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25 Bahman and the Green Revival

by HAMID FAROKHNIA in Tehran

15 Feb 2011 05:34Comments
IranProtests2011Feb14.jpgSurprising success of Monday demonstrations shows regime in a bind.

[ on the scene ] It appears that up to 350,000 people turned out on the streets of Tehran for the 25 Bahman protests. The reason so many people came out was the relative restraint shown by the security forces and the fact that mobile phones worked till 4 p.m. -- once the first few thousand people showed up, they were able to inform many others that the anti-riot cops and Basijis were not, in general, acting as viciously as was widely feared.

The Basij mostly refrained from violently engaging with the protesters. I did see two people beaten to a pulp -- one by Intel Ministry officers, the second by Sepah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Overall, people worked hard to stop beatings by the regime forces. Once in a while, the anti-riot police would try to disperse the crowd by firing tear gas.

Traversing the city both by foot and on the rapid transit buses, crowds could be seen everywhere. Several thousand people walked from Imam Hossein Square toward Enghelab Square. This is the first time ever such a large crowd came from that direction -- Imam Hossein Square is in the middle of a working-class area. After being dispersed, the crowd walked peacefully on the sidewalks of Enghelab Avenue and some of the parallel roads

Following a lull for the Green Movement that lasted over a year, Monday's march has reinvigorated things tremendously. People were smiling in joy for the first time in a long while. Likewise, many Basijis and NAJA (state police) officers looked positively confused and crestfallen.

This marks the first time in a year and a half that so many protesters have congregated together. Ostensibly, the events in North Africa were the proximate cause. Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi had called for the march in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian citizens whose uprisings led to the removal of those two countries' dictators. The day for which the march was called also coincided with a visit by Turkish President Abdullah Gul. The regime was clearly put in a catch-22 situation. If it cracked down hard, with the world media's gaze focused sharply, it would be seen as a despotic regime much like Mubarak's. Moreover, it would have lost the moral high ground that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had claimed was inspiration for the Northern African scene two Fridays ago. It didn't help the regime that Gul was in town. The result was a day that was largely not characterized by the brutal suppression meted out last year. Apparently, the regime felt this was the least costly approach.

Karroubi told the New York Times three days ago that Monday's events would be decisive both for the regime and the Green Movement. In other words, he and Mousavi took a big gamble. Had the march fizzled out, it could have been a crushing setback. The pair's track record over the last two years shows that they are not reckless risk-takers. We can assume that their decision was part good information or good guesswork about the regime's intentions and part good strategizing. Right now, the two are incommunicado. But we'll find out soon what further action they might call for.

As for the regime, Monday's events have complicated its position on both the domestic front and the international scene. After a year of deafening propaganda about the alleged demise of the democratic movement, the Green Movement has shown that despite great adversity, it is alive and well. This has huge implications for the country's politics, the factional alignments and calculations of the various players. It is particularly discouraging for the country's hardliners who would have stood to gain from the defeat of the Green Movement.

In particular, the trio of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami can breath a sigh of relief. In the last three weeks since Khatami spelled out their conditions for participating in elections, there has been an alarming crescendo of calls for their arrest and even execution. The events of Monday have reduced that risk -- unless they keep pushing the regime into a corner, that is. Thanks to the developments in North Africa, the Green Movement leaders now have a window of opportunity, which they are expected to use in the next few days, building on Monday's unexpected success. Clearly, the Islamic regime is quite concerned that it may be seen as another despotic Middle Eastern government if it persecutes and represses its domestic opposition.

The parallel between Iran and the Northern African states, highlighted by the Supreme Leader in his Friday Prayer sermon, has now come to haunt the regime. Overall, this wasn't a good day for those who rule the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Hamid Farokhnia is a staff writer at Iran Labor Report and covers the capital for Tehran Bureau. He writes under a pen name.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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