How the Iranian Regime Checkmated the Green Dissidents on a Crucial Day

The opposition press in Iran says that former presidential candidate Mir Hosain Musavi attempted to go to Azadi (Freedom) Square in downtown Tehran on the occasion of the commemoration of 31 years of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, but was prevented from doing so by a phalanx of plainclothesmen. Musavi had been prime minister under Imam Ruhollah Khomeini in the late 1980s, but is now marked as a dissident by Khomeini’s successor, Ali Khamenei.

In the crowd at Azadi Square, Green Movement supporters who unfurled banners or chanted ‘down with the dictator’ were said by dissident web site Kalemeh.org to have been swiftly arrested by plainclothesmen stationed in the crowds for this purpose.

Interestingly, the authorities did permit former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami to attend the huge rally at Azadi Square. Did these two give undertakings that they and their followers would not attempt to use the occasion to promote protests? Why were they treated so differently from Musavi, whom they support?

Musavi’s, wife, prominent ‘Islamic feminist’ leader Zahra Rahnavard, attempted to attend a protest rally at Sadeghieh Square, but she was likewise surrounded by plainclothesmen, who began cursing and beating her. Supporters spirited her away. At Sadeghieh Square itself a small rally was broken up by security forces and plainsclothesmen, who arrested a number of people. AFP quotes opposition sources saying that tear gas and the brandishing of knives were used in the repression. Other rallies of oppositionists were treated with similar brutality.

As this unverified video shows, anti-riot police in full battle gear were also inserted strategically into the crowds.

The Guardian quotes a disheartened dissident: “There were 300 of us, maximum 500. Against 10,000 people,” one protester told the Associated Press. “It means they won and we lost. They defeated us. They were able to gather so many people. But this doesn’t mean we have been defeated for good. It’s a defeat for now. We need time to regroup.”

Mehdi Karroubi, another dissident and former presidential candidate, was also stopped by plainclothesmen from reaching Sadeghieh Square, by regime tear gas. He is said to have developed difficulty breathing. He was also hit on the head by a stone cast at him, but was not seriously wounded. His bodyguards are said to have been injured. In an interview, his son describes his father’s condition and expresses concern about the whereabouts of his brother (Mehdi Karroubi’s other son), Ali. Some say the latter was arrested.

AP reports on the pro-regime rally at Freedom Square on Thursday:

I have to admit puzzlement about the actions of the leadership and rank and file of the Green Movement on Thursday. Musavi, Rahnavard, and Karroubi appeared to think they would be allowed to go to anti-regime rallying sites, and proceeded in public so that they were easily identified and stopped. The demonstrators also appear to have acted predictably, such that the regime was ready for them and successfully broke up the rallies. I have to wonder whether the regime has not managed to insert spies into the informal leadership of the inchoate Green Movement, or tapped their phones or something, because they appear to have have anticipated their every move.

Some Green Movement supporters objected to my characterization of Thursday as a ‘failure to mobilize,’ saying that I wasn’t taking into account the sheer brutality of regime measures. But it is a given that this regime is brutal. It was brutal on Ashura (Dec. 27, 2009), but the Greens nevertheless managed to make an impressive showing, and despite regime foreknowledge that it would be a flash point.

What I would say is that coming off the Ashura protests, the Green Movement had the momentum and the regime was under pressure. The rallies had spread to a number of cities, including conservative ones like Isfahan and Mashhad. The crowds seemed to be turning on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

After Thursday, the momentum is now with the regime. Either the Revolutionary Guards are getting better at countering the dissidents or movement members are tired of getting beaten up with no measurable political impact. As I said yesterday, the regime blocked the ‘flashmobs’ by interfering with electronic communication (google mail, Facebook, Twitter). They also thought strategically about how to control the public space of major cities, resorting to plainclothesmen rather than just uniformed police squads. It is also possible that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brinkmanship with the West over Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program is causing the Iranian public to rally to the regime in the face of American, Israeli and European threats.

The Green Movement cannot depend on being able to go on indefinitely mounting big public demonstrations, especially since the cost to the protesters is rising, with beatings, firing of live ammunition, mass arrests and executions. It also cannot continue to depend on informal networks to organize, since these can be fairly easily disrupted.

Mir Hosain Musavi has said he refuses to form a political party. There are such parties or at least vague groupings in Iranian politics (former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani leads one), and they have members of parliament. By refusing to develop a grassroots political organization, Musavi may be making the same mistake as former president Abo’l-Hasan Bani-Sadr, who was toppled from the presidency in summer, 1981, because he declined to seek a mass organization, whereas his enemies had the “Hezbollah” popular militia and the Islamic Republican Party that grouped key hard line clerics. Ahmadinejad has his Alliance of Builders in Tehran, and is backed by the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij paramilitary, and other security forces. Musavi has the little flashmobs who couldn’t, at least on Thursday.

End/ (Not Continued)

26 Responses

  1. For months, opposition web sites declared Feb. 11 as the date when an ocean of protesters would overwhelm the cities and possibly even bring down the government. Numerous web sites were constantly writing about this. The reality turned out to be otherwise. Furthermore, to its credit, the government has continued to refrain from using lethal force.

  2. For the first time, I was unable to reach http://www.presstv.ir today. It is unclear whether it is the US or the Iranians blocking the traffic. The block included encrypted proxies in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Vtunnel group.

    If the Iranians were blocking Gmail, Facebook and Twitter, and this meant that the mob didn't know where to "swarm" to, then it stands to reason that this blocking will be used again in the future.

    It also means that the US is providing the tools to help undermine the regime, and all the "paranoia" about regime change is, in fact, true.

    The Australian Government will introduce its own internet filter legislation in a couple of weeks. If that means that the websites of Hamas, Hezbollah, Informed Comment and PressTV.ir are "refused classification", then the world will be a step closer to fascist control.

    Be very afraid.

  3. Have you seen Mohsen Sazegara's commentary of 12 February? He seems more upbeat about how things went, in particular mentioning protests in cities across Iran, and not just Tehran. Is he just putting a brave face on a grim situation? Or thinking wishfully?

  4. Dear Dr. Cole
    Former President Khatami also couldn't attend in the ceremony and he was treated like mousvai and karoubi.

    Rafsanjani is not treated like the trio. he's still head of two powerful organ and there are people who want his head but for the moment, he's safe and you can not call him leader of the opposition.

    also rafsanjani is not the head of a political party. his supporters founded kargozaran years ago and its a disfuctional party. when there's going to be an election, it starts issuing statements and the rest of time its not. many of its core at the moment are with mousavi and karoubi.

  5. The regime does have some popular support, and the regime is able to bribe people to come into the streets.
    The biggest problem with the Green Movement is that their so-called front people are regime insiders; they really don't want to take charge of the movement and offer real change – they want to work within the system (we see how that continues to work in the US); and there seems to be this fanciful idea out there that revolutionary change can be organised via social networking.
    It is going to take blood, sweat and tears for the current regime in Tehran to cahnge.

  6. Well my dear fellow, the real opposition has been fighting for the preservation of Iranian culture since 12th Feb 79. And we have managed to stop them obliterating some of our most cherished pre-Islamic monuments. These "Greens" like the regime, want Islam first.

  7. Google image shows sparse crowd at Azadi Square
    by Ali Lakani on Fri Feb 12, 2010 03:43 AM PST

    Liars caught red-handed! Image shows Azadi Square 10 minutes before Ahmadinejad's speech at 10:47 A.M. and this crowd is nowhere near the lies IRI media dished out about 5 million pro-government demonstrators. How embarrassing

    link to google-latlong.blogspot.com

  8. From day one of this regime, it was evident that only violence, the language that they understand, can remove them. I am all for peaceful protests and regime change but this can serve us for a limited time only. The members of this regime must be harrassed at every opportunity just the same way it was done during last year of the monarchy. We can no longer wait for anniversaries to voice our opposition. People are poorer compared to the Shah's time and can not afford strikes and layoff, no wonder they can sell their souls for a drink and a sandwich. This movement needs a leader(whoever it may turn out to be) who will against all his or her convictions must unite all opposition parties under one umbrella. We face a formidable adversary and need all support everyone can give, be it toudehei, saltanati, mujahed etc. Hard part is convincing these varied groups to join the struggle as one entity.

  9. Nine at risk of execution for involvement in post-election protests

    Nine people are at imminent risk of being executed for their alleged involvement in the post-June 12 election protests in Iran. The nine were convicted of "Moharebeh" (enmity with God) after unfair trials that did not adhere to international standards; it is believed the nine were coerced into making confessions. The names of two of the people are known: Naser Abdolhasani and Reza Kazemi.

    Judging from reports that have appeared in Iranian media, the "evidence" against the convicted individuals is very tenuous. They have been accused of vague crimes such as assembly and conspiracy to commit crimes against national security, insulting top government officials, and propaganda against the state

    The fear of their execution is heightened since two men, Mohammad Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour were hanged in public on January 28 after being convicted in unfair trials of "Moharebeh" and being members of Anjoman-e Padeshahi-e Iran (API), a banned group which advocates the restoration of the Iranian monarchy. They were in detention prior to June 12.

    Hardline cleric and member of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ali Jonati welcomed these executions. Given his prominent position amongst the ruling elite’s "hardliner" faction, his statement is interpreted as a green light for further political executions. He explicitly stated that if widespread executions had taken place following the post- election unrest, the protests would not have lasted so long.

    link to takeaction.amnestyusa.org

  10. Focusing on abuses
    We must not ignore human rights in Iran
    by Trita Parsi
    11-Feb-2010

    Old habits are difficult to break. After years of almost singularly focusing on the nuclear issue, the west has been slow to react to the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. While United Nations Security Council members are preparing new sanctions over the nuclear issue, the UN has yet to address Iran’s human rights abuses since the fraudulent elections last summer.

    Now more than ever, the narrow nuclear focus must be set aside and renewed attention given to the state of human rights in Iran. It is literally a matter of life and death.

    On January 28, Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour were executed for the capital crime of moharebeh, or “taking up arms against God”. Though the Iranian authorities claimed that the two were involved in anti-government protests following the election dispute, Rahmanipour’s lawyer points out he was arrested a month before the elections.

    His lawyer was prevented from representing him at his show trial in July and was shocked at the news of the executions, as she was still waiting for word from the appeals court. His father heard about his son’s execution on television.

    Nine other activists have been convicted of moharebeh and are awaiting execution. Hundreds more await trial, though they are denied access to legal representation. Several leaders of the persecuted Bahai minority are also on trial, accused of spying.

    Seeking to discourage Iran’s Green Movement from taking to the streets on Thursday, the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution, hardline elements within the government have introduced a bill to speed up executions.

    The international community should not sit idly by as the Iranian government violates its obligations to uphold human rights. A special session at the UN Human Rights Council should be called immediately to bring attention to the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.

    The pressure by hardliners to execute more prisoners is clearly political in nature. Even the head of the Iranian judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, recognised them as such. “These demands are political in nature and are against the law and sharia,” he said last week. An international spotlight on the situation in Iran would strengthen pushback against the hardliners who champion violence and abuses.

    Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Iranian authorities are sensitive to criticism of human rights. This is largely driven by Iran’s ambition to be recognised as a regional leader.

    The very nature of the revolution drives this impulse. Three decades ago, it was Iran – not Washington – which spoke of regime change. The victorious revolutionaries sought to export the revolution to neighbouring countries with the aim of recreating the Middle East in their own image.

    Tehran’s efforts failed abysmally. No other country followed Tehran’s lead, and by the early 1990s, it was clear that Iran’s own revolution was in trouble. Iran was broke, war-torn, isolated, and starved of international investment. A leader it was not.

    link to ft.com

  11. On Monday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei vowed to deliver a "punch in the mouth" to those who might exercise their right to peaceful dissent today during Iran’s national holiday. But a "punch" is a far cry from the two executions recently carried out for the same reasons.

    Today during Iran's Victory of the Revolution Day, when words like "revolution", "independence" and "freedom" are on everyone's lips, fears of torture, repression and death still remain.

    The shock is still very much palpable over the two horrific hangings that took place in Iran just weeks ago. The two hanged men became the "fall guys" for the post-Presidential election violence that consumed the streets of Iran last summer. This happened despite the fact that the accused men were nowhere near the widespread demonstrations – they were already in prison!

    Now fear mounts again that 9 more men will hang based on similarly outrageous charges. Help focus Iran's attention on its real problem. Urge Iran to stop the executions.

    link to takeaction.amnestyusa.org

  12. Prof Cole, I'd appreciate your opinion on the proposed McCain/Leiberman bill which would "impose sanctions on Iran for civil rights infractions" and "create a public list of abusers published on the State and Treasury Department web sites and would ban those individuals cited from obtaining American visas, conducting financial transactions with U.S. entities and would freeze assets and properties held within the U.S." while targeting Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps.

    Thank you in advance.

    Link: link to politico.com

  13. The most important accomplishment yesterday was the proof that a few can force the government into a defensive mode and news blockade.

    Considering the 850,000 families in and around Tehran and suburbs that are one way or another on governments handouts (not including government employees) so, it is no surprise that regime was able to recruit enough people to go for a healthy walk on a day with low traffic.

    But the harbinger of success and unity that is being built up was the fact that people were able to force the backward regime to block Google, Blogspot, Gmail, local newspapers and many other news organizations from reporting anything about the party crashers. People proved that they are strong enough to force government into defensive mode, and they achieved that without exploding a single bomb or burning a cinema or killing a police officer. A few thousand united people were able to shake the rotten pillars fo theocracy without any need from Mussavi (the absent petite Imam), Sazegara (new Vogue) or Nourizadeh (the man in search of paternal home), Reza (quarter-Pahlavi) or anyone else.

    People are rising on their own accounts and it was so great to hear their voices in the Persian radios.

  14. I am all for peaceful protests and regime change but this can serve us for a limited time only. The members of this regime must be harrassed at every opportunity just the same way it was done during last year of the monarchy.

    We can no longer wait for anniversaries to voice our opposition. People are poorer compared to the Shah's time and can not afford strikes and layoff, no wonder they can sell their souls for a drink and a sandwich.

    This movement needs a leader(whoever it may turn out to be) who will against all his or her convictions must unite all opposition parties under one umbrella. We face a formidable adversary and need all support everyone can give, be it toudehei, saltanati, mujahed etc. Hard part is convincing these varied groups to join the struggle as one entity.

  15. To shut down opposing views,crack old lady's heads and shoot protestor's,Shut down the press,bus in the Rallier's and claim 'revered' Nuclear Power.

    The opposition's success yesterday as always was seen in the Regimes Complete desperation.

    We in the 'West' are completely devastated… Not..

    But it's more like the people of Iran are by totalitarianism..

  16. My greatest fear was of massive killings of demonstrators and a blood bath. IRR was very prepared and willing to do it. My own friends had told me not to expect a big turnout. Mothers were not going to let their children go to their deaths. Thankfully we did not get a bloodbath. I am glad we did not get Tinneman Square. It would have possibly put back the anti IRR movement by years. Instead the pro democracy movement chose to live to fight another day.

    You don't go around announcing you huge demonstrations months ahead and expect the government not to be ready for them. So of course the IRR was ready. People did the right thing and did not play into the IRR hands. The time to hit IRR is when they are off guard and least expect it.

    We are in this for a long haul. The IRR carried the day yesterday. But all it takes is one slip; one mistake and they are done for. As we speak the US Senate is tightening the noose around the neck of IRR.The diaspora is not that different from those in Iran. We are the same people. When I talk to people who just got here they feel the same as I do. The one thing we have achieved is to get more Iranians specially in diaspora to support tougher sanctions on IRR. Organizations which were up to now neutral like NIAC are being voicing stronger opposition to IRR. The only people who support the IRR as their basiji cronies and the old left wing ex Mojahed/Fadayi members right here in the US. VPK

  17. For the first time in 31 years, the government had to build a fortress and celebrate its own existence inside that fortress while beating people outside the walls.

    The only thing in ruins is any semblance of support for the regime and any claim it has to legitimacy by any measure- even its own. Yesterday was a victory for the Iranian people.

  18. Miserable failure, best describes the farce of iri's independence day. when the government resorts to a police state and buses people to their own private party where free food and presents are distributed, it clearly shows that the iri regime has royally failed.

  19. My relatives tell me the pro-regime rallies were total duds. The attendees had low energy and seemed worn out. The greens on the other hand were inspired despite the fear and brutality

  20. PressTV achor:

    The Islamic Republic’s attempted publicity stunt at UCL last night was a miserable failure. The following video really says it all as dozens of freedom activists poured into the lecture theatre, causing Yvonne Ridley the Ahmadinejad supporter to run off with her bodyguard after 10 minutes, and the meeting was abandoned!

    link to 1.bp.blogspot.com

    link to youtube.com

  21. IRI apologists are tickled pink knowing that after mass arrests, public threats on TV, executions, threatning texts, after putting hundreds of thousands of heavily armed thugs on the streets and after closing off the entire capital, its pathetic regime could finally put on a dog and pony show in peace so that its o Boston residing, Kool-Aid drinking out of touch Kamikaze supporters can gloat for a while.

    But we should think about all this as charity. After all, this will be a morale boost to Jahelo and its friends and will alleviate the need for them to visit their therapists for a while. :-))

  22. Excellent round up of yesterday events:

    ""It was supposed to be the biggest day in the Islamic Republic calendar, yet all Ahmadinejad's junta could do was to confine its supporters in one area. The state TV kept repeating two close shot film footage of the crowd in Azadi Square with the sound muted and one still image which was clearly photoshoped. No aerial shows were broadcast to show the true extent of the crowds. Despite all the intimidations and restrictions on information, protests erupted across the country. Protests that just didn't seem to go away. Every time the crowds were dispersed, they came back again and again. Sadegieh Sq. which was one of the main hotspots today kept changing hands repeatedly between the people and the security forces. Several other districts like Aryashahr and the Ferdows Boulevard were reported to be under the control of the people.

    Perhaps the most ironic news was that on the 31st anniversary of the victory of the Islamic revolution, the grand daughter of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Zahra Eshraghi and her husband were seen as the enemies of the state and arrested. How tighter and smaller the circle of the Islamic Republic elite is getting–Potkin

    See the list of footage from today
    link to youtube.com

  23. azadi square is 50,000 square meter (see azadi tower in wiki). that area is equal to 538,196 square feet. if each person fits into one square foot and if you subtract the area of the actual azadi tower and the area for the reporters and "khavas", then at most half million people can fit into the square. fair indicated that there is google pictures of the demonstrations. i haven't seen it myself (i searched). if he could tell us where to find the picture, then we can see if the crowd actually filled the square and if it spilled into the adjoining avenues that intersect the square.

    The google link is at

    link to google-latlong.blogspot.com

    It shows a sparse Azadi square at 10:47 am local time. More details and analysis links were kindly provided by Shifteh Ansari in the thread

    link to iranian.com

    which I am reposting below. Given these pictures and your data, it is very hard to imagine that square having more than 100k people in it. After all this preparation for months. It is very telling.

    However, Azadi street that feeds into Azadi square looked full of people, and it was barricaded off. In fact, this year, for the first time ever, there were two layers of barricades separating the crowds from AN. So it is not even clear what the makeup of the crowd behind the barricade was. Please visit the above thread, it has a very telling video of inside Azadi square, where people are observed not even paying attention to AN's speech, and even one IRI flag with the IR emblem cut out. In the heart of the "supporters".

    -Fair

    Repost of Shifteh Ansari's links:

    1. You can see parts of the Google image of Tehran at 10:47 a.m. on February 11, 2010 (22 Bahman) here:

    link to arteshesabz.blogspot.com

    and here: link to friendfeed.com

    2. Someone has videotaped the Google Earth image. It shows the
    hundreds of buses which brought the so called "pro-government"
    demonstrators to Azadi Square on 22 Bahman. You can watch it here:

    link to culturallogic.blogspot.com

    3. You can see Google's image for yourself here:

    link to google-latlong.blogspot.com

    4. This is Rah-e Sabz's crowd analysis of the image inside Azadi Square:

    link to rahesabz.info

  24. There's some false satellite image interpretation going on here by the various anons. above. At least tendentious.

    At the time the image was taken, it is true there are not many in Azadeh square. But there are masses in the streets around, presumably on their way there. At least, many, many, more than the number of Green supporters cited.

    There may be a problem in the time of the image (calculation of local time?), which theoretically should have been only a few minutes before the speech started.

  25. The green movement definitely needs new avenues and directions, but I'm a bit skeptical about the prospects of forming a party. I don't think forming a party buys you any footing with the Government of Iran.
    The fate of Mosharekat, the popular party that supported Khatami's presidency and the 6th reformist Parliament is before us. I think almost all of their core members are facing prison sentences right now. Etemad Melli, Karroubi's party is treated no different, with their paper shut down and their offices closed.
    They don't really care to save face with something as "abstract" [in their view] as parties.

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