Mubarak Falls and Iranians Plan a Protest, But What Can They Expect?
From Flickr user rosa_roshan
[Note: this was written by an anonymous correspondent in Tehran]
As the anti-regime uprisings in Egypt enter the negotiation stage, the Iranian government is vehemently celebrating the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, as well as its perceived influence on the ongoing revolts in the Arab Middle East. Meanwhile, the opposition Green Movement, inspired by the events in Cairo, is preparing a counteroffensive.
After 18 months of silence, Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have convoked an opposition rally in Tehran on February 14, just days after an extravagant official celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Described as an act of solidarity with the ongoing anti-regime movements in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab Middle East, the rally is the opposition's way of testing the political waters in the context of regional political turmoil.
Iran has officially embraced the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan as mirrors of the Islamic Revolution and demonstrations of people power in the face of exploitation by wealthy, corrupt, pro-Western elites. If the Iranian government suppresses a local demonstration held in support of these same movements, the opposition hopes it will discredit itself regionally.
"If they were smart, they would embrace the demonstration under the guise of the Islamic Revolution," says P.R., 26-year-old activist. "But they don't care. They're just going to beat us up."
The Green Movement is known for being clustered and decentralized, a trend which has continued since last year's repressions forced it underground. While Mousavi and Karroubi's web sites and Facebook accounts have served to inform potential demonstrators, the bulk of discourse is happening offline, in close-knit, decentralized communities. For example, a girl I recently met at a small (illegal) drinking session knew about the planned rally before it was officially posted on Mousavi's site.
As the rally nears, the mood is definitely changing. Suddenly there are basiji in the streets everywhere. From the looks of it this demonstration is going to be a big one. On Facebook, a friend tells me, "even people who did not go out into the streets last year are posting very radical comments, i.e. 'anyone who doesn't go to the 25 of Bahman demonstration will have no place to criticize this government afterwards.'
People aren’t staying as safe as they could be - in terms of anonymity most people are "liking" and commenting via their regular, identifiable accounts. "It's because everyone is posting, and when so many people do it becomes harder [for the government] to control. They go after people at random."
Both sides are embedding their stance into the framework of the Islamic Revolution. The Revolutionary Guards have already warned the "Western-backed," "seditionist" opposition against holding the rally, condemning it as an annual "anti-revolutionary" attack on the country. Mousavi and Karroubi, meanwhile, have stepped up their anti-government rhetoric, stating that the Islamic republic has been "most hurt" by the "anti-religion and oppressive behavior of the regime itself." By forcing the establishment to act, the resulting dissonance within the system may create an opportunity for the political reemergence of out-of-favor opposition leaders. But will this be enough to resuscitate a popular movement inside Iran?
"I'm hopeful, but we shouldn't expect much after what they did last year," says P.R. "We just have to wait and see."