Iran Roiled, Crowds Burn Banks, Police Station; Chanting against Theocrat Khamenei; But No Revolutionary Alternative Yet

The BBC is reporting that clashes are continuing into Monday morning between protesters and the regime security forces in Tehran and perhaps other cities, marking the first decisive failure of the basij paramilitary to control the streets by early morning of the day of a big demonstration. The number of protesters allegedly killed by security men rose to 9, with dozens wounded and 300 persons allegedly arrested.

This video shows protesters freeing others taken prisoner in a basij van:

The chanting on Sunday turned against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself, not just against President Ahmadinejad. He was castigated as the Dictator and as worse than the old shah, and the very ideological basis of the regime, the doctrine of clerical rule, was chanted against in the streets. The legitimacy of the regime, profoundly shaken by the events since early June’s presidential election, is now being shredded further.

Another remarkable dimension of Sunday’s events was the sheer number of cities where significant rallies and clashes occurred. Some of those allegedly killed are said to have fallen in Tabriz, a northwestern metropolis near Turkey. Even conservative cities such as Isfahan and Mashhad joined in. Shiraz, Ardabil, the list goes on. The attempt of some analysts to paint the disturbances as a shi-shi North Tehran thing has clearly foundered.

The most ominous sign of all for the regime is the reports of security men refusing orders to fire into the crowd.

But for the movement to go further and become truly revolutionary, it would have to have a leader who wanted to overthrow the old regime and who could attract the loyalty of both the people and elements of the armed forces. So far this key revolutionary element, of dual sovereignty, has been lacking, insofar as opposition leaders Mir Hosain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have tried to stay inside the Khomeinist framework while arguing that it is Khamenei who violated it by making it too authoritarian. Saying you want slightly less autocracy within a clerical theocracy is not a recipe for revolution.

Najmeh Bozorgmehr reports from Tehran for the FT that on Sunday in the capital, crowds– bigger than even some of those that assembled in June– maintained their discipline and proved unassailable by the basij motorcycle and other crowd control techniques. She quotes people in the crowd urging demonstrators to stick together for this purpose. She must be suggesting that the crowds were several hundred thousand strong in the capital.

Here is a typical Youtube video of Sunday’s demonstrations in Tehran:

Richard Spencer of the Independent reports from Dubai on the darker side of Sunday’s events, as crowds went on rampages, setting fire to banks, government buildings and even a local police station in response to the use of live ammunition on them by security forces. They threw up barricades and set fire to them, as well as to basiji motorcycles, filling the streets with shooting flames and hovering smoke.

Update: Iran’s official PressTV confirms: “”Nine residential buildings, 9 vehicles, 7 shops, 2 banks and 3 power stations were set on fire [by anti-government protestors], ” Tashakkor said. The Iranian official added that “18 garbage bins” were also set on fire.’

The report of attacks on banks makes me think that there is an economic dimension to this uprising. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s profligate spending had provoked very high inflation last year, up to nearly 30%. Although the government maintains that inflation is now running 15%, that is still a hit that average families are taking, on top of the high prices of last year. And, many economists suspect that the true rate is higher than the government admits. Inflation hurts people on fixed incomes or people who cannot easily raise the price for the services they offer. Since much of the economy is locked up in government-owned companies or semi-public ‘foundations’ (bonyads), some controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and others by elite pro-regime clerics, there may be a monopoly effect operating from the huge public sector that limits private merchants’ and entrepreneurs ability to raise prices. Being 15-20 percent poorer every year would make a person angry.

Moreover, as as Robert Worth recently reported, the government has been threatening to remove subsidies from staples. I was in Egypt in January of 1977 when President Anwar El Sadat stopped subsidies under pressure from the IMF, and it threw the country into 3 days of turmoil from Aswan to Alexandria. Iranians have been upset by this talk of no more subsidies and it may have fed economic anxieties already inflamed by the high inflation (in fact, removal of subsidies is essentially a form of price inflation for consumers).

But values come into it, too. Farnaz Fassihi of the WSJ points out that the first month of the Muslim lunar calendar, Muharram, has been considered a month for truces and non-violence. The very name of the month means ‘sanctified.’ Even the brutal troops of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah or king overthrown in 1979, had not fired on crowds during Muharram. Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi openly said that even the shah’s regime had not behaved on Muharram as clerical Leader Ali Khamenei’s had. Hint: in revolutionary Iran, that is a slam.

The regime therefore violated crowd norms, helping account for the vehemence of the pushback.

In Isfahan, security forces are said to have badly beaten and cursed the brother of Abdollah Nouri, the minister of state under the reformist government of former president Mohammad Khatami.

The killing of Ali Mousavi, the 34-year-old nephew of former presidential candidate Mir Husain Mousavi, was also a violation of Shiite values. The Mousavis are putative descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, a sort of caste in Muslim societies called ‘sayyid’ or ‘sharif.’

In fact, in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911, one of the complaints of the crowd was that the Qajar monarchy had had sayyids beaten. So if beating a scion of the House of the Prophet can help spark a revolution, what about shooting one? And, oppositional film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf maintains that Mousavi was killed by a death squad that came for him in a van rather than just falling victim to random police fire.

Killing a sayyid is a blot on any Iranian government. Doing so on Ashura, the day of morning for the martyred grandson of the Prophet, Imam Husayn, borders on insanity.

End/ (Not Continued)

22 Responses

  1. I found this on another forum, If real, things are coming to a head quickly in Iran, what do you think?

    [quote]
    Coordination Center for National Iranian Armed Resistance Forces declares its existence.

    This announcement was received via telephone from a high ranking Army officer of NIRU from Iran

    Start of announcement

    Saturday December 26th, 2009…
    etc, etc (see english translation)[/quote]

    link to mikverbrugge.tumblr.com

    Original Farsi website> link to dadiirandoust.mihanblog.com

    ronaldo

  2. Juan; "setting fire to banks" … I would take with a salt stone!!

  3. While it is true that Iran doesn't have an anti-establishment leader, one can spring up quickly. The academic community is not part of the establishment, and figures can emergy from there.

    Meanwhile, Ahmedi-Najad said in a speech few days ago that Iran is the most important country in the world. The USSR has gone, and the USA will follow soon. The Mideast is the most important region in the world, and Iran is the most important contry in the Mideast [so there].

    More worryingly he also bragged about Iran being the center of attention of the entire world, as further evidence. But that is only the result of intransigence, which seems as a source of pride to them

    The USA and EU will get nowhere on that basis. I know that Najad's authority is very limited, but he is the puppet of the Supreme Leader and his mouthpiece.

    Iran should simply be ignored, just like a screeming child. Wait until the dust settles, there is no urgency regardless of what the US rightwing goons keep saying.

    Forget the sanctions if they hurt the people. They do not need an incentive and any sanctions can backfire. The only exception is the Revolutionary Guards who have plenty of business interest abroad.

  4. Regrading the first video.. it is actually Sunday mid-day. I watched the video yesterday, around 16h00 local time.

  5. What are the odds that the revolution's finds leadership in Qom.

  6. I am not sure why you have a special listing for the BBC on your sidebar. They may indeed be a better source than most news outlets in the English speaking world but they are not a 'trustworthy and independent source' for news. They run as much propaganda as anyone and deserve much criticism for their omissions and bias in their content.

  7. The BBC is one of the best news sources, period.

    Progressives saying it's not have as much weight as limbaugh and glen beck fans saying the same.

  8. Meanwhile, at the Same Time, Fox guest Mike Gallagher shows us how to undermine the battle to mitigate and eradicate terrorism.

    If we don't get the basics, how are we going to sensibly deal with the tricky situation in Iran; that is, help appeal to those elements in Iran that are less radical and hostile, withoug driving the otherwise reasonable crowds into crowder solidarity with the country against outsiders.

    A little different than this issue, I know, but ultimately the issue with Iran.

  9. Hello Juan,

    I know you are fully engaged elsewhere, but wondered if you'd seen the full statement from al qaeda AP re: the detroit bomb. I have seen parts of statement in press, but not the full thing. Is there a transcript anywhere that you've seen?

  10. Now he clings on to his high office, decked out in the rags of ultra-nationalism and irresponsibly courting collision with the US and Israel with belligerent grandstanding over nuclear power and even more belligerent rhetoric about annihilating Israel. Posing as the great patriot, his claim to be defending his embattled country against a coalition of Zionists and imperialists is his only remaining card.

    link to independent.co.uk

  11. Video Shows Basij Militia Vandalizing Cars

    link to youtube.com

    Please refer to Rex Cinema incident where the Khomeinists burned a movietheathre with 400 people in it and blamed it on the Shah.

  12. The current situation on the ground is yet to be fully seen and understood by those of us that live abroad. The movement is without a well defined leadership, and many forces are operating in the streets of Iran. Additionally, the Western powers and analysts are totally dumbfounded and don’t realize what fuels the uprising and gives it direction.

    Although many of us are in constant contact with the activists back home, none can claim to have total grasp on the situation. Iranian political activists abroad are watching and studying the situation carefully. We ought to know more very soon…

  13. The un-representative and repressive regime in place is taking a swift downward spiral to hell where it deserves to be. . That the movement is without one organization or one leader is the most potent part of the picture. I can't help but admire the people who are expressing themselves so unequivocally and bravely in the face of such repression.
    But all revolutions have the real and present potential to replace existing tyrannies with those of their own. I hope that this time, at least, that the revolution — for that is what is underway — replaces the existing tyranny with a truly freedom-oriented and people-centric structure nd process.

  14. News from Iran indicates that the radical elements of the regime are preparing for more violence and bloodshed. These elements are rallying their base to support the regime and is demanding widespread crackdown on any dissent. The commanders of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have seized this call to begin surgical elimination of the opposition forces.

    It is noteworthy to remember that these commanders are war-hardened military men who thrive in armed conflicts and confrontations. In the years after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, IRGC infiltrated the political posts within the regime. As a result, former IRGC leaders and members now hold the majority in the Majles.

    Also, the street fighters are preparing and organizing for an armed confrontation. The seeds for the first cells of people’s militia have already been .
    sown.

  15. President Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, has forfeited his claims to legitimacy as head of state, having benefited from what everyone suspects was a falsified election result in June.

    Now he clings on to his high office, decked out in the rags of ultra-nationalism and irresponsibly courting collision with the US and Israel with belligerent grandstanding over nuclear power and even more belligerent rhetoric about annihilating Israel. Posing as the great patriot, his claim to be defending his embattled country against a coalition of Zionists and imperialists is his only remaining card.

    We must bear that in mind when considering what our own governments should do in response to what may be a protracted, possibly agonising, struggle between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on one hand, and the alliance of clerical reformers and more secular-minded liberals on the other.

    link to independent.co.uk

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