Iranians find new ways to keep protests alive

Twitter, Youtube, and the force of the movement for change in Iran make it difficult for the government to paint the protesters as tools of foreign powers.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Iranian protesters showed victory signs as they marched near Ghoba mosque in northern Tehran last week.
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The Iranian regime continued this weekend in its bid to paint citizens protesting the announced results of its June 12 presidential election as tools of outside powers.

In a scathing editorial published Saturday in the influential state-run newspaper, Kayhan, editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari said opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi had committed "terrible crimes," including "murdering innocent people, holding riots, co-operating with foreigners, and acting as America's fifth column."

This comes on the heels of a leading Iranian cleric's call Friday for some Iranian employees of the British Embassy to be tried for allegedly inciting pro-democracy protests.

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In spite of those efforts, however, the movement for change inside the country continues to make it very unlikely that the events of past few weeks will be remembered as the product of outside meddling.

Using social networking sites like Twitter and video sites like Youtube, protesters have compiled powerful evidence of a legitimate outpouring of anger. Raw videos like this one of a clash between demonstrators and police. And more polished ones like this compilation of protesters and the wounds they've received for their pains set to patriotic music.

But with at least 1,000 demonstrators now detained and the size of protests dramatically scaled down due to the repressive measures of the government, analysts say the many Iranians who believe that fraud swayed the presidential election in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will have to find new means to challenge the hard-liners in power.

"I think that the first step is they have to show that this movement is not a one-trick pony, that it can do more than just demonstrations," says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. "Their competitive advantage is that a significant, if not a strong majority, of the population don't see this government as legitimate. So they have to keep the pressure up on this point and show their defiance and wear the Ahmadinejad crowd down."

He says that occasional demonstrations will still have their usefulness, but used too often could play into the the hands of the government, which has thousands of plain clothes Basiji militiamen ready to quell protests with violence, if necessary. He says many older Iranians who support the goal of the protesters, are uncomfortable with the violence on the streets and afraid of mass casualties.

Crackdown continues

The government has kept the pressure up this weekend.

The head of Iran's judiciary called on Sunday for the prosecution of people working for increasingly influential anti-establishment satellite TV channels and websites, state television reported.

"The daily growth of anti-regime satellite channels and ... websites needs serious measures to confront this phenomenon," it quoted from document issued by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi to branches of the judiciary. "Those who cooperate with such websites and television channels will face prosecution."

Strikes to come?

Strikes and other efforts to flout the government's authority will prove crucial if the movement is to go forward, says Parsi. On Friday, University of Michigan historian Juan Cole wrote on his blog that the Facebook page of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's principal challenger in the election, appears to be carrying a call for a general strike next week.

"Such a strike would be harder for the regime to forestall than crowds coming into the streets, and whether it has a big effect or not would be a way of measuring the support for the reformists in the country," Professor Cole wrote.

Parsi points out that many Iranians are eager for accommodation, and their anger could be mollified if Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made compromises with their opponents in the coming weeks.

"Some people in Iran are still hoping that Khamenei will recognize the significant mistake he's made and reach out," he says. "But, yes, I do believe that if he stays on this course then the government will eventually collapse. You can rule by force for only so long."

More creative forms of protests advised

Babak Rahimi, an Iran scholar at the University of California in San Diego, says that with space for public protest growing ever tighter, those demanding change will have to be more creative in making their feelings known.

"I think we are seeing a movement emerging that will have to be more underground, more camouflaged, that's better at navigating state repression on the ground," he says. The calls of Allahu Akbar (God is Great) from nighttime rooftops in Tehran – are one method he says, though Basiji have raided homes whose members were doing so.

Mr. Rahimi argues that change, however, may be slow in coming. "The emperor has been exposed – he's naked. But [dissidents] will have to keep on this point in less obvious ways. [Protests] will be more underground – think of Latin American activists opposing their dictators – it will take longer to chip, chip away at the power base of the regime."

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