Iran braces for demonstration showdown: Will the future of Iran be changed?
Iran is bracing for protests by reformers and counter-protests by regime supporters when the Islamic Republic celebrates its 31st anniversary on Thursday. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei is promising a 'stupefying' display of support for the regime.
Opposition and pro-government Iranians are preparing to take to the streets of Iran on Thursday to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in a political and ideological showdown set to shape the future of Iran.Skip to next paragraph
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Supreme religious leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has promised that the West and Iran’s enemies would be “stupefied” by an unprecedented show of support for the regime.
But every senior leader of Iran’s opposition – the so-called Green Movement that grew out of disputed elections last June – has also called for huge turnout on a day that has always been considered by many Iranians as more a nationalistic than pro-regime event.
“It’s going to be a big show of force, a big competition between the two sides over who can rule this day – and who can lay claim to the legacy of the revolution,” says Ahmad Sadri, an Iran specialist at Lake Forest College in Illinois.
At issue are fundamental questions that have been fought over in the streets, in the prisons, and from the pulpits of Iran for eight months. At stake is who are the true heirs of Iran's revolution and its first promises of “Independence, freedom, [and] Islamic Republic.”
Weeks of violence were sparked last summer by the officially declared election landslide for incumbent hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which many Iranians and analysts say was an impossible result achieved through fraud.
Protests since then have veered increasingly toward challenging Iran’s entire Islamic system led by Ayatollah Khamenei. But opposition leaders such as former prime minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi have called for greater moderation from supporters on Thursday to avoid provoking violence.
Violence in store?
At least eight were killed in clashes – with some reports saying more than 30 – during religious commemorations at the end of December.
“Everybody knows that people in the streets, many of them, are not at all content with the present regime,” says Mr. Sadri. “But I think there is a chance that they would heed this particular request as a strategic move to deny the government the excuse to go after them with the brutality of they have shown in the past.”
As early as Tuesday night, security forces set up nighttime checkpoints in some districts in Tehran. “They are going to intimidate people,” said one close observer in the capital who asked not to be named. “It’s going to be a decisive showdown.”
Authorities have warned repeatedly in recent weeks that they would not permit the anniversary rally to be hijacked by Green Movement protesters, as has taken place on a number of previous calendar dates important for the regime.
The opposition are “both hopeful and anxious, and still angry,” says the analyst about the state of mind of the opposition. “They are hopeful that they can force the government to back down a bit, but they are not sure about that. They don’t see violence, but they are confronted with violence.”
Senior police officers have vowed that events on Thursday would prove the final nail in the coffin for opponents of the regime, who have been branded Mohareb, or “enemies of God.” Scores have died in protests and thousands have been arrested. Iran's detention centers have consistently yielded stories of abuse and even rape.
Yet tough efforts by security forces – both official and unofficial regime enforcers – have failed to stop the protest movement.