Thursday, December 24, 2009

Iran in revolt

If anyone was tempted to believe (or hope) that the repressive efforts of the Iranian regime had been able to crush the Green Wave of mobilized political opposition touched off by the stolen election in June 2009, the eruption of mass demonstrations in cities all over Iran this week has made it clear that the Iranian opposition is far from fading away. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that active opposition to the regime is not only alive but spreading more widely, both geographically and socially, and often getting more radicalized as well.

Today's LA Times story about the protests by Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi emphasizes the widening scope of anti-regime feeling they express:
Large-scale protests spread in central Iranian cities Wednesday, offering the starkest evidence yet that the opposition movement that emerged from the disputed June presidential election has expanded beyond its base of mostly young, educated Tehran residents to at least some segments of the country's pious heartland.
Actually, this formulation is misleading. The notion that the June protests were restricted to" mostly young, educated Tehran residents" was a key theme of pro-regime propagandists and those who were taken in by then, but even then this slogan was demonstrably false. As Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi themselves say later in the article (doesn't anyone proofread these articles for consistency?), "Tehran's mass postelection protests, which were crushed by authorities, drew Iranians from all walks of life." However, it does appear that the current protests are drawing participants from even wider sectors of the population.
Demonstrations took place in Esfahan, a provincial capital and Iran's cultural center, and nearby Najafabad, the birthplace and hometown of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whose death Saturday triggered the latest round of confrontations between the opposition movement and the government.

The central region is considered by some as the conservative power base of the hard-liners in power.

Iranian authorities are clearly alarmed by the spread of the protests. Mojtaba Zolnour, a mid-ranking cleric serving as supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the elite and powerful Revolutionary Guard, acknowledged widespread unrest around the country. [....]

As protests after the death of Montazeri, Iran's leading dissident cleric, broke out in the shrine city of Qom, Esfahan and Najafabad this week, Tehran has remained relatively quiet. But authorities are bracing for widely anticipated demonstrations linked to Ashura, a major religious holy day this weekend on which Shiite Muslims commemorate the 7th century death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

"The demise of Ayatollah Montazeri agitated the traditional and middle-aged walks of life," said Hamid-Reza Jalaipour, an opposition supporter and Tehran social scientist. "Despite all the restrictions, his death triggered a wider social movement in which traditional-minded and religious people get more involved in the protests."

[....] The latest protests broke out late Tuesday, on the religiously significant third day after Montazeri's death.

Video posted on the Internet showed dozens of demonstrators marching through Esfahan as drivers halted their cars to block approaching security forces. The amateur video showed plainclothes security officers struggling with protesters on the streets.
The rest of the article is here.

=> Scott Lucas at Enduring America emphasizes the same points even more strongly:
It’s no longer “just” Tehran. It’s no longer “just” students. It’s no longer “just” a Green elite v. the “common people” of Iran. [....]

In the weeks after the election, almost all of the video and most of the reporting came out of Iran’s capital, so the stage for the political conflict was Tehran. And even when, despite the restrictions of the Government, footage came out of other cities, the protests were often those on university campuses.

Of course, the camera’s lie might have been one of omission. From mid-June, we have heard of disquiet throughout Iran. Where we could get reliable sources, we have noted the protests and discussions from Shiraz to Tabriz to Mashhad to Hamedan. Yet we could only see a tip of what might lay below the waterline of political events.

So those defending the Iranian regime as stable or widely-supported — harking back to Ahmadinejad’s alleged 63% vote in June — could always assert that those reporting on a widespread opposition were exaggerating, distorting, fantasising.

No longer.

In the excitement since Sunday, I’m not sure it has quite sunk in. The hundreds of thousands who mourned Grand Ayatollah Montazeri on Monday were not in Tehran. (Had there been unrestricted movement from Tehran to Qom, who knows how many more would have spilled beyond the iconic photos and videos of demonstrations we posted on Monday/Tuesday?) Yesterday, despite the forced suspension of the memorial service for Montazeri, they turned out in Isfahan. Later, despite a “ban” on any ceremonies, they appeared in Najafabad.

It continues today —a service, led by Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani, is to be held in Zanjan. And it will continue tomorrow and Saturday and Sunday, the holy day of Ashura.

And as it continues, those on the streets and in front of the mosques are not just a core of students — Governments will always try to say it’s just “the students”, who have no responsibilities of employment or the common sense of adulthood to check their whimsical protests. The videos testify to the range of ages and backgrounds, beyond any label of “reformist” or “conservative”, now involved in the rallies. [....]
Stay tuned....

(The video at the top of this post was shot in Najafabad on December 23. Thanks for the tip about the video and about Scott Lucas's post from Andrew Sullivan.)

--Jeff Weintraub