On the 31st anniversary of the coming to power of the current Iranian regime, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have successfully used unprecedented measures to make some Western media outlets lose faith in the opposition’s fight for freedom and democracy.
TIME Magazine asks, “Where was the opposition?” The Daily Mail has run a report quoting a protestor declaring February 11 a day of victory for the regime and detailing the failure of the Green Movement to mobilize. The Los Angeles Times says the pro-regime rally “overshadow[ed]” the opposition that “failed to derail” the regime’s agenda for the day.
From these articles, you’d think that the Green Revolution had fizzled and was on its way out. Reports from Iranians, though, paint a more hopeful picture of continued resistance in the face of security measures nearly insurmountable without active Western support.
Planet-Iran’s live-blogging revealed that overnight in Tehran and in the morning in Tabriz, demonstrators disabled P.A. systems and loudspeakers set up by the regime to drown out their chants with pro-regime propaganda. A bus carrying members of the Basiji to Tehran was set ablaze, resulting in a violent battle. Despite the huge security presence, helmets and motorcycles belonging to the suppressive forces were seen on fire. Molotov cocktails were thrown in Golestan Province and Khamenei’s photo was burned in Shiraz. At one time, about 10,000 Iranians in Tehran gathered and marched towards Evin Prison, the notorious torture house reserved for the worst political prisoners. Other video of the demonstrations that TIME and other outlets missed can be seen at the Wall Street Journal website and the Homylafayette blog. One video even shows the demonstrators emerging victorious from a clash with the attacking security forces.
The regime’s measures to discredit the opposition are actually a testament to the movement’s strength. Tanks, armored personnel vehicles, and two water cannons imported from China had to be stationed to protect the Iranian Broadcasting Network T.V. station from being seized, as crowds of Iranians have marched towards it frequently in the past. Many posters of Khomeini, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad were removed so that they wouldn’t be seen getting burnt and ripped apart.
Mousavi, Karroubi, and Mousavi’s wife were assaulted when they tried to join the protestors. The Internet was dramatically slowed down and some e-mail communication was blocked as the regime moves to start a government-controlled service. Cell phones went dead and social networking sites were blocked. Some people reported receiving phone calls directly from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security warning that they were being monitored and would be arrested if they protested. One interesting account I received from Iran shows the regime’s paranoia and/or an act of subtle disobedience by the pro-regime forces. Security personnel carrying an Iranian flag measuring between 300 and 400 meters long were attacked by other security forces because only the green part of the flag could be seen.
A key part of the regime’s effort to demoralize the opposition and make the West think their momentum has been lost was to stage a massive pro-regime rally. This rally should not be seen as evidence of the government’s enduring strength, but of a desperate measure to maintain some level of confidence on the part of the regime’s dwindling proponents. Foreign reporters were bussed directly to Azadi Square where Ahmadinejad spoke so they wouldn’t witness the opposition activity in the other areas of Tehran.
Michael Ledeen says that he believed that “the Iranian regime has assembled the largest armed force in history to protect it.” This rally was not an event representative of Iran’s people, but an assembly of the regime’s employees, soldiers and thugs. The Defense Ministry gave those that attended meat, chicken and rice (see video here). Cake, fruit juice, mineral water and lunch were also being distributed at Tehran University to those changing “Death to Sarkozy” and “Death to France.” According to a report I received from inside Iran, school children were recruited to join the marches to expand their numbers and male students at a junior high school in Qods Town were offered a free trip to Qom and extra credit if they attended the rally.
The success of the pro-regime rally means several things. First, that despite having more than enough forces to carry out a massacre, the regime did not. They either felt it was unnecessary or not an option because of the popular backlash that would result. Either way, this assembly was a sign of fear, and the reluctance of the regime to take even more brutal measures shows they question the loyalty of their security forces. On the down side, it does mean that the security forces still have not fractured to the point where the regime cannot put together a strong line of defense.
This does not mean that the security forces aren’t becoming weaker, or that they will not collapse if a full-fledged confrontation with the people ensues. Nearly a third of Tehran’s 5,000 police officers have been fired, forcing the regime to bring in 700-900 civilians desperate for food and money during times of exceptionally high instability. The report on this development has several key quotes from police officers. Even those that oppose regime change act with disgust in response to the government’s violence, reflecting how the opposition movement spans across political ideologies.
Officers of the Army and the elite Revolutionary Guards have been arrested for opposing the government’s oppression. During the Ashura protests, security forces from outside the capital had to be brought in, showing that the regime’s loyalists are over-extended. Many of the Revolutionary Guards are said to be conscripts and it is questionable if they’d engage in wholesale massacres. As Ali Alfoneh points out, “The last time regular IRGC personnel were ordered to move against demonstrators was in Qazvin in 1994; the unit in question refused to go.”
Unfortunately, the ability of the regime to block the flow of information and communications and their success in preventing the crowds of demonstrators from merging together means the fight is not over and is becoming more difficult. Luckily for the Iranian people and all those threatened by the regime, a group of Senators know what must be done.
Senator McCain and Lieberman have proposed legislation that would require President Obama to provide a list of officials engaging in human rights abuses within 90 days, allowing their assets to be frozen and other sanctions to be enacted. Senators Brownback and Cornyn have proposed separate legislation that paves the way for the creation of an ambassador-level post for a special envoy for human rights in Iran, the providing of non-violent material to the opposition, and it requires that once a transitional government is formed that the U.S. government establish a plan to support it.
Congress recently approved the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, allowing President Obama to sanction companies providing the regime with petroleum-based products like gasoline, which they are heavily dependent upon imports for. If such sanctions are imposed and the two new pieces of legislation are passed, the opposition’s chances of success will be dramatically improved. There will be debate about how much non-violent material support we can afford to provide with the current deficit, but there can be no greater investment than in the internal overthrow of the current Iranian regime and its replacement with a democracy.