x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Iran's leaders stage a show of strength

After anti-government demonstrations in which at least eight protesters died on Sunday, pro-government rallies were staged across Iran on Wednesday with public employees given time off work and transportation provided for their attendance, while opponents of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were branded by one hardline cleric as supporters of Satan.

After anti-government demonstrations in which at least eight protesters died on Sunday, pro-government rallies were staged across Iran on Wednesday with public employees given time off work and transportation provided for their attendance, while opponents of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were branded by one hardline cleric as supporters of Satan. "Tens of thousands of hard-line government supporters turned out for state-sponsored rallies Wednesday, some of them calling for the execution of opposition leaders as Iran's police chief threatened to show 'no mercy' in crushing any new protests by the pro-reform movement," the Associated Press reported. "Pro-government rallies were staged in Shiraz, Arak, Qom and Tehran, among other cities. Demonstrators at a rally in Tehran chanted 'Death to Mousavi,' a reference to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Some shouted 'Rioter hypocrites must be executed' and held up a banner that read: 'We sacrifice our blood for supreme leader.'" In a commentary for The Times, Martin Fletcher noted: "The arrest or enforced disappearance of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi would be more likely to galvanise than neuter the Green movement of which they are merely the nominal leaders. "The two men have lived with the fear of arrest since the disputed presidential election of June 12, when both were defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a rigged ballot. They have been careful to give the regime no pretext for locking them up. They have always insisted on peaceful protest. They have encouraged the demonstrations but played no part in organising them. Mr Karoubi in particular has been outspoken in his criticism of the regime, but neither man has exposed himself to the charge of sedition by directly challenging the authority of the Supreme Leader, seeking to overturn the Islamic Republic's system of government or currying support from Iran's supposed enemies in the West. "Their absence would in no way make future demonstrations impossible, for the opposition is a largely spontaneous, grassroots movement with cells of dedicated activists but no real hierarchy." The Green movement website, Raheh Sabz, reported: "Militia forces that had been surrounding the Qoba Mosque in Shiraz since early Tuesday morning mounted attacks on the mosque where Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Mohammad Dastgheib delivers sermons. "Basijis and plainclothes agents chanted slogans against Ayatollah Dastgheib, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami and attacked the mosque with bricks and stones." In a commentary for The National, Emile Hokayem wrote: "The popular movement in Iran is rapidly transforming from protest into uprising. Since the death of its spiritual mentor, Grand Ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri, there have been the most intense and violent confrontations yet with the Iranian security forces. The question is whether it will become a revolution; and if so, when. "Judging from the slogans - Marg bar dictator (Death to the dictator), once a rarity, is now heard as often as Allah-u-Akbar, a rallying cry intended to deny religious legitimacy to the regime - and the unrelenting mobilisation of the Green movement, the tipping point may not be far away." On American public television's Newshour, Karim Sadjadpour, from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "some of the sceptics of the protests last June said, well, these are only the modern elitist youth of northern Tehran who are protesting. And what we saw yesterday, that were - there were protests throughout the country, not only in Tehran, not only in northern Tehran. "And if you saw some of the images, there were also a lot of the traditional clashes, women wearing the chador, the - kind of the more traditional veil, men with beards. So, six months later, this protest movement is still going very strong." Trita Parsi, president, National Iranian American Council, added: "I think it's still very important to point out the protests are overwhelmingly nonviolent. The violence is the territory of the government right now. They are the ones killing people. They are the ones putting people in jail, raping them and torturing them. "Yes, police stations have been burnt, but you haven't seen any looting. You are not seeing people going into the banks, stealing, et cetera. So, by and large, this is still a nonviolent movement. "Hopefully, it will be able to be kept that way. It is absolutely critical, in order not only to ensure that they can see change, but that they can see change that is going to be positive and sustainable, so that we don't see the repeat of what happened in 1979, where one brutal regime was replaced with another brutal regime." In The New York Times, Roger Cohen wrote: "It has come to this: The Islamic Republic of Iran killing the sons and daughters of the revolution during Ashura, adding martyrdom to martyrdom at one of the holiest moments in the Shiite calendar. "Nothing could better symbolise Iran's 30-year-old regime at the limit of its contradictions. A supreme leader imagined as the Prophet's representative on earth - Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's central revolutionary idea - now heads a militarised coterie bent, in the name of money and power, on the bludgeoning of the Iranian people. A false theocracy confronts a society that has seen through it. "The emperor has no clothes." In The Wall Street Journal, Abbas Milani, from Stanford University, wrote: "Much has been written about the fact that Iran's democratic movement today combines the three characteristics of a velvet revolution - nonviolent, nonutopian and populist in nature - with the nimble organisational skills and communication opportunities afforded by the Web. Less discussed has been the significance of the youthfulness and Internet-savvy nature of the Iranian population. "Seventy per cent of Iranians are under the age of 30. And in a population of 75 million, 22 million are internet users. In spite of the nominal leadership of reformists like Medhi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami, the real leaders of the movement have been the thousands of groups and individuals who work autonomously, and whose structure replicates the Internet. "Until now, this lack of structure has given the movement its power. But the democratic movement has reached its own hour of reckoning. "As Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his cohorts come nearer to a crisis, as rifts within the regime deepen in coming weeks, as the regime ratchets up its ruthlessness against the democrats, and as the world, with anxious eyes on the nuclear issue, carefully watches the domestic situation in Iran, the democratic movement must develop a more coherent plan of action and a more disciplined leadership. And the world, particularly the West, must also let the regime know that it will not stand by idly as the people of Iran are brutalised by the regime. "To many in the outside world, the regime's brashness - its willingness to murder peaceful demonstrators in broad daylight and its adventurism in the nuclear arena - have been shocking. But to the people of Iran, who have long suffered the consequences of the regime's political despotism, its ideological sclerosis, and its economic incompetence and corruption, recent events are only egregious manifestations of what they have endured for three decades. It is the slow, sinister grind of this structural violence that has now turned nearly every strata of Iranian society - save those who owe their fortunes to the status quo - into the de facto foe of the regime."

pwoodward@thenational.ae