Tense calm on eve of anniversary of disputed Iran election
One year after the disputed Iran election that returned President Ahmadinejad to office, many say the revolution and the regime have lost legitimacy. Green Movement opposition leaders, who called off a rally, are facing growing criticism of their tactics.
Battle lines remain drawn as Iran marks the one-year anniversary on Saturday of a disputed presidential election that sparked weeks of bloody protests that Revolutionary Guard commanders say brought the Islamic regime to the “edge of a downfall.”Skip to next paragraph
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There may be clashes on June 12, if protesters defy warnings to stay at home. Or there may be tense calm: Denied permits, opposition leaders on Thursday called off demonstrations due to the “dark history of the past year” of violence, and to “preserve people’s lives and property.”
Either way, say many Iranians and analysts, Iran in the past year has irreparably changed, the legitimacy of the regime undermined by an election widely seen as fraudulent and by violence against fellow Iranians.
“Oppression is severe, but at the same time [the opposition] know the Islamic Republic is going toward its end, because they can see it running out of breath,” says Massoumeh Torfeh, an Iran specialist at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.
“They are sitting there and waiting,” says Ms. Torfeh. “They realize they have had the most powerful and brutal regime attacking them. But at the same time … they are thinking. These are young, educated, futuristic, computer-savvy people [and] this is giving them time to think and to regroup.”
Vote was 'divine assessment'
One year ago, Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei immediately declared the reelection of arch-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment.”
Enraged at the officially declared 2-to-1 landslide victory against the more moderate candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister who surged in the polls in the week prior to the vote, the opposition Green Movement cried foul and took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands.
In weeks of clashes with security forces, scores were killed – some reports suggest hundreds – and more than 4,000 were arrested. Ayatollah Khamenei would rule that rejection of the election results was the “biggest crime,” and allegations of rape and killings in secret detention centers and televised show trials further soured the aftermath of the vote.
Last fall, the opposition infiltrated and turned “green” several key religious and national regime events, which peaked with the violent scenes in late December to mark the death of a 7th century martyr.
February protests fizzled
Another attempt at street protests in February, however, on the anniversary of the revolution itself, fizzled under the weight of blanket police and militia deployments.
“The Greens have learned that street protests cannot lead anywhere since the government would provoke violent confrontation, and there is a lack of street leaders to guide the protests,” says an Iranian journalist in Tehran who could not be named for security reasons.
Iran’s myriad security forces and ideological basiji militia are expected to saturate Tehran and other cities to prevent any further mass protests, the kind that last year went increasingly beyond calls for a new election, and turned against Iran’s highest authority, Khamenei, whose image was desecrated repeatedly by protesters calling “Death to the Leader!”
Iranians by Thursday were already watching groups of basijis on motorcycles driving along Tehran’s central Vali Asr Avenue.
“Nobody could have scarred the image of Khamenei more than he did to himself over the past year,” says a young Iranian professional who was arrested during the crackdown. He did time in Evin prison, and left Iran a few days ago for good.
“Even when the reformist supporters don’t come out, but you see a whole bunch of police out there, you see a lot of precautions – it still has an effect,” says the professional. “When people don’t come out, and their lack of [being there] is still provoking that same reaction ... I think that’s a huge message.”