The Iranian people use a pro-regime holiday to demand democracy.
The solution to the crisis with Iran was visible on December 7, Students Day in that country, which marks the anniversary of 1953 anti-American protests when Vice President Nixon visited after the coup that removed Mossadegh from power. The Iranian people continued their strategy of hijacking pro-regime holidays to express their opposition and demand democratic change. On the days when the regime is supposed to appear strongest, it instead appears weakest.
Liberal Middle East expert Juan Cole marveled at how widespread the anti-government demonstrations were. He described them as being larger than the previous November 4 rallies and only being surpassed by the protests following the “re-election” of Ahmadinejad in June. These crowds were able to form despite the deployment of thousands of security forces known for their brutality, the closing of schools, the detaining of opposition leaders, and attempts to shut down the information flow with the outside world by slowing the Internet to a near halt and stopping foreign journalists from covering the events. Over 20 mothers publicly decrying the loss of their children were even arrested.
The Iranian people and their leaders matched the regime’s viciousness with equal bravery. The regime admits that at least 200 were arrested (and the real number is probably far higher) and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who challenged Ahmadinejad for the presidency in the rigged election, reacted to attacks on his wife and harassment of him by the Basiji with anger. The exact quote of what Mousavi said varies from report to report, but the general line was, “You're agents. Do whatever you've been ordered to do, kill me, beat me, threaten me.” The 30 or so thugs later left and Mousavi was able to travel home from his offices to meet up with his wife who had been pepper-sprayed. The story is spreading like wildfire and will electrify the opposition.
The Associated Press reported that the protestors “showed an increased boldness, openly breaking the biggest taboo in Iran, burning pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chanting slogans against him.” According to Juan Cole, the Kurds in Sanandaj and elsewhere joined in, forcing the government to dispatch armored vehicles. Tear gas, intense blasts of water, gunfire, buses and cars with cages attached to detain protestors, steel clubs, knives, bottles and electric batons were all used in an attempt to oppress the people.
Clashes at universities ensued, some of which caused the security forces to retreat. Reports I received from Iranians said that at Tehran’s Somayeh Street, protestors forced Basiji attackers to run away, leaving behind a car and a few motorcycles. At Najaf Abad University, the resistance to attempts by security personnel to arrest protestors forced them to rely on violence just to disperse them. Also at this school, students chanted, “We don’t want nuclear weapons. We are tired of the Leader.” Basiji forces at Amir Kabir University had to leave after students pelted them with stones.
An estimated 6-7,000 security forces entered Tehran University, ruthlessly beating the students who had staged sit-ins and chained themselves to the building. The agents stormed dorms where “Death to Dictatorship” was heard and the students scrambled to shut the lights so they could not be identified. Protestors also hoisted up an Iranian flag with the religious symbolism cut out at a mosque at the university and were attacked. At Valiasr, also in Tehran, a truck driver dropped a shipment of bricks near Engelab Street so the protestors could defend themselves.
The security forces are becoming weaker. The original founder of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Sazegara, who has since become an opposition leader, says that during the November demonstrations, the volunteer Basiji forces failed to show up.
“They had to hire 3,500 people, paying them $400 per day, in order to crack down on the November demonstrations. We have succeeded in destroying the Basij force as it has been known until now. Today, it is only a name,” he told Newsmax.com’s Ken Timmerman.
There are also signs that the loyalty of the most important security forces is faltering. Timmerman reported that on December 5, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander in Tehran had told his soldiers to greet the demonstrators with flowers.
The regime reacted with its usual violence and threats of harsher crackdowns. Ahmadinejad claimed he had proof that the U.S. was trying to stop the appearance of the messianic Hidden Imam from returning in an embarrassing attempt to distract his population. The country’s top prosecutor warned that the government would abandon its previous restraint and hinted at arresting Mousavi.
The Iranian protestors are becoming frustrated with the lack of support from President Obama. A spokesperson for Mousavi’s organization has explicitly asked the U.S. to take the opposition’s side, debunking the argument that doing so is not in the Iranian people’s interest.
The lesson to be learned from the round of nationwide protests that began on December 7 is well-articulated by Iranian dissident Amil Imani:
“Even while continuing to pursue a negotiated resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program, Obama ought to express Americans’ solidarity with the democratic movement in Iran. The students there, playing on the meaning of Obama’s name in Persian (“he’s with us’’), have been chanting to him: Either you are with us or you are with them. The right choice could not be more obvious.”