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18 Tir: Fight the Power

by TARA MAHTAFAR in Tehran

10 Jul 2009 13:2425 Comments

Cartoon caption: The people are ahead of Mousavi. "Wait for me to catch up with you," he says.

The city was revved up for 18 Tir. Emails had been circulating all week, outlining ten demonstration routes across Tehran. The emails called on people to "be present" on the streets, even in their cars, if they feared going on foot, expressing solidarity by honking and obstructing security maneuvers by jamming the roads. Locations in provincial capitals were included too; the day was slated for a nationwide event.

Yesterday's protests differed from previous ones in two ways. First, they were organized entirely online, lending credence to purported theories of a "cyber-revolution." Second, more significantly, the turnout sprung from the people themselves; it was not prompted by a call from opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. In fact, an open invitation posted to opposition websites bid him to join them. In elegant script on an electronic invite card, Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami were all three requested to join the people "in peaceful marches to honor the tenth anniversary of the student martyrs of June 9, 1999," in effect signalling that the movement has surpassed its figurehead. It was steering along on an organic course without leadership from above. Thus unmediated, turnout would be a critical measure of how far Iranians were prepared to stand up to the regime on their own.

Thursday afternoon, we headed out in a caravan of three cars for Vanak Square, armed with water bottles and green surgical masks. (Long marches have taught us to avert thirst; filming by Intelligence agents cautioned protection of identity.) At 4:30 p.m., Vanak was dead. Policemen idled on four corners of the square, and a line of buses, apparently intended to transport captured "rioters," were parked to the side. There were no people though; even the usual pedestrian flow was absent. Our spirits flagged a bit, seeing deserted a scene we expected to be swarming.

"Iranians are always late," one friend joked. "They'll show up by 6-ish."

The consensus was to go downtown (cell phones, surprisingly, were working). As we progressed down Valiasr Avenue, signs of life began to emerge. Pockets of people -- interestingly, women considerably outnumbered men -- trickled down the sidewalks. We could tell they were one of us, so to speak, by the telltale signs of water bottles and surgical masks. It's interesting to see how fast these things become trends, suddenly and as if by silent consensus.

We parked near Enghelab Street and joined the water-and-mask-carrying crowd now streaming in larger, denser numbers toward Tehran University. Women still composed the majority.

On Enghelab, pepper spray forced the crowd, sputtering and gasping, to turn back. "Up the other way!" people bellowed. My friends and I, arms linked in pairs, followed our fellow protesters onto Vesal Ave, the nearest cross street. More people had poured in from both sides. We were now more than 2000 strong, filling an entire side of the avenue. Emboldened, we whooped and broke out in applause. "Arms up!" came the next cry. We raised our hands and flashed the V sign. Oncoming traffic blared their car horns and waved Vs back. Even the police, who were too few to stop us, seemed excited. I caught several of them smiling at us.

We marched northward, turning onto another avenue, heading toward Valiasr. The 'silence' etiquette of past marches had given way to full-throated chanting. A popular call-and-answer rhymed Mousavi's first name with that of the epic hero of Ashura: "Ya Hossein!" went half the crowd, and "Mir Hossein!" called the other half. Another chant was in effect the equivalent of holding out an olive-branch: "Police [our] friends, protect us!" And a new, alarmingly radical slogan, venturing beyond the vote dispute, attacked Ayatollah Khamenei's son, who is rumored to become the next Supreme Leader: "Mojtaba, you'll die before you're Leader!"

Chanting, our throng wound its way into Valiasr like a thick snake. I was hoarse, sweaty, and elated. After Enghelab, Valiasr is Tehran's next big hot spot. Unfortunately the Special Guard (yegan vijeh) had anticipated this.

Whizzing screeches, dense white smoke and the now-familiar stench of teargas descended upon us.

Running half-blind, we scattered into side alleys. Smokers lit cigarettes, puffed on them hurriedly, and blew out smoke into each other's eyes. It was once odd to have a total stranger's mouth suddenly inches away, helping dispel the burning sting. But the odd has become standard.

It was about 6:30 p.m. when we returned to our cars. On the way home, we realized the Basij had been called in. Dozens of motorbikes rushed past us on various streets: camouflage fatigues, shielded helmets or bareheaded, clubs in hand. I repressed an urge to floor the gas pedal and ram into them. Instead, I yelled out the window as the last of them were passing (they're known to attack people in cars too): "Animals!"

At least there is a savage pleasure in letting them know what you think.

* * *

18 Tir lived up to expectations, as I learned later that night at a friend's housewarming. Everyone had stories to tell from protests and clashes at different areas across the capital: Haft-e-Tir (central), Gisha (west), Sadat-Abad (northwest), Pasdaran (east), Amir-Abad (Tehran University dormitories), and even Vanak (north). It seemed the peak hours had been from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Like in our experience, they appear to have started calmly in the presence of ordinary police, and descended into violence when Guards and Basij moved in halfway through. Protesters fought back by lighting fire barricades; plumes of black smoke were seen rising over Enqelab.

Those who stayed on after we turned back reported that protesters who were dispersed would regroup a few streets over with other crowds. Apparently, the new "multiple route" strategy worked. Decentralized protests threw security forces off-guard and forced them to break ranks to cover all areas. It also allowed people to disband and re-band randomly -- kind of like "protest-hopping," if you like. There was even a general consensus that people felt bolder now, that they'd be out again next time.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

18 Tir

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Thank you for this update.

Libertad y Democracia para Iran!

We are all praying for you.

shetty / July 10, 2009 10:27 AM

Commentators (including Iranian-American ones) have been saying that the movement cannot succeed without a leader and that Mousavi as an "accidental leader" careful to stay within fundamental legal boundaries really isn't it. But what seems to emerge in news reports and what you say is the on-again off-again formation of leadership from below, of a large network of groups finding their way forward and learning from experience. It may not be enough to put things over the top but seems like a two-edged sword: both a well-adapted tactic under the circumstances and one that embeds a new kind of democracy at the same time.

Peter / July 10, 2009 8:36 PM

Wonderful and courageous thinking out of the box. This is guerilla warfare 2.0. For so long Iran has been captive of one demon or other, freedom and democracy now! Khoda khafez!

asimegusta / July 11, 2009 8:08 AM

"We are marching with you."

Nana / July 11, 2009 8:55 AM

Glad to hear that you are still in ot to win it. Go Free Iran

pegpond / July 11, 2009 6:10 PM

Thank you for sharing the report. We're with you in our hearts and imaginations.

Michele / July 11, 2009 6:40 PM

I wish I was there with you ppl

Kasra / July 11, 2009 7:00 PM

God Bless you all, stay strong and persistant, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Free Iran!

Katayoun / July 11, 2009 7:04 PM

I love it! Speaking from the heart to "Fight the Power" is hard; but as the new wave of consciousness rises the tide finds the way.

Helmalou / July 11, 2009 7:10 PM

I love it! Speaking from the heart to "Fight the Power" is hard; but as the new wave of consciousness rises, the tide finds the way.

Helmalou / July 11, 2009 7:17 PM

thank you for this update, which paints a picture we can't see in the photos.

does anyone know if the Naomi Wolfe piece has been translated into farsi? If she has her analysis right, this tug of war needs stamina for a bit longer, and who knows how this tide could turn.


Here's praying. You true Iranians inspire us. May you prevail over the cruel unjust dictator, sooner rather than later.

Ferdosi_NY / July 11, 2009 7:19 PM

Bless all you and I hope you stay safe and get your message across the world. Send a strong message to the fraud President that he owns nothing but the people who work for him.

andrew / July 11, 2009 7:38 PM

Peaceful protest start with Green ribbons and water. They would remain peaceful if not confronted as it did past the police that smiled en-route to the university. But then the police come down on the protesters with force and the stones begin to fly.

The U.S. and others have tried peacefully also to protest Iran's government nonsense but lunatic Ahmadi nejad spews his vile madness at us and the world. So I say this; If being civil and peaceful, by just sanctioning the regime doesn't work, and we unfortunately have to enter Iran, I hope the soldiers tie green ribbons on their barrels so the Iranian people know that we join them against the evil regime. Ahmadi under estimates the U.S. He'll keep pushing till our back is against the wall and then he'll get a big surprise. The way the free world feels this past month about the video's coming out of Iran, he could find himself being hunted by all the countries and his upper echelon friends with him. Keep it up Ahmadi and you'll see the deepest "Sea of Green" ever. Have a nice day.

TheVeni1 / July 11, 2009 8:12 PM

I believe there is but one solution that allows everyone to save face even at this late stage. It will also allow Iran to win!

Here is the proposed solution:

1- Ahmadinejad announces that due to the internal mistrust and conflict being created because of the election and as a sign of respect to those who have lost their lives or been injured in the last few weeks, he proposes that the election being re-run in order to ensure that Iranian people have confidence in the results. He feels confident that the outcome will be good for Iran and will ensure the support of people for the government and establish unity between the people and with the government.

2- He will therefore move to formally request this from the appropriate authorities and Khamenei etc.

3- To ensure that everyone will abide by the results and people have confidence in the new election, he will also propose that an international monitoring body being established to oversee the election.

4- He will therefore make a formal request from Khamenei and the authorities to authorise this re-run of the election as he feels confident this is the best solution for Iran and he will gladly abide by the results as he believes and trusts the Iranian nation's choice and decision.

Consequences for Ahmadinejad: This will allow Ahmadinejad to rise above the current mistrust, accusations of cheating, dictatorship etc. he will also have redeemed himself and to some extent endeared himself to Iranians and the world public opinion, particularly for his demonstration of magnanimity!

5- Khamenei will state that he has received the request etc. praises Ahmadinejad etc. and also re-itterates the trust in people.... And orders the re-run

Consequences for Khamanehi: This allows Khamenei to redeem himself, re-detach himself from taking sides, sit about politics and government, hence saving the future of the Islamic Republic. He will also endear himself to Iranians and world public opinion that he is also magnanimous and is above politics and supports Iranian people's choices whatever they maybe.

Consequences for Iranians: This will make Iranians proud that their voices and their anger was heard, listened to and made the government to change direction. They will flock to the voting booth and vote in their thousands. They will acknowledge and accept that Islamic Republic, really does work and accept Khamenei again ! This will also allow Iranians re be united again, regardless of which side they were on etc.

Consequences for Iran: Whatever the outcome, Iran and the Iranian government will emerge much more powerful both in Iran and the rest of the world with a huge mandate from the people.

The government can then negotiate with the west from a position of strength and public support!

I can go on with the consequences for everyone, including economy, foreign policy, Nuclear program, policy implications and consequences to the Gulf states as well as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon.............

In short, everyone wins, except for the real enemies of Iran!


The world can be changed with one step by one person!

Omid / July 11, 2009 8:37 PM

I smiled as I read this account, in my mind seeing the evil forces trying to get you all and you just slipping down other roads and going to another area to keep the protest going. It sounds like there are more and more coming to your side persist and it will happen. You will be free and we are encouraged to pray even harder for you.

Dawn Harfield Prince / July 11, 2009 9:13 PM

I am humbled to be a supporter for a strong, courageous, beautiful people, keep up the pressure, dooset daram, hamishe...

Sara R. Anderson / July 11, 2009 10:41 PM

There is great enthusiasm for this movement, but I'm bothered by these serious questions : Where IS Iranian public opinion on this divide ? Are there ANY reliable,non-partisan metrics ? Could Mr.A

HAVE 60 % support from a non-twittering silent majority of Iranians ?

I don't think the thugs are just working for the money ,they ENJOY their work.What is the ratio of protesters to Iranians that think the protesters are just trouble makers who need their asses kicked ?

Not that any of these factors can trump vision,and courage.

The American Revolution began with about 25 % support,

And one Polish dockworker kicked the USSR right in the ...

bushtheliberator / July 11, 2009 11:10 PM

Hang in there. 750,000 died to win our freedom from Britain and many thousands more since then to keep it. Freedom isn't free, but is worth the price. I wish I was there to help.


Dr. Gary Myers OD / July 11, 2009 11:31 PM

Thank you for this great website. I was up all night in 1968 when the Russians went into Czechslovakia and cried as that Revolution was taken apart. You-all in Iran are in my prayers.

Chuck / July 11, 2009 11:42 PM

Great work under incredible circumstances. Keep up the good fight - and it is a fight for basic human goodness. Your struggle is being compared to Bosnia & South Africa on the world stage. Stay agile & you'll prevail . . .

Smitcheroo / July 12, 2009 12:10 AM

The whole world is with you in spirit - don't give up - you are on the right course - you are all in our thoughts and prayers every day.

Judi / July 12, 2009 1:51 AM

Thankyou for this, not only the updates but also for fighting for all of us.

I thank you and your fellow protesters whith all my heart.

Jeganeh / July 12, 2009 2:50 AM

Peter says:

July 10, 2009 at 20:36

"Commentators (including Iranian-American ones) have been saying that the movement cannot succeed without a leader"

Journalists, and commentators see themselves everywhere as kingmakers and part of the ruling elite, whether your press is "free" or not. It is a matter of their own perspective, hubris, and pride. Over the course of time, movements are capable of making their own leaders.

I think the established media still fail to understand, both reporters and commentators, that their assumption that if they don't tell the story no one will ever know, is a false one. We now know, and now realize how spectacularly biased our own "free press" is. Lies by omission and slander. EstablishedwesternmediaFAIL

Marianne / July 12, 2009 11:16 AM

I told you the seconds were counting down...now it won't be long, till Iran is truly free in body, mind & spirit. & I call on all the free world to join with me & will it. For where there's a will...there's a way!

My prayer's for you all are keeping God very busy these days...if he wants less of a workload...he better start answering them!

v.gerrard / July 12, 2009 12:21 PM

Re: Mister OMID ( July 11, 2009 @ 20:37 ) and Marianne ( July 10, 2009 at 20:36 ):: Marianne writes-"Commentators (including Iranian-American ones) have been saying that the movement cannot succeed without a leader". I say," Mr. Omid has written the most sensible answer I have seen so far and one that should be presented to the leaders and peaceful people of Iran. Mr Omid with his insightful propositions should be considered as a leader". It only takes a little bit of common sense and some thought to resolve problems peacefully. Mr. Omid has put his proposal forth. Not being Iranian, I say to Iranians, take Mr Omid's proposal to Grand Ayatollah Montazeri as he has the same thoughts and viewpoints; and to the people of Iran. I congratulate you Mr. Omid on your well written suggestions. Peace. 'V'

TheVeni1 / July 12, 2009 4:37 PM