Iran opposition leaders cancel mass protests

Denied permits, Iran's opposition movement canceled demonstrations to mark the one-year anniversary of controversial national elections. Washington has stepped up efforts to aid the dissidents.

AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
A group of Iranian worshippers chant slogans during a pro-government gathering after their Friday prayers, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 11, 2010. Government opposition leaders have called off protests to mark the anniversary of the controversial presidential election of a year ago.

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Opposition leaders in Iran have canceled large protests planned for June 12, the one-year anniversary of controversial elections that helped spawn the dissident movement in the first place. The leaders were not given the requisite permits by the government, they say, and they fear that the government would harshly crack down on them if they proceed, according to The New York Times.

In a joint statement Thursday, opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi said they called off rallies planned for Saturday in part "to protect the lives and properties of the people."

In Washington, the news was received with considerable disappointment.

"It is not only regrettable that the opposition canceled demonstrations... but it demonstrates very clearly why the Iranian regime has caused so much concern throughout the world,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Washington had high hopes: It’s been stepping up efforts to aid the dissidents, giving them computers and software to dodge the authorities, the Wall Street Journal reports. At the same time, the Obama administration – worried that Iran has ambitions of developing nuclear weapons – has increased pressure on Tehran by pushing a fourth round of sanctions through the United Nation's Security Council on June 9. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Shanghai on Friday, dismissed the sanctions resolution as "a worthless paper.

But now, the canceled demonstrations throws into fresh doubt the opposition’s capacity to continue mounting protests. And it raises an important question that many observers continue to debate: Can the Internet and electronic media alone sustain this movement?

Iran’s opposition has been struggling for more than year to stay afloat, as the Tehran Bureau points out. Today, the size and strength of the movement remains unclear, reports CNN.

US President Barack Obama made a point of highlighting their efforts, calling upon the world to support those in Iran “who seek freedom, justice and dignity."

The administration has also started shipping anti-filtering software to undisclosed dissidents inside Iran. The software, called HayStack, would allow them to continue broadcasting their messages via internet, radio and satellite, as The Christian Science Monitor recently reported.

Opinion remains divided over whether Iran’s opposition can really have an impact. The Internet and satellite continue to feed a widening revolution of social mores and ideas in Iran, according to an opinion piece in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.

Ordinary Iranians are willing to risk incarceration rather than give up their increasingly secular ways. Internet chat groups, online dating and casual sex have also challenged the clergy-dictated way of life outside the public eye.

Others are not so sanguine. Changing public attitudes is one thing; changing the regime is another, they say. And Iran is an iron-clad plutocracy that can sustain itself indefinitely with its extraordinary petrodollars, Fouad Ajami recent opined in the Wall Street Journal:

Twitter can't overcome the Revolutionary Guard with the wealth and resources granted them by a command economy they have managed to organize to their own preference.


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