Hope is still green – an analysis

2009/12/08

Published in “Tagesspiegel” on December 8, 2009
Source (German): http://www.tagesspiegel.de/zeitung/Fragen-des-Tages;art693,2969717

Once again students gather to protest, once again their protests are put down. What is the current situation in Iran?
By Martin Gehlen

Since after the 12th of June, Iran’s calendar of political celebrations is holding a big potential. First, the Quds Day/Jerusalem Day, invented by the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini. Second, the 30th anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran. And now, the National Student Day, which normally is celebrated by the regime to commemorate the death of three students killed during demonstrations against the Shah in 1953. However, since the rigged presidential election, nothing is like it used to be in the Islamic Republic. The country is going through the deepest crisis since the founding of the Islamic Republic. The green opposition with bravery and determination tries to channel the political anniversaries into demonstrations on their own behalf. And each time the regime mobilizes tens of thousands of uniformed militias and Revolutionary Guards to keep the people in check.

How did the demonstrations go?
Despite the widespread presence of the police, more green protesters took to the streets on the national Student Day than in all past months. Heavy clashes took place between uniformed forces and students. The protesters chanted “Death to the dictator” and “freedom, freedom!”. The police used tear gas and batons against the crowds, several people were arrested. In the side roads, members of the notorious Basij militias and students got engaged in heavy clashes and threw stones at each other. Already in the early morning hours, the campus was surrounded by Revolutionary Guards, and the fence around Tehran University was covered with posters displaying pictures of the Supreme Revolutionary Leader Ali Khamenei and religious slogans in order to block the premises from the views of eyewitnesses outside. Opposition websites also reported turmoils taking place in the cities of Kermanshah, Shiraz, Tabriz, and the pilgrimage city of Mashhad.

What is the situation of the protesters?
The turmoil in the country continues, despite mass arrests and show trials, hateful speeches and threats of harshest possible penalties. Most reformist newspapers have been banned, foreign journalists are not permitted to enter the country. Correspondents in Iran were not allowed to leave their offices on Monday. An yet, the civil resistance movement still keeps finding new ways. For example, the governor of the Iranian central bank recently deplored that more and more money bills in Iran have “anti-revolutionary slogans” written on them. “This is a crime”, he raged helplessly. The opposition mockingly replied that each bill contains a message. The people in the streets wear green wristbands and scarfs, women paint their nails green – and demonstratively use the term “Iranian Republic” instead of “Islamic Republic”. Almost every week there is a protest in one of the universities all over the country, with slogans like “Ahmadi go home”. On two occasions Ahmadinejad already had to take his heels when confronted with raging students.

Even five months after the controversial presidential elections, the regime does not dare to arrest the opposition leaders. The new chief of the judiciary obviously wishes to get through with the embarrassing show trials against almost 140 reformist masterminds behind the scenes – with an arbitrary mix of toughness and mercy.
Every few days, information emerges about exemplary high sentences for individual defendants. Others, however, are released without trial and further explanation.

What do the opposition leaders do?
The leading figures of the opposition, Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, however, adamantly stick to their approach: a long breath and no violence – this is what they keep telling the people on every occasion. Moussavi himself is being guarded around the clock, surveillance cameras are set up in front of his house, and secret police patrol the surrounding streets.

On Monday both opposition leaders again explicitly backed the protesting students, even though they did not show up in the streets this time. On his website, Moussavi stated that the clerical establishment would not be able to silence the students, moreover, it is continuously losing legitimacy in the eyes of the people. “A great nation can not simply sit back and watch some people stealing their votes”, wrote Ahmadinejad’s green challenger.

How consolidated it the power of president Ahmadinejad and his supporters?
The Supreme religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not ready for any compromise. People from circles surrounding the Leader spread word that the Shiite chief cleric lives in a state of paranoid delusion and sees himself surrounded by hostile powers, having lost all connections with the political realities in his country. Thus, Ahmadinejad’s attempt to gain new prestige abroad and new legitimacy at home through a nuclear compromise at the nuclear talks in Geneva and Vienna, after weeks of internal struggle was canceled by Khamenei himself. For there are still many scores to settle, not only between Ahmadinejad and his opponents in the presidential elections, Moussavi and Karroubi, but also within the ranks of the conservative regime.

The extent of disagreement and fragmentation within the country’s political elite is such that they are not capable of coordinating and implementing nuclear decisions of such far-reaching impact.
Mehrzad Boroujerdi, expert on Iran at the University of Syracuse in the U.S. state of New York, says that the Islamic Republic has always been fragmented to a great extent. “However, we have not seen this level of chaos within the higher power levels of the country for a long time.”

For instance, Karroubi in an interview with the French newspaper “Le Monde” declared that it is above all important to restore the trust between the rulers and the people in Iran. “Repression is no solution, neither today, nor tomorrow”, the 72 year old former speaker of parliament stated. Unfortunately, there are very few moderate voices in the fundamentalist camp who understand this, he said.

After all, on initiative of those moderate voices, the Iranian parliament last week issued an invitation for a political “union meeting” to encourage the hostile factions to talk to each other – a failure. Only 30 of the invited 199 politicians showed up. Ahmadinejad kept the rest of the crowd waiting for 40 minutes before his staff revealed that the president would not be attending the meeting. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who supports the green movement, had already announced that he could not make it. “First, he will not sit down anywhere with Ahmadinejad giving a speech”, one of his confidants explained on the quiet. And second, in Rafsanjani’s view, since it was a “union meeting”, it would have been appropriate to “invite all opposition leaders”.

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