“I would tell Iranians to learn from the Egyptians, as we have learned from you guys, that at the end of the day with the power of people, we can do whatever we want to do. If we unite our goals, if we believe, then all our dreams can come true.” – Wael Ghonim, in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Many who have followed Iran’s opposition looked at January 25th with a great deal of anxiety. The youth of Egypt were calling for a “Day of Anger,” a singular protest event at a predestined location at a preset time. Iran’s youth had taken a similar approach, many times, and with each protest the regime became better and better at anticipating the movements of the protesters, meeting them with arrests, tear gas, and riot police. I had been following the growing dissent in Egypt for quite some time, and I was both excited and afraid of what might happen on January 25th.
On February 11th, 2010 (22 Bahman in the Persian Calendar), the Iranian regime planned its celebration of the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The opposition saw this day as an ultimate symbol, and they aimed to make it their own revolution by staging huge protests. With the foreign press confined to the pro-regime rally, I covered the protests live from halfway across the world, and watched in horror as the protests were broken up before they even began. There would be no successful second revolution on that day.
One year later, however, on February 11th, 2011, 22 Bahman, the Egyptian protesters celebrated their own revolution as President Mubarak stepped down. Egypt’s opposition movement upstaged the Iranian regime’s celebrations, and February 11 will now be known as the birth of a new Egypt. The world now uses January 25th as a rallying cry for democratic change, and #Jan25 is still a popular tag on Twitter for those following the wave of unrest in the Middle East. The idea that a group of unarmed, leaderless men and women, despite attempts to arrest, beat, or kill them, could successfully bring about change through protests; that dream was alive once again.
Egypt has changed almost everything. Last week, the reformist opposition leaders in Iran, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, requested permission to hold a rally in solidarity with the Egyptian people, to be held tomorrow, Monday, February 14th, Valentines Day, 25 Bahman.
The regime has made it perfectly clear that they do not want this to happen. The requests for the rallies were denied. Mehdi Karroubi was placed under house arrest, and his phone lines have been cut. Rasoul Montajabnia, a deputy in Karroubi’s party, has been assaulted while praying in a mosque in Tehran. The Iranian security forces have arrested at least 14 activists and journalists in the last week. The regime has also increased its filtering of the internet, blocking anything with the word “Bahman,” as well as various social netwroking sites. Satellite signals are jammed in an attempt to block BBC Persian and other foreign news. According to sources on the ground, the internet is being slowed and is periodically shut off. Yesterday, most Iranian internet users could not use the net at all for several hours in the middle of the day. The Iranian government seems to be working very hard to stop tomorrow’s protests from becoming the next January 25th.
They are failing. Videos have begun to emerge of protest chants from the rooftops and in the universities. Dozens of student and faculty organizations, from cities all over Iran, have pledged their support of Monday’s marches. The spokesperson of Mehdi Karroubi’s Etemade Melli Party has released a statement that they do not need a permit to hold a rally. Sources of information that went quiet over a year ago, out of fear, are once again sending emails, phone calls, and are logging on to social media platforms. The message is clear:
The Iranian people, inspired by Egypt, are once again taking to the streets. Be ready to hear their voices.
No one expects the Iranian regime to be intimidated or to fall easily. Iran is not Egypt, and it is certainly not Tunisia. Ahmadinejad’s Iran is a highly militarized society. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) and the plain-clothed police force (Basij) will, no doubt, not hesitate to beat, slaughter, and arrest anyone they feel is a threat, just as they have in the past. Though there are already reports that some in the regime fear that some in the IRGC may not follow orders if asked to use force, it is highly unlikely that security forces in Iran will fail to follow the orders of their President, or of their Supreme Leader. The Iranian regime has been fighting the Green Movement for almost two years, and their ability to control the internet, and the streets, is unrivaled.
Many in the movement are tired, but it is undeniable that Egypt has given Iranians the boost that they need. According to sources on the ground, there is a tangible buzz, an excitement in the air that hasn’t been felt by the movement in Iran in over a year. Even without this, hundreds and thousands of Iranians have been protesting, leaderless and without the cameras of CNN or Al Jazeera to watch their back. Now, there is a chance that the Green Movement will be rekindled, that many more will take to the streets in protest.
Will it be enough? Will 25 Bahman become Iran’s January 25? In less than 24 hours, the Iranians will begin to answer that question.Posted in Featured, Foreign Policy, Iran, Middle East, Politics