Brutalization of protesters by the Islamic Republic has only made the opposition movement craftier.
As Iranians passed the one-year mark of a tumultuous and historic year, an unimpressive and rather quiet June 12 anniversary left many wondering what happened to the disenchanted Iranians. Regime threats, issued weeks in advance against protesters engaging in anniversary demonstrations, succeeded in deterring some. However, from its initial moments, this movement was remarkably forged by hundreds of thousands of courageous Iranians who have not let government intimidation discourage them. Journalists, analysts, and politicians questioned the movement’s strength and survival, wondering if President Ahmadinejad, the clerics, and their Revolutionary Guard had succeeded in quashing the masses.
The people of Iran tell a different story. Rather than pouring onto the streets and surrendering to the brutality of regime forces, the Iranian people say they have voluntarily taken a step back. The one-year anniversary of Iran’s fraudulent election has seen a transformation in the Iranian people and consequently, their ongoing movement.
“What’s the point of demonstrating when we are putting up our finest and most intellectual minds to go up against conscienceless guards to be shot at?,” asked Maryam, a 34-year-old radio producer for Iran’s state media in an early morning phone call to Tehran. “People have given up too much over the last year and have since changed their strategy,” she said in her native Farsi.
Maryam is politically active and socially in tune with the changing ambiance in Iran. She wants regime change for her country. An Iran that is secular and democratic is what’s best for everyone, she said.
Among friends, Maryam is considered to be bold, courageous, and even “crazy” for speaking out openly against the regime. Yet, she could not even use her real name in this interview.
Like many Iranians, Maryam had friends who were arrested and beaten during the protests. She quickly became upset when remembering some of these instances and changed the topic. Iranians have learned a very valuable lesson over the last 12 months, she concluded. They realized that they could be more efficient staying home.
Despite the appearance that the movement has been suppressed in the absence of demonstrations, intellectuals and politically active Iranians like Maryam and her friends are opting to sit home to think, write, publish, and discuss politics.
Welcome to Iran’s Intellectual Revolution.
The shutdown of dozens of Iranian newspapers and media platforms over the last year as a result of demonstration coverage that was unflattering to the regime, left a sizable void that the underground media is effectively filling. The regime strategically closed official media sites hoping to thwart the spread of anti-government sentiment through traditional media outlets. They simultaneously paved the way for popular and unregulated publications to sprout up by the dozens, including underground newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, and even night letters—flyers that are circulated in local neighborhoods in the middle of the night and have become a popular method of disseminating important political messages in many Iranian cities and villages.
At the same time, the radical crackdown against protesters and their freedoms sparked a thirst for information and transparency among the Iranian people.
“This is the time to sit back and think about how we can organize and strategize against the government to make significant changes,” Maryam said. “I cannot say too much over the phone.”
She repeated that phrase many times; fearful of getting into too much detail, and almost certain her line was tapped by the government.
As election results were announced last year—significantly ahead of the time it would actually take to count the votes—the regime proved its corruption and provoked its people. Iranians filled the streets in protest not just against a rigged election but also against 30 years of tyrannical rule.
Immediately, and in the days that followed, the regime began a brutal and vengeful crackdown on protesters. The wrath of the regime’s Revolutionary Guard was not enough. Thousands of Basiji militiamen, imported Iraqis, Pakistanis, Saudis, Palestinians, and others, were paid hundreds of dollars each day, equivalent to the monthly salary of many Iranian professionals, to violently and relentlessly attack demonstrators. Tear gas, acid, batons and even guns were used against the people.
The Iranians persisted. As the government took away their Internet connections, the Iranians found ways to bounce Internet connections through proxy servers. Journalists banned from the country resulted in an emergence of a nation of citizen journalists. As government forces cracked down against women and murdered Neda Agha-Sultan, women quickly came to the forefront of the movement. When the clerics became more radicalized and religious in their sermons, the Iranian people became more secularized and nationalistic. It began as a movement for reform and an election debate, but evolved into a battle to regain control of a 5,000 year-old heirloom.
More than half way through this year, the Iranian people gradually realized that in order to be successful in their endeavor, they must have organization and leadership. The biggest obstacle the opposition faces is that they lack both. The Iranians learned that demonstrations would not help gain either. They only put the lives of innocent Iranians at risk. This new-found awareness has given the opposition a new perspective from which to operate. Iranians are looking to engage one another in meaningful dialogue. They are publishing valuable content, publicizing critical information, and looking for unique ways to communicate political messages to one another.
The alternative, as they witnessed, is watching their loved ones be rounded up and taken to Evin Prison.