Iran: Opposition gears up for 10-day showdown, possible Mousavi arrest
Pro-government supporters are calling for the arrest and execution of Mousavi as Iran heads into a 10-day religious holiday. But the opposition is optimistic that they have ample opportunities to promote a cause they say is growing.
Pro-government demonstrators in Iran launched a 10-day religious mourning period on Friday with nationwide rallies and calls for the execution of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.Skip to next paragraph
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Pressure has been building from Iranian judicial authorities in recent days to arrest Moussavi and other top reform figures, who have led protests against presidential election last June they say were fraudulent.
“Mousavi, this is our last warning. The sedition leaders should be executed,” people chanted in Tehran, according to Reuters.
But the opposition is nevertheless optimistic heading into the holy month of Moharram, which peaks with commemoration of the death in 680 AD of one of the most revered Shiite saints, Imam Hossein. The coming 10 days of mourning are heavily infused with religious symbolism, and offer ample opportunities for the opposition to promote their cause – a cause that they say has been steadily drawing a broader base of support.
“Inside Iran, the opposition are much more hopeful than we are outside Iran, because they witness the development and the progress,” says Ebrahim Mehtari, a 27-year-old Iranian opposition activist and software engineer who fled to Turkey after being arrested twice. He has since kept in close touch with opposition figures.
Antigovernment protesters made no attempt to hijack official rallies on Friday, as they have done with other regime-sanctioned events in recent months, resulting in clashes. Opposition websites told their people to keep away from the heavily policed events on Friday, and instead have plans to take advantage of street marches and ritual associated with the mourning period to make their political point.
“Moharram is very good for us, because Hossein’s ideology stood against oppression,” says Mr. Mehtari, who says he was subject to whippings, cigarette burns, and sexual assault with a baton while in prison. Those claims are supported by Mr. Mehtari’s medical report, highlighted in an Amnesty International catalogue of regime abuses released earlier this month.
Green Movement sees itself in heroic martyr role
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s Islamic leaders have always cast themselves in the role of the religiously pure Hossein, facing off against the modern-day equivalents of the evil Yazid. Yazid claimed his state was Islamic, but nevertheless killed Hossein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad.
Known among the devout as the “Lord of the Martyrs,” Hossein’s example of willingness to die for his beliefs defines Shiite belief and is an ideological pillar of the Islamic Republic.
But today, the opposition Green Movement sees itself as the pure side of the Hossein saga, aided by the fact that Mousavi’s second name is Hossein, and the Green Movement’s choice of color is Islamic green, which is waved constantly at such religious events.
“Now from our people’s point of view, [Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali] Khamenei is close to Yazid, and Mousavi and the Green Movement is the Hossein figure,” says Mehtari in an interview in the Turkish capital, Ankara.
“The state can’t tell people not to shout ‘Ya Hossein,’” part of a chant that has become a pro-Mousavi slogan, says Mehtari. “They can’t tell people not to wave green flags…. For 10 nights and two days, people can come out onto the streets. It’s a religious regime; they can’t prevent people."