What’s this? “Will the real Incredible Hulk please stand up?”
Not exactly. This faintly amusing (to Western eyes) snapshot is actually a portrait of breathtaking courage. It’s a recent body-building contest in Iran where the Ahmedinejad regime has started hanging opponents after perfunctory trials. Rashid Ghaleh Shahini took the stage with his body painted green in unmistakable solidarity with the massive dissident movement.
Tomorrow is the 22nd of Bahman (February 11) and it is shaping up to be the latest and quite possibly the largest showdown between the vast and growing dissident movement in Iran on one side and the Ahmedinijad regime, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the leaders of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (the militia usually called the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Western media) on the other. The day could easily end with violent clashes or even a massacre of protesters.
Continuing to position itself as the true voice of the Iranian people, the Green movement has chosen the country's main secular holiday, the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution which overthrew the Shah, to mobilize protests. The call is national and has been strongly endorsed (unlike the huge demonstrations around the Shi'ite holiday of Ashura as last year ended) by the two main opposition candidates in last year’s election, Mir-Hossain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Both contend that that election was fixed, a sentiment shared by millions of Iranians who first took to the streets in the election aftermath last spring.
For their part, the authorities are doing everything they can to block the protest. They’ve been working to whip up nationalist sentiment by launching Iran’s first space rocket and claiming to uphold Iran’s peaceful nuclear program against US and European pressure. More directly, they’ve already undertaken a wave of arrests of activists, thousands of them. They’ve clamped down on the press--65 reporters, many from mainstream media outlets there, are now in prison. They’ve openly discussed what is being called "the Chinese solution" (a reference to "the Tienanmen incident"--the government-ordered massacre of thousands of Chinese students and workers in 1989). Now, they are reported to be blocking off the square where the Tehran marches are supposed to converge and packing it in advance with basiji, the Revolutionary Guard-backed thugs responsible for so much violence in December.
So what’s going to happen? That’s almost impossible to say, beyond the obvious--more people will turn out for the protest demonstrations than whatever "official" observances the government cobbles together. By at least an order of magnitude. The great danger, of course, is that savage repression will be visited upon the demonstrators with many killed, injured or jailed.
One reason things are hard to predict is that there are serious splits in the Iranian ruling class and in the Shi’ite clergy with some revered figures openly part of the Green opposition, others pushing for compromise solutions, and hardliners who fear to give an inch lest they go the way of the Shah (only minus the free flight to the US). The debates and shifting alliances among these forces are extremely difficult to track.
Another reason things remain unclear is that the movement itself is chaotic and de-centralized. It erupted suddenly and spontaneously, and in the eight months since last June has far outstripped the original demand for a fair vote count or revote. The cry now is for democracy, meaning an end to the Islamic State with its effective clerical veto over everything that happens in government and society. Beyond that? Who knows?
The decentralization of the dissident movement, aided by Web 2.0 and cell phones, has made it very hard for the regime to repress, despite the clear cyber-war raging since the election, with hacking, spoofing, and blocking the airwaves and cable and phone lines common government tactics. This has also made it hard for the movement to develop through summation of experience and debate over strategy and tactics.
Iran only breaks into public consciousness once in a while here in the US. This is likely to be one of those times. Progressives and revolutionaries here should be prepared to respond. If repression does strike or civil combat break out, there will be demonstrations worldwide, organized by the large Iranian diaspora, whose members have, unlike most of us, been tracking events there very closely. Find one near you and take part, if at all possible.
In less than 24 hours millions of Iranians will take to the streets demanding democracy, in the face of great danger. They deserve the full support of everyday working people here and they will welcome it. Shame on us if we fail them!
[Recommended reading for those who haven’t been following Iran is the statement from Freedom Road last year analyzing the sudden eruption of the protest movement and its prospects.]
February 10, 2010
posted by Jimmy Higgins