who have been jailed] are our heroes
- Rape is bad, whether in Kahrizakz, or in Palestine
[At least four people died under torture and many others were raped and brutalized]
And, in attacking Ahmadinejad, the demonstrators chanted:
- Shut up liar, get lost liar
- Where is your 63% [of the vote], liar?
- Ahmadi[nejad], Ahmadi[nejad], this is the last message [to you]: Iran's Green Movement is ready for rebellion
And against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:
- Khamenei's a murderer, his Leadership is no longer valid
Chanting against Ahmadinejad during his speech was so loud that the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic [or Seda o Sima, the national radio and television network controlled by the hardliners] had to end live broadcast of the speech, another unprecedented move.
Meanwhile the arrest of the children, grandchildren, relatives, and close aides of senior leaders of the Green Movement and the reformists has continued unabated. Mohammad Mehdi, Mohammad Sadegh, and Mohammad Ali Montazeri, children of Ahmad Montazeri, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's son, have been arrested. In addition, Hamed, Naser, and Hajar Montazeri, three other grandchildren of the Grand Ayatollah, have also been arrested. Moreover, Sara Elahinia, Hamed Montazeri's wife; and Sara Azizi, Naser Montazeri's wife, have also been arrested. The children of Mr. Nazemzadeh and Mr. Ahmadi, two close aids of the Grand Ayatollah, have also been arrested.
Several children of Ayatollah Sayyed Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, head of the Association of the Teachers and Scholars of Qom's Theological Schools, a leftist clerical group, have also been arrested. Ayatollah Mousavi Tabrizi has been an outspoken critic of the hardliners.
La'yaa Doust-Mohammadi and Mohammad Hossein Rabbani, two grandchildren of Ayatollah Mohammad Mehdi Rabbani Amlashi, one of the original figures in the 1979 Revolution and an aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, have also been arrested. [Ayatollah Rabbani passed away in July 1985].
The following have also been arrested: Mehdi Naeimipour, son of Mohammad Naeimipour, editor of the banned newspaper, Yaas-e No [New Jasmine]; Mehdi Shirzad, son of Dr. Ahmad Shirzad, a professor of physics; and Mehdi Mirdamadi, son of Dr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, secretary-general of Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), Iran's largest political party, and leading reformist group. The elder Naeimipour and Shirzad are both members of the central committee of the IIPF. Mehdi Mousavi Nejad, a brother-in-law of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president during the Khatami administration and jailed since the election, has also been arrested.
The goal of the arrest of the relatives, children, and grandchildren of the jailed reformist leaders and outspoken ayatollahs is to pressure those who are in jail to "confess," and to silence those who are not. In one case, a reformist leader was told that "we have found so much evidence against your son that his punishment is death."
The hardliners have cornered themselves. If three months ago, the more moderate elements, such as Rafsanjani, could have mediated between the political establishment and the people, it is now becoming too late for that. The hardliners are rapidly burning all the bridges behind them. They resemble Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the last year of his reign.
If the Shah had agreed to the demand of the people in 1977, had democratized his regime, and had transformed it into a truly Constitutional monarchy, he could have saved his throne. But, by the time he agreed to the people's demands in the fall of 1978, it was too late. The revolutionary forces had become radicalized, and were not willing to settle for anything less than the complete overthrow of the Shah's regime. The same point of no return is now rapidly approaching.
In his historical letter to Ayatollah Khamenei a few days before the June 12 election, Rafsanjani warned the Ayatollah that,
It should be noted that it is possible that government agents are aware of my view that the continuation of the present state of affairs [a government run by Mr. Ahmadinejad] is not in the interest of the political system and the country, and you yourself know this view of mine very well as I have told you my reasons for it, but I have never talked to the media about it; it is the government that has blown this out of proportion with the goal [attacking Mr. Ahmadinejad's competitors] that became clear during the debate [with Mr. Mousavi].
Despite this, even if I patiently continue my policy [of not pursuing the matter and remaining silent], part of the population and political parties and groups will undoubtedly not accept this situation, and the volcanoes that are fed by people's anger will form in the society, many examples of which can be seen in the elections demonstrations in streets and universities.
Therefore, it is essential in the remaining time [until voting on June 12] that Your Excellency's and people's desire for having free elections with maximum participation by the people be materialized that can rescue the country from danger, and create national unity and public trust [in the Islamic Republic system] ...
Rafsanajani's prediction is proving to be prophetic.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau