'May Your Legs Be Broken for Kicking Our Sons!'
by CORRESPONDENT in Tehran
13 Jun 2011 23:10
Security Forces, Protesters Employ More Sophisticated Tactics
[ dispatch ] It was rush-hour on Valiasr Street. Shopkeepers peeked out from behind half-shuttered doors as armed guards swelled the streets and impeded traffic, making the city's main thoroughfare all but impenetrable. Though frazzled by the blockades and high police presence, several busloads of demonstrators made their way to the announced route between Vanak and Valiasr squares, once again taking advantage of the fact that halting public transportation on a weekday afternoon is something Tehran's authorities try to avoid at all costs.
When a legion of motorcycle basijis swarmed past one of the buses, the entire women's section exploded with lamentations. "God forgive you!" they shouted. "May your legs be broken for kicking our sons!"
After nearly an hour of eyeing each other warily and half-audibly cursing the guards outside, the men in the front of the bus gradually joined in. Reinforced by each other's company, they began cracking jokes about the display of force around them. "Run them over," one said to the laughing driver as five basijis on motorcycles swerved in front of his bus. "Ten points if they're on a motorcycle, five if they're on foot."
On this 22 Khordad, the two-year anniversary of President Ahmadinejad's disputed June 12 reelection, few expected a high turnout at the Tehran demonstration. In the face of sophisticated crowd control, overwhelming security and a high chance of arrest, most protesters were simply hoping that others would join them. "Given the price that the people have paid already, I wasn't expecting everybody to go out and kill themselves," said one avid 26-year-old participant. "I was just happy that other people came out, and that they were very angry. It let everyone know that they were not alone."
For the foot soldiers of the Green Movement, 22 Khordad provided a much-needed morale boost -- the muted, several-thousand turnout notwithstanding. With their main leaders effectively neutralized and their foreign-based coordinators struggling with organization and coherence, local Green Movement supporters have felt increasingly isolated since the last round of Arab-inspired demonstrations fizzled out three months ago. Disillusioned by the recent deaths of high-profile activists and simultaneously piqued by rifts within Iran's ruling structure, the opposition's objective was simply to keep their dynamic alive, activists said. That evening, as cries of Allah-o Akbar rained from the rooftops and news of protests in other cities reached Tehrani ears, it appeared the Green Movement had met this objective.
In some ways, the fact that the demonstration happened at all illustrated the resilience of core opposition supporters. Aside from their high numbers, security forces have become increasingly skilled at surveillance and repression. Equipped with new, top-end gear, they have been trained to disperse crowds and avoid escalation of open violence. As lines of riot police partitioned the main thoroughfare from its adjoining neighborhoods, plainclothesmen combed through the crowd and pulled protesters into the side streets, where they could arrest them more discreetly. An effort was also made to hide detainees from street view: In one security bus, arrested female demonstrators squatted on the seats with their heads down, so that the only way to notice them was from other buses.
Instead of relying on brute force, authorities used psychology to demoralize the masses. Towards the end of the demonstration, homeward bound protesters inevitably came upon a stronghold of flag-waving basijis shouting "Hezbollah is alive" and other intimidating slogans. "It's their way of playing with minds," one passerby commented.
But after two years of intermittent protests, the opposition has also had an opportunity to learn new tactics. Instead of yielding to instinctive panic when squaring off with a charging mass of baton-wielding guards, demonstrators encouraged each other to stay calm. Rather than breaking into a frenzied sprint, they walked in the opposite direction of the advance or simply ducked to the side until the guards passed.
Yet although both sides generally avoided open conflict, the day was by no means devoid of violence. Basij militiamen were seen beating young male protesters; men and women of all ages were manhandled and arrested. In one highly unusual incident, two large groups of idle basijis even attacked each other, indicating a lurking unruliness within the ranks of government forces.
For those who participated in the protests, such details did not go unobserved. A few meters away from this clash, an eccentric elderly woman in a chador chuckled as she bit into a half-eaten green apple. "This apple is a coup d'etat, and half of it is done," she announced to the crowd.
Though it remains dogged by weighty structural problems, the Green Movement thus continues to be a voice on the streets of Tehran. Despite the government's best efforts to neutralize the situation, 22 Khordad gave the weathered opposition a dose of revitalization. "As a social movement, the Green Movement is still figuring a lot of things out. It's like a child that doesn't know how to talk yet," one demonstrator noted. "But there is a crack in the regime, and it's here because of us."
Video purportedly from June 12, 2011. Homepage photo from the Dissected News blog.
Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau