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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.

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The violence that accompanied Ashura, which has historically lionized martyrdom and came this year in late December, “was a serious blow – they want to reverse it,” says the analyst in Tehran. “On previous occasions they have been defeated in their plans [to control the streets] by some unpredictable forces and events. The huge number of people can change everything.”

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Both sides of Iran’s political divide have been preparing for the anniversary, which traditionally includes a speech from the sitting president and state TV broadcasts showing huge crowds across the country shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” while they burn the flags of these perennial regime enemies.

One Revolutionary Guard commander said that any protest would be met with force. "The security forces will be after maintaining the safety of the demonstrations and will fiercely confront anyone who might want to fall out of line with the revolution's caravan," said Hossein Hamedani, according to ISNA news agency. The revolution anniversary, he added, "belongs to all 70 million Iranians and we will not let anyone confiscate it for the sake of a certain group."

Protesters prepare

One list of tips for protesters circulating on the Internet gave practical advice, such as carrying a napkin wet with vinegar to “fight the effects of tear gas,” and those with medical experience to carry small first aid kits. The list asked protesters not to carry weapons such as knives, but called on people living along protest and rally routes to stash sacks full of stones for throwing.

“We must make it as difficult as possible for Ahmadinejad to give a speech on the main podium,” the list suggested, adding that “creating disturbances around the square and affecting Ahmadinejad’s psychological preparation for his speech should be our first priority.”

But Khamenei warned in recent days against giving heed to any dissenters: "Whenever the great masses of the people – all over Iran – feel danger or serious enmity towards the revolution, they go to the streets without being called upon," he said, according to a translation by IranTracker.org. "Of course, ever since the beginning of the victory of the Islamic revolution, there were some who were opposed to this regime and desired return to hegemony of the United States. Today they are both inside and outside the country."

In years past on the anniversary, this reporter has heard a cross-section of views about the Islamic Republic, both from die-hard supporters of the regime and those who believed that its promises of social justice, economic improvement, and freedom had yet to be met after three decades.

Mr. Mousavi spoke recently about the need to change the Constitution – and democratize it.

“The basic agenda of the reform movement has been … to make the power of the Supreme Leader into a ceremonial power, rather than a real source of power,” says Sadri.

But that is a counter-revolutionary view to hard-liners in Iran, who know they are fighting for their political lives against fellow Iranians they believe to be “enemies.”

“The trick for reformers is how to neutralize them. Because not only are [hardliners] in power, but they have a base. They have the Basij [militia] and Revolutionary Guard…and also people who sincerely believe that this is Islamic government,” adds Sadri.

“Even if the Green Movement succeeds … if you don’t include [the hard-line base], they can turn into some kind of Baath Party, and blow up things the way they are doing in Iraq. Even if we win … they can shovel sand into the gears of this democratic movement with obstructionism, with terrorism.”

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