January 5, 2010


The Beginning of the End?: The Iranian Regime's Fear of the People: Bloody protests in Iran during the Ashura festival marked a turning point in the conflict between the regime and its opponents. For the first time, demonstrators responded to police brutality with violence of their own. But although the opposition movement is gaining ground, the government's massive security forces are still as powerful as ever. (Dieter Bednarz and Erich Follath, 1/05/10, Der Spiegel)

Ashura is the day on which history was written and probably will always continue to be written. History was also written in December 2009, when Iranians' long-simmering dissatisfaction with their rulers reached a new -- and, at the very least, prerevolutionary -- dimension, when violence and counter-violence dominated the streets of three of Iran's biggest cities, Tehran, Tabriz and Isfahan. When even the regime could no longer deny that people had been killed during the protests. When security forces shot at protesters and hundreds were arrested nationwide. And when bodies disappeared and their family members were not even able to bury their dead within the time period prescribed by their religion.

The government's actions proved that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini's political heir, was not even making allowances for religious sentiments any more. "Even the regime of the shah respected Ashura," said reformer Mahdi Karroubi, the most prominent dissident next to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. During the 2009 Ashura festival, in which protesters from all levels of society took to the streets, the last bond between the rulers and the ruled was severed. As a result, the Islamic Republic lost its religious legitimacy in the eyes of many Muslims.[...]

In contrast to the protests last summer, the opposition has lost its fear of the regime's thugs. Instead of cowering to avoid government forces during the demonstrations, the rebels are now fighting back, and instead of relenting, they are becoming more radical in their demands. Many are no longer interested in reforming the theocracy, but rather in abolishing it altogether.

And never has the regime struck back with such brutality. At least eight opposition figures were killed within a few hours. In what was essentially a warning to his uncle, Seyed Ali Mousavi, 43, was executed by a targeted gunshot in front of his family's house. Fearing attacks, Karroubi and Mousavi are believed to have fled from Tehran on Wednesday evening, although their families have denied their departure. The regime was sharply condemned by the international community, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticizing its "unacceptable actions" against the protest movement and US President Barack Obama talking of the Iranian government's "iron fist of brutality."

But the government's efforts to deter the protesters are becoming less and less effective. Each new wave of violence coming from the regime only heightens the popularity of the protest movement, which no longer consists solely of younger supporters of the reform movement from the middle and upper classes. Now formerly apolitical shopkeepers and the unemployed are risking direct confrontation with the government's gangs of thugs, and even the elderly are joining the protests.

The rebellion undoubtedly acquired special momentum as a result of the fact that this time Ashura coincided with the traditional observance of seven days of mourning after the death of the opposition's most symbolic religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87. The country had not been gripped by such a strong wave of emotion since the death of revolutionary leader Khomeini in 1989.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 5, 2010 6:43 AM
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