(An Iranian bank note modified by Green Movement member; A re-write of a saying on the left side, which says ‘Iranian people will find “knowledge” no matter where – Prophet Muhammad’ – changed to say ‘Iranian people will find “justice” no matter where’; photo credit: NIAC Insight)
This is a guest note exclusive to The Washington Note by Iran expert and well-known diplomatic correspondent Barbara Slavin, author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.
Barbara Slavin will be speaking today at a New America Foundation forum titled “What do Iranians Really Think?” featuring New America Foundation Geopolitics of Energy Initiative Director and Race for Iran publisher Flynt Leverett, World Public Opinion Director Steven Kull, Washington Post Director of Polling Jon Cohen, and Iran expert and The Ayatollah Begs to Differ commentator Hooman Majd. Steve Clemons will moderate the meeting which starts at 12:15 pm today and will air live here at The Washington Note
Dawn of a New Iran?
Iran is now marking the “10 days of dawn” – the period from Feb. 1 to Feb. 11, 1979 that began with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s triumphant return from exile and ended with the fall of the Shah’s last government. During these days, Iranian state television typically runs old footage of adoring crowds greeting Khomeini and of the Shah’s soldiers firing on peaceful protesters during the final days of the revolution. This year, however, the bloody bits are not on view.
An Iranian acquaintance tells me that state TV is only showing “calm rallies” from the 1978-79 uprising. “They are focusing on the people who were totally obeying Khomeini,” my friend says, and also deriding those who “betrayed the revolution” and who later fled or were executed by the regime.
The message for Iran’s restive populace is clear: forget staging another revolution.
The regime wants Iranians to behave themselves on Feb. 11, “Revolution Day,” when crowds are encouraged to go into the streets in support of the government. In Tehran, thousands usually congregate in Freedom Square, the central plaza where the Shah erected a huge white concrete arch to celebrate Iran’s pre-Islamic achievements and to glorify his soon-to-be ended rule.
I’ve been to three Revolution Day celebrations in Freedom Square and I know the drill: The president gives a rousing speech proclaiming Iran’s independence and decrying evil foreigners who conspire against it. A man known as “the minister of slogans” leads the crowd in chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Israel” and “Death to” whatever other target is annoying the regime at the time. Peddlers mill about selling candy and balloons. School kids and factory workers, who are given the day off, are bussed into the square to fill out the frame for state television and foreign media.
This year promises a different sort of spectacle. Despite the pointed propaganda on TV — and the execution this week of two political prisoners — hundreds of thousands if not millions of Iranians are likely to take to the streets to demand their civil and human rights.
The government will be hard-pressed to distinguish loyalists from the opposition in the throngs. Will authorities arrest people wearing green? In the past, students bussed to Freedom Square have worn green headbands proclaiming Iran’s right to nuclear energy.
But green is now the color of the movement that has swept Iran since presidential elections last June 12 gave a fraud-tainted “landslide” victory to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Coverage of this year’s event in Freedom Square presents another quandary for the government. Foreign media is almost certain to be heavily restricted and Iranian state media will likely censor any protests. But that will not stop citizen journalists with cellphones from capturing images and sending them around the world via social networking sites.
For sure, there will be clashes. Another Iranian acquaintance tells me that the government is refusing any compromise despite conciliatory feelers in recent days from opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
If the opposition, which has already shown its power on Jerusalem Day, Students Day and Ashura, manages to dominate the scene on the Islamic Republic’s most important national holiday, it will be a powerful boost for the Green Movement’s morale and momentum.
No one can say how long Iran’s creaky theocracy cum military autocracy will survive this outpouring of popular outrage and frustration. Mass arrests, selective assassinations and even prison rapes have only fed the opposition’s anger and resolve.
For those who have been privileged to spend time in Iran among its extraordinarily welcoming people, this is a moment of great hope and anticipation. Iranians deserve a better government and perhaps in the not so distant future, they will finally get one.
— Barbara Slavin