Anti-government protests show no signs of abating in Iran despite mass arrests and killings of protesters, leading some observers to wonder whether the Islamic fundamentalist regime is in danger of losing its legitimacy. However, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmidinejehad says it's all just a plot cooked up by the United States, Europe and Israel. (Al Jazeera)
What began last summer as a civil disobedience campaign over the results of last June's disputed presidential election seems to have become something much broader. In a Dec. 28 interview on the Council on Foreign Relations website, Robin Wright, a veteran journalist who has covered Iran since its 1979 revolution, said that while the protestors have loosely coalesced under the banner of the Green Movement led by former presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Moussavi, they don't have a single ideology or agenda:
The original goal was to protest the June 12 election because of a widespread belief of fraud and a rigged election. Since then, the demands have grown, and the focus is now increasingly on the supreme leader, [Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei, as well as the type of rule, if not the system itself. But what happened really since December 7, National Student Day, is a growing call for something bigger that hasn't taken formal shape. It includes the idea of an Iranian Republic rather than an Islamic Republic. The greatest difference among the many factions that have coalesced around the Green Movement is over what they want to see in terms of government.
The latest round of protests and repression took a shocking turn last week during the funeral for Senior Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died Dec. 20 at the age of 87. Although he had been part of the original leadership of the Iranian revolution, Montazeri was a revered religious authority who had become a scathing critic of the regime, going so far as to declare the nation's Supreme leader and president illegitmate. In July, Montazeri issued a series of edicts calling upon Iranians to rise up against the governmen. According to a story on PBS Frontline's website, Montazeri said, in part:
A political system based on force, oppression, changing people's votes, killing, closure [of organs of civil society], arresting [people] and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate. And, according to the teachings of the Prophet and his descendants confessions in jail have no religious or legal validity and cannot be the criterion for action [against the confessor].
Montazeri's death triggered a round of protests that shocked many observers because it came from regions that had been strongholds of the ruling regime. A Dec. 23 news report from the capital city of Tehran by Los Angeles Times reporters Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi that was published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported:
"Iranian authorities are alarmed by the spread of the protests. Mojataba Zolnur, a midranking cleric serving as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's representative to the elite and powerful Revolutionary Guard, acknowledged widespread unrest around the country.
'There were many (acts of) sedition after the Islamic revolution," he said, according to the Web site of the right-wing newspaper Resala. "But none of them spread the seeds of doubt and hesitation among various social layers as much as the recent one.'"
Protestors are taking advantage of designated holy days on the Islamic calendar when large gatherings are customarily permitted.
The latest round of protests began Sunday in several cities during the holiday of Ashura, when Shi'a Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. The regime responded with tear gas, arrests of opposition leaders and the killing of at least 10 people, including the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi.
As Democracy Now! reported, those arrested include Nooshin Ebadi, the sister of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who was taken from her home. There are also reports that a mosque led by a dissident cleric is being beseiged by the feared Basiji militia. On Monday night, two expert observers told PBS News Hour reporter Margaret Warner that the Iranian regime's legitimacy has been substantially weakened in the eyes of its people:
There has been some debate about whether the Obama administration and other Western leaders have been sufficiently vocal in condemning the Iranian regime's attacks on its own people. Yesterday Pres. Obama urged the Iranian government to respect its citizens' rights, saying, in part:
"For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened, the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people who are part of Iran's great and enduring civilization.
What's taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It's about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away."
An editorialist for the British newspaper The Guardian, says Obama is right to confine himself to supportive statements, for now:
"[T]he US is surely right not to do anything more at this stage than to issue statements. Thus far the Iranian regime is doing a good job of discrediting itself with its people. It does not need any assistance from abroad to do that."
Whether or not one agrees with the Guardian on this point, its conclusion seems beyond dispute. More protests seem inevitable, especially since there is a fresh spate of national religious holidays coming up in the new future. Consequently:
"It is a question of who cracks first, and there are no indications of either side backing down."
- Tehran Times: Lawmakers stage marches over Ashura Day protests
- Report: Iran seeking to smuggle raw uranium
- MSNBC Interactive Timeline: Iran After the Elections - details election protests and reactions in Iran and internationally between June 12 and September, 2009.
- Global Voices Online: Iran: Men in Hijah Support Jailed Student
- CN4Iran: China for Iran
- May 2009 debate: Diplomacy with Iran is going nowhere (Intellligence Squared US)
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