Monday, June 29, 2009


WHEN: June 30, 7PM
WHO: You will be shocked. 25 poets* and The Village Zendo, mezzo John Kelly, dancer Christine Elmo and five cohorts and a to-be-revealed number of kids from PS 4 & The Poetry Club directed by Christine Hou with a consult from Julie Patton and finally a life drawing group from Brooklyn known as F>A>R>T>S (Friends of the Fine Arts).

You are encouraged to dress in your hot weather finery, and wander across the Audbon Plaza (where Audbon’s House once stood) and marvel at the power of silent art as it mingles its forces with the city. Afterwards, cool drinks & talk.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran Update (Thursday, June 25th)

* Protest and strike update: unfortunately there’s less and less news out of Iran, and today I couldn’t find very much written about sizes or planned protests or strikes. Until a few days ago, today was supposed to be a national day of mourning, but after some confusion this has been postponed to an undetermined time next week. I saw some plans to hold demonstrations in public squares in Iran earlier today, but so far haven’t read any stories about it or seen any pictures or videos. However, given the spontaneous nature of most of the protests in the last few days I wouldn’t be surprised if there were smaller demonstrations and clashes with security forces today. In fact, there was some good footage of yesterday’s protests that emerged only today, so perhaps there will more of that from today’s events later on. Sadly the footage showed that the regime’s crackdown is becoming even more intense, and these types of tactics are surely discouraging people from coming into the streets. Regarding the national strike, I wrote yesterday that it didn’t seem to have much success in Tehran—largely because the word isn’t getting out with communication restrictions, and isn’t emanating from opposition leaders—but there were some pictures that I saw that purportedly showed a Shiraz bazaar on strike. There are plans tomorrow for people in Iran and worldwide to release green balloons into the air, but given that it’s Friday and time for the regime’s weekly sermons, I wouldn’t expect any large protests.
* Opposition leaders update: Musavi still hasn’t been seen in a week, but today he issued a strongly-worded statement again decrying the election results and saying people should continue their peaceful protests. For a sense of the tone of his letter, here’s one particularly pointed portion: “There is strong syndicated electoral mafia in Iran that has interfered and changed the results of the elections. We must locate the cancerous leadership of this syndicate and destroy it.” A semi-official hardline newspaper (unfortunately their English service has been down for several days), reported that Musavi and Rafsanjani met with members of parliament, but the article gave no details of the meeting other than that they discussed “election and current development.” Still no word from Rafsanjani, though, or any confirmed reports about where he is and what he’s doing. It may not be correct to put this under the ‘opposition leaders update’ heading, but 105 of the 290 members of parliament didn’t attend a dinner held by Ahmadinejad to celebrate his electoral victory. Among these was Ali Larijani, who is now being attacked and threatened with impeachment by some pro-Ahmadinejad MPs. Additionally, I said yesterday that nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi said she would defend Neda’s family in court. Well, today she was under attack by some female lawyers and academics who wrote to the Judiciary saying that her legal permit should be revoked. This isn’t anything new for Shirin Ebadi—her office has been closed down, members arrested, etc—so I wouldn’t expect this to deter her from her work. In a bit of good news, there are reports that all but 4 of the university professors who were arrested the other day have been released.
* Neda: the doctor who was trying to save her life made it to the UK successfully and sat down for a long interview with the BBC. If you’d like to read it or listen to the whole thing you can find it here: Iran’s ambassador to Mexico was interviewed by CNN and claimed that the CIA could be behind her killing. Yet another example of the regime blaming protests and violence on foreign powers and ‘terrorists.’
* Legal Update: the spokesman of the Guardian Council said on state TV that there were no major irregularities in the election, and that they will publish their final official report at the end of the 5-day extension. It’s still strange that the GC was given the 5-day extension in the first place given that there’s very little chance that they wouldn’t endorse the results, but again the regime may have been trying to bide time and encourage Musavi to continue to express his grievances through legal channels while hoping the street protests would die down. There are new rumors, though, that a compromise is being sought whereby Musavi and Ahmadinejad would have a run-off election. I haven’t seen any details of this and remain skeptical, but it would be somewhat of a face-saving compromise, since the GC could say that it found irregularities in X amounts of votes (it’s already admitted to 3 million), which, when subtracted from the initial total, would reduce Ahmadinejad’s percentage to below 50%. According to the rumor that’s what Rafsanjani is now pressing for with members of the Assembly of Experts in Qom, but they don’t have any direct influence on the GC—they’d need to pressure Khamenei directly about this, who would then pressure the GC about this compromise.
* Distract and Awe: Two quick items that give a good indication about how the regime is dealing with the recent events in the media. I’ve mentioned before that they’ve both downplayed the events and blamed them on foreigner powers or terrorists, but they’re also trying to keep people distracted through entertainment. The government doesn’t allow many Western films to play on state TV, but starting today one station has begun a Lord of the Rings marathon that aired at peak times during the day when people might go out to protest. I don’t want to attach too much importance to this, since obviously this doesn’t have much of an affect on the people who have been out there every day, but it they are probably trying to distract people on the fence or just keep people inside so groups and gatherings don’t accidentally form. Also, I failed to mention this before, but a few days ago Iran started military exercises in the Persian Gulf, and are also claiming to have tested some new missiles. This is being carried on state TV where they say the state is demonstrating its power and will not back down in the face of foreign meddling.
* Women: I’m mad at myself for waiting so long to write about this, but to be honest, after reading so much about Iran and studying it for so long, I just took for granted that women would of course be on the frontlines of the protests, just as they have been for years. Still, it’s amazing that in the face of such brutal tactics employed by security forces against protestors, women are still in the streets taking part in and leading these protests. There was a great story from one of the protestors who talked about a scuffle they had with a group a basijis a few days ago, and when things escalated the group protesting started running away. He looked back and saw several women standing firm in their place, yelling at the basijis. Given what happened to Neda, women are just as at risk as men are during these protests. I could write about this for much longer, but I cannot underscore how untrue the stereotypes of repressed, passive Iranian women are. They make up around 60% of the university population, and are among the most active members of civil society and NGOs throughout Iran. The 1,000,000 signatures campaign they launched a few years ago—they’re trying to get a million signatures from people to present to the government to overturn gender discriminatory laws—is probably the most well-organized and widespread civil society initiative in all of Iran. Members of this campaign have been harassed and imprisoned, yet they have refused to be intimidated and have carried on their work, so it’s no surprise they’re on the front lines of the current protests.
* Finally, a must read by BBC correspondent who was in Iran for over a week before the elections where he talks about befriending a few Revolutionary Guards, among other things:
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran update Wed 6/24

* Waning but continued protests: a protest was planned for today at 4 PM in a public square near the parliament, but there was some confusion heading into this as to whether it was sponsored by Musavi and whether he would appear there. As evidence of just how difficult it has been for Musavi to communicate effectively with the opposition since Khamenei’s Friday sermon, his website may have been hacked into and for a short time issued a statement telling people not to show up. Regardless, a few thousand—the numbers are almost impossible to verify now—showed up and were quickly attacked and dispersed by basijis and plain-clothes officers. From the reports and statements I have read the violence here was quite bad, with one person possibly being killed, and many others beaten with batons and arrested. One Iranian managed to speak to CNN about what has happened in rallies like today, which you can listen to here: Yesterday I wrote that there was some planning for a national strike, but that did not materialize today, partly because is has not been officially called for by people like Musavi or Montazeri. Instead, there are calls for public mourning that could act as de facto national strikes by figures such as these, or statements like ‘if I am arrested, the nation should strike,’ but still no explicit calls to escalate things to this level. I’m not sure if this is because they are still hoping for some sort of compromise or legal settlement, or because they lack the political will to move things to the next level, but what is clear is that since the crackdown after Khamenei’s Friday sermon Iran has been, in the words of Musavi’s wife, under ‘martial law’ and large protests and demonstrations have been prevented. The calls for a national day of mourning for those killed so far during these protests has also been postponed to next week, but like in previous days I expect people will independently organize the same types of smaller demonstrations they have been. With that said, the chants of ‘Allah-u akbar’ are still going on every night—some people say they get louder with each day—and it’s unclear what will happen in the Iranian streets once security forces are pulled back (their presence now is simply unsustainable for a long period of time).
* Opposition leaders update: the regime’s strategy of weakening Musavi’s power by depriving him of his top advisors and leaders continued today when his main legal advisor was arrested, as well as around 70 university professors who had been meeting with or connected to Musavi. On top of this, a newspaper and campaign headquarters aligned with him was raided last night and most of its staff arrested. Musavi himself remains under de facto house arrest and is only able to issue short, period statements on his website. Karrubi, though, issued another statement decrying the election results where he called the government ‘illegitimate.’ Although he fared much worse than Musavi in this election, Karrubi has actually been more outspoken recently, though this could be because the regime doesn’t see him as large as a threat and is allowing him more leeway. The 4th loser of the presidential election, Rezaii, officially dropped his complaints about the election today. I wouldn’t take this as that large a blow to the opposition, since Rezaii was always the conservative alternative to Ahmadinejad anyway, and only very accidentally in the opposition, but it was an advantage for the opposition to have someone like him tentatively allied with them, however loosely it was. Lastly, there were two more people who spoke up in support of the opposition today that are worth mentioning. The first is Abdullah Noori, a reformist cleric and former ministry of the interior in Khatami’s administration, who issued a statement in support of the protestors’ rights to demonstrate peacefully. The second, the current mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Qalibaf, is a moderate conservative who people were speculating would be the conservative alternative to Ahmadinejad in this election—he has been critical and a rival of Ahmadinejad for several years now—who didn’t necessarily speak out against the election results but did say that permits should be issued for protests and demonstrations so violence would be avoided. I haven’t seen anything aside from unconfirmed rumors of Rafsanjani and his possible statement on Friday, but it’s likely he’s still in Qom working behind the scenes.
* Khamenei digs in: today Khamenei spoke to the parliament and reiterated his hard-line stance against the protestors, saying that “The security of the nation and the will of the faithful people of the Islamic Republic will not bend under pressure.” I imagine he will echo similar sentiments in his Friday sermon. It’s important to note here that Khamenei and other powerful members of the regime have personal experience managing and dealing with social unrest, not just during the existence of the Islamic Republic but dating back to the days of the Shah. They were themselves active in the protests and movement that brought down the Shah, and learned first-hand the lessons of how to manage such things. They saw how the Shah’s gradual compromise and weakening stance in dealing with the movement against him ultimately led to his downfall, and they are not going to repeat it. I know that I’m as guilty as anyone else of speculating that Khamenei might have entertained some sort of regime-saving compromise by ‘throwing Ahmadinejad under the bus,’ but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s just going to stick with the hard-line tactics and dig his heels in. If some sort of compromise or bargain with the opposition comes—and the possibility of this is becoming slimmer and slimmer—I don’t see it coming from him but from elsewhere, like the Assembly of Experts. On another note, the types of statements about Musavi on state TV I mentioned yesterday gained ground in the parliament. The head of the parliament’s judicial committee raised the possibility of legal action against Musavi and said that he could be held criminally responsible for the violence and damage that has come out of the recent unrest.
* Neda: state TV is claiming that Neda’s murder was staged to make the regime look bad, and was the work of the MeK/MKO. Sadly, her family no longer lives at their old home and apparently have been forced to move out of Tehran. The doctor who was trying to save her in the video has also fled from Iran, and sent an email to a friend that was posted on the web giving his flight information and saying that if he is not at the London airport at the scheduled arrival time ‘something has happened’. On a more encouraging note, Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prize winning human rights lawyer said that she would represent Neda’s family in court.
* International reaction: by now most people have probably seen Obama’s recent statements on Iran where he issued his harshest denunciation yet of the recent violence in Iran. Ban Ki-Moon also issued a statement where he expressed worries about the level of violence, which I know many activists inside Iran were hoping for, as this type of high-ranking, international statement (especially not one from America, which can be twisted to the regime’s liking) helps their cause. Obviously I wouldn’t expect the GA or UNSC to issue any sort of statements about the violence, but Moon’s is a good start. I should also not that Iran expelled 2 British diplomats and are reportedly now contemplating downgrading their ties with the UK. State TV is continuing to blame the BBC (and Voice of America) for instigating protests, and has even aired ‘confessions’ by Iranians who claim they were inspired to do so from these media sources. Lastly, the US had made the unprecedented step of inviting Iranian diplomats in foreign countries to July 4th celebrations, but that has now been rescinded (although no Iranian diplomats had actually taken the US up on this offer).
* What’s next: with media and access in Iran so restricted and people like Musavi kept virtually incommunicado it’s difficult to make any predictions about where the protests are headed. My update today may have seemed more pessimistic than previous days, but that’s largely because the regime has succeeded in silencing leaders like Musavi without any drastic, protest-provoking action like arresting him, as well as the security forces brutal tactics in suppressing and preventing any large gathering from happening. Although Musavi was in a sense always playing ‘catch up’ (which he even acknowledged) to the opposition and was never a driving leader of this, without a clear leader or figurehead, however accidental, to rally around, call for demonstrations and speak at large rallies, it’s extremely difficult for this movement to maintain momentum. Still, it’s a testament to the opposition that they continue to function on their own without clear central leadership and are still going into the streets despite the regime’s brutality. With that said, given the regime’s success in preventing further massive demonstrations with the heavy security presence, I think the next step for the opposition on the streets would need to be a national strike or large-scale civil disobedience. In order for this to happen, though, people like Musavi, Khatami, Karrubi, or Montazeri will need to explicitly call for one. We’ll see what happens in the next few days and how the regime treats Musavi—for example, if they make good on the threats floated around that he could be arrested—but for now they seem content to pressure him by taking out his support system and stall for time, hoping the opposition will lose momentum. What’s missing from this analysis, though, is Rafsanjani. Some Iranians friends who I’ve spoken to are very skeptical about the success he will have with the Assembly of Experts and despite his leading role within this body, still view the assembly as a Khamenei proxy. I still think it’s telling that they haven’t issued any collective statement thus far, and that Rafsanjani is still mysterious working behind the scenes, but it would be an unprecedented move for them to actually remove the Supreme Leader. Regardless, as one commentator who knows much more about Iran than me has said, this will be a marathon, not a sprint.
* Lastly, I wanted to direct your attention to two fascinating pieces. The first is a really interesting interview with pro-Ahmadinejad cleric. Read the whole thing, but he really expressed the sentiment given by state TV, and interestingly hasn’t heard about some news like Larijani’s criticism of the GC and statement by Montazeri. I link to this not to point out the laughable opinions of one side, but really to show the kind of obstacles and ideas the opposition has to take into account: Second is an account of a 17-year old’s arrest and torture during the recent unrest, and there are quite graphic pictures that accompany this story. The tactics he describes are consistent with accounts from political prisoners and activists I’ve read or heard of from their experiences in prison before the election protests, so this is unfortunately common practice:

Iran update (Mon 6/22 & Tues 6/23)

* Scattered protests continue: Sunday was perhaps the quietest day in Iran for over a week, but there were still scattered protests and street clashes in Tehran as well as other cities throughout Iran. One of the larger planned rallies was a demonstration for Neda, the woman killed by basij gunfire I talked about yesterday, which was supposed to take place in Haft-e Tir Square in Tehran. Between 1,000 and 2,000 security forces were in full force here to prevent people from assembling, and would break up any small group from forming and tell them to keep walking and not assemble there. Some reports I read said that people ended up circling around the square and kept trying to assemble, but every time they stopped and gathered in even small groups the basij would break them up. This seems to be the new tactic of the basij—prevent people from assembling in even the smallest groups to stop largescale protests or demonstrations from taking place. Still, a few thousand managed to gather in a few parts of Tehran, and as in previous days the basij dealt with them brutally (there’s a very, very graphic video some of you may have seen of a young man shot in the head being carried by people away from the fighting). State TV has urged people to call the police and report any demonstrations, and even take pictures of those in the streets and give them to the authorities. To counter this, in twitter and other outlets the opposition encouraged people to call in fake demonstrations and report make-up names and addresses to district the basij. Further examples of a very clever opposition that will not back down any time soon. State TV also reported that 457 people were arrested during protests on Saturday—the first day after Khamenei’s sermon—although the number is probably higher than that. Lastly, the revolutionary guards issued a harsh statement saying they would deal with protestors harshly.
* next steps: strike: with the huge number of basij and security forces in the streets trying to prevent any sort of peaceful protests, the next step is a nation-wide strike, which to return again to 1979, was one of the most important tactics used in bringing down the regime. Khatami issued a statement on Musavi’s facebook page where he called for people to go to the bazaars at 9am in droves dressed normally and not shouting slogans. If the bazaars become overwhelmed with people or bazaari merchants themselves agree to stop business the country’s domestic commerce will be brought to a complete standstill. This would be a huge blow to the regime domestically, but a more serious one would be if oil workers can be convinced to strike. As oil is by far the largest components of Iran’s exports this would harm the regime even more than a bazaar closure—in fact, this tactic was used successfully before the 79 revolution.
* Neda: just a quick note on Neda, who is becoming a symbol of the opposition. Most of her friends and family have declined to speak to the press about her, BBC Persia was able to get an interview with her fiancé the other day. He said that Neda’s full name is Neda Agha-Soltan, and she was born in 1982. She was shot through the heart by a basij from on top of a building and died before they could get her to the hospital. According to the fiancé she wasn’t a firm supporter of Musavi or any one candidates, and just wanted ‘freedom for everyone.’ Additionally, her family was prevented from holding a public ceremony for her for fear that it would turn into a large demonstration. Related to this, the basij have been much more careful about attacking women in the streets so they don’t have any more opposition-galvanizing images like Neda, but now when male protestors are being attacked by security forces Iranian women are surrounding the men being attacking and trying to get in the way of the security forces. I feel terrible for not commenting until now on the huge presence of women in these rallies, but this just goes to show you how active and on the frontlines they are in this movement.
* Media update: if you’re curious about how State TV is dealing with these protests, they’re basically trying to downplay their number and scale, but when they do discuss them, try to portray them as terrorists and rioters. They’ve ratcheted up their statements about Musavi, saying that his actions are criminal. Also, they’ve seized protests worldwide and are mistranslating signs and chants, claiming that people are saying stuff like “down with regime” and “death to Iran,” etc. Another tactic they use with these foreign protests is to say that they’re MKO-backed or organized. I believe I wrote about this already, but there’s an opposition group in exile called the mujaheddin-e khalq (MeK, or its English acronym, MKO). They were one of the many groups instrumental in the 1979 revolution, but when the new government started to take on an Islamic-bent they turned against this and attacked other groups and factions within the revolutionary forces (they were even responsible for a bomb that killed the president of Iran in 1981). Eventually they were pushed out of Iran, and found exile in Iraq, where they continued to support attacks within Iran and even sided with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. Taking the side of Iraq in the ‘war of holy defense’ cost them any legitimacy they may have had, and they have absolutely no support inside Iran, although they are quite organized and active in lobbying Western governments, particularly France, Britain, and the US. Iran has always complained about the US and other Western governments not labeling the MeK as a terrorist group—they have been very helpful with intelligence in Iraq during and after the overthrow of Saddam—and claim that the West is using the MeK to destabilize Iran. I don’t know if people actually state TV claims that the MeK is behind all these global protests, but it’s interesting to see how the regime has fallen back on its usual tactics of blaming the West for trying to destabilize and overthrow Iran.
* Opposition Leaders update: if people have been surprised that Musavi has not been as present in recent protests as he was right after the election, it’s because he’s not allowed to speak to any journalists, and virtually all of his campaign managers and 1st or 2nd level people have been arrested. On top of this, his campaign spokesman said they he is under 24-hour surveillance, which from what I can tell essentially amounts to house arrest. One quote worth mentioning comes from an interview with the spokesman, who, when asked whether the protests were losing steam, said “The regime, arguably, is losing ground, not the protests… Ordinary Iranians are openly rejecting the legitimacy and power of Ayatollah Khamanei. That is entirely new, unheard of." Probably for this reason Musavi was absent again from protests on Sunday, but on Monday day he issued a statement again supporting the opposition, saying “Protesting to lies and fraud is your right.” Also, he played down reports that he told his supporters he was ‘ready for martyrdom’, and called for a global day of mourning for those killed so far this Thursday. There was also an article in a hardline newspaper that was basically laying out the groundwork for Musavi’s arrest, but unfortunately I haven’t seen more about this or an English translation. This would be a risky move by the regime, since the opposition would have another rallying cry and cause to protest, but they might gamble that this is a better way to stifle the protests than risk him further encouraging them. To be honest the movement is larger than Musavi and he’s been held virtually incommunicado for days, so I don’t see this having much benefit for the regime. Karrubi issued another statement calling for new elections and criticizing the Guardian Council, and repeated his claims that there were 200 regions where the number of votes exceeded the number of voters. One political party/group that is allied with Rafsanjani called on Musavi to join with them to help undermine the ‘illegitimate’ government. This isn’t coming from Rafsanjani himself, but it’s still important that a more moderate group is explicitly calling for the support and alliance with a more liberal/reformist group. In recent history reformists have undermined their power by fighting amongst themselves, but not only have they been more united and disciplined leading up to the election, but apparently now they are joining up with moderate groups in a development that will seriously worry the regime. Hardliner elements have stayed in power through divide-and-conquer tactics, but this will be harder to maintain now in light of current events.
* Rafsanjani: according to some reports I’ve seen, Rafsanjani is going to speak on Frida after Khamenei’s sermon. I can’t overemphasize how hugely important this is. If he sides with Khamenei the opposition will be dealt a huge blow, and I’d unfortunately say that a re-vote or annulment of the election would be near impossible then. However, if he sides with the opposition, even if not explicitly so, the movement will have its most powerful and important supporter to date, and their immediate demands for a new election will be all the more likely to be met. Rafsanjani, like much of the regime establishment, is not prone to swooping changes or sudden changes in alliance, so I wouldn’t expect him to come down directly on any one side, but if he is planning on speaking, it will still have massibe implications for those on the streets. His whereabouts are still not directly known, but his son was interviewed about the arrest of some members of his family and said that his father would not bow to this kind of pressure—he was imprisoned for 5 years under the Shah, his son said, and he will remain strong. Finally, there are other reports and rumors I’ve seen—unfortunately not confirmed—that Rafsanjani could have the support of up to 40 members of the Assembly of Experts for annulling the election.
* Legal update: in somewhat of a surprise, on Sunday the Guardian Council admitted there were in fact more votes than voters in 50 districts, but that this would only amount to 2 million votes, and wouldn’t have affected the results of the election since Ahmadinejad won by 11 million. On Monday they ruled out the possibility of nullifying the vote—not particularly surprising—so that leaves only the Assembly of Experts left that can possibly call for a re-vote. Yet in a turnaround on Tuesday state TV reported that the GC will extend the period where they will assess election complaints by 5 days. Additionally, on Tuesday state media reported that Ahmadinejad will be sworn in as president in late July or early August, but I haven’t seen any official confirmation of this from the GC or Khamenei himself.
* Cracks in the regime: there’s more evidence of cracks in the regime, this time a more reliable report (but I still wouldn’t say confirmed) of a senior Revolutonary Guard Commander being arrested for not following Khamenei’s orders to deal with the protestors by force. There was an interesting comment I saw the other day that people have been overlooking Rezai’is role in all of this, mainly his ties to the Revolutionary Guards. Rezaii is a former head commander of the Guards, and I’m sure still has allies within the senior ranks, and this could be one of the reasons for their lack of willingness to crack down on protests. Regarding clerical splits within the regime, CNN posted some great footage of members of the clergy taking part in protests. While this is very significant, I would again remind people that the Iranian clergy are far from monolithic, and there are various opinions not just about this election but about the idea of the Islamic Republic as a whole among Iran’s many clerics and clerical students. Still, this does show evidence of the type of splits that have been rumored, but I just want to remind people that these protests—and the Iranian regime as a whole—is not a uniform ‘mullocracy’ ruling the people. I can’t find a direct link but its one of the newer videos on Ali Larijani, who I’ve mentioned before has been close to Khamenei but a rival of Ahmadinejad, is pressing for Musavi to have time on state TV to discuss his complaints about the election directly to the public. Additionally, a clerical group called the Association of Combatant Clergy—the same group that applied for a permit to protest on Saturday—issued a statement ‘strongly supporting’ Musavi and rejecting the results of the election.
* Protesting footballers: a few days back I wrote that 6 members of the Iranian national soccer team wore green arm bands in support of the protesters during their last world cup qualifying match (all but one, the captain, took them off after halftime). 4 of the 6 were ‘retired’ (including the captain), and there is no news about the other two. A few days after that there was a report that the 6 that wore the arm bands may have chosen to do so because they were the elder players on the team and were going to retire anyway. Except for one player who is 24, the other three players who were ‘retired’ were either 31 or 32.
* Two frightening stories: apparently the regime is establishing a ‘special court’ to deal with those who are arrested during protests. I haven’t seen any details about how these courts will work, but I can tell you from my own work on Iran’s judicial system that if they are in any way similar to the ‘revolutionary courts’ or ‘special courts for the clergy’—which they likely will be—trials will be short and behind closed doors, sentences handed down summarily and be harsh, and the accused will almost surely not have access to a lawyer (or even be able to be present at their own trials). I won’t bore you with details of Iran’s courts, but if you want more information let me know and I can send you my old research. Secondly, there was one story reported about a young man, aged 19, who was shot during a demonstration. When his parents went to pick up his body at first they weren’t allowed to take him until they payed a $3,000 ‘bullet fee’ for the ammunition used by the basij that killed him. Eventually they got the ‘fee’ waived—the father argued he was a war veteran and it was horribly unjust—but they still were made to bury him outside of Tehran and not have a public ceremony. I don’t know if this is an isolated incident or not, but its worth mentioning just to show the lack of respect for human life that’s been on display these past days.
* Neo-cons for Ahmadinejad: I’ve touched on this before, but there’s an unfortunately sizeable contingent of neo-cons or other commentators that, despite the fact that protests have gone on for over a week, still think that Ahmadinejad actually won the election and people in Iran, as well as the US, should ‘get over it’ and move on. I know that some people criticize these people for making this argument in bad faith, and basically wanting to have Ahmadinejad around for another term to justify a hardline stance towards Iran and eschewing any attempts at engagement. I think it’s actually quite simpler than this, and rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of Iran. For many of the commentators who actually believe Iran won, they simply can’t get their head around the fact that Ahadinejad does not represent the Iranian people. Their perceptions of Iran are rooted in the 1979 revolution, embassy takeover and hostage crisis, and they assume most Iranians are as anti-American and fundamentalist as Ahmadinejad To them, of course Ahmadinejad won---the Iranian people are just like him. Hopefully the continuing protests and calls for democracy in the streets will convince these people how untrue their stereotypes of Iranians are, but they’ve held this misperception of Iranians for three decades, and it will take time to change.
* Khamenei’s two-pronged battle: the longer the uncertainty in Iran goes on for, the more apparent it appears that Khamenei is fighting a two-pronged battle for his, and perhaps the regime’s, survival. On the one hand, there are the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets since the election who are furious at the blatant electoral fraud and attempts to remove the ‘Republic’ part from the ‘Islamic Republic.’ On the other hand, he’s also facing a mounting front within the establishment and clergy itself that is questioning his legitimacy and effectiveness as a leader. This group is of course led by Rafsanjani, and if the reports are true that Rafsanjani is gaining support within the Assembly of Experts, Khamenei’s days as Supreme Leader could be numbered. Interestingly, I think Rafsanjani and his clerical allies are upset with Khamenei for his attempt to take the ‘Islamic’ part out of the Islamic Republic. What I mean by this is that the role of Supreme Leader is supposed to remain above the political fray, and its main task is to ensure the stability of the regime by keeping factional differences and infighting to a minimum. As evidenced by his Friday sermon, Khamenei has clearly taken the side of Ahmadinejad, and in so directly aligning himself with one political faction, has sacrificed some of the mystique and legitimacy of the position of Supreme Leader. Most importantly, with the regime so closely taking sides with Ahmadinejad and his cohort, the regime’s image itself is tied direct to that of one particular faction. If and when Ahmadinejad’s administration fails to deliver, popular anger will be (as it has increasingly been) directed at the regime itself rather than the regime. The regime will no longer have a scapegoat for economic and political failures, and people may increasingly come to blame not just one politician but the system as a whole.
* How gov’t monitors internet: With help from European countries. Basically monitoring what everything is saying with keywords, etc, and can even hack into sites, which may be why gov’t has kept internet on but slow (deep pocket stuff slows it down). More advanced than china and working through one large hub.

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Denise Levertov

February 3, 1954

Dear D/

Writing you from my Bed of Pain etc

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran update (Sunday, June 21st)

**As always, feel free to forward/post but please delete my name and email**

Nighttime again in Tehran so below is my round-up of news from today. Unfortunately it’s becoming harder and harder to get information out of Iran. The Western press has gone from being banned from covering protests to being asked to leave—today Iran asked the BBC to leave, a few other reporters had their visas expire, and an Iranian reporter from Newsweek has been arrested without charge and hasn’t been heard from in a few days. Couple this with the fact that they’re arresting even more Iranian bloggers and journalists, scrambling satellite TV, cutting off phone and SMS service, and it’s just becoming harder and harder to find out what’s going on in Iran. Still, some amazing and courageous Iranians continue to send updates and take pictures and video, so here’s what I’ve compiled from the past 24 hours.

- *Protests and street clashes: *at least in so far as has been reported, today was not as violent as yesterday. State TV reported that 10 people had been killed in the past two days, but other sources inside and outside Iran say this could be as high as 40, with maybe 200 seriously injured. From video, pictures, and emails that emerged later last night it seems that there were more people out in the streets yesterday than I previously thought. A few thousand people did assemble in revolution square yesterday but were prevented from marching to freedom square. Today there were not any officially planned marches or protests, but people were out on the streets again demonstrating and chanting slogans. Last night people again went to their rooftops and chanted ‘allah-u akbar’, and according to some people I talked to it was even louder than previous nights. In fact, these chants had a tone of anger to them. There were even some chants of ‘marg bar khamenei’ (death to khamenei) were heard during the nighttime chants and rallies yesterday. As I mentioned before, as Khamenei has directly stepped into the political fray and come down on one side people are increasingly angry at him, but its still a minority of people that are taking such a stand against the supreme leader. From a strategic perspective, I actually think the more these types of anti-Khamenei views are voiced, the more the opposition runs the risk of alienating possible supporters, but I’m so far removed from all of this it would be patronizing for me to advise those who are risking life and limb on the streets. Regardless, I can’t say definitively whether there are more people on the street today than yesterday, but it’s clear that these protests will continue for the foreseeable future and their spirit has not been crushed despite warnings from state officials and violence from security forces.

- *Basij tactics and resistance: *aside from the street protests and quasi-urban warfare many of you may have seen videos of in the past day, the basij is also exercising cold and calculated tactics to stifle the opposition. They have been raiding people’s homes at night, shooting them with paintballs on the streets so they can identify and arrest them later, and as I said before, arresting people in hospitals. Yesterday I said that embassies were accepting the injured, and today there were reports that basijis had prevented this by blocking entrance to those embassies that were helping people. As people continue to protest they are finding ways around
this and sharing tactics on how to deal with the basij. People in areas where protests have been are leaving their doors open and allowing injured people in so they don’t have to go to the hospital; on twitter and other sites people are sharing instructions on how to deal with tear gas and treating the other mysterious acid; people are taking numbers off their houses and street signs down to make it harder for bused-in basij (or possibly foreign mercenaries) to track down people; garbage cans are being lit on fire so the smoke counteracts the tear gas; and people are bringing black spray paint to protests to cover traffic cameras. In short, people are finding ways to fight back and its fascinating to see how these tactics are coordinated.

- *Assembly of Experts: *if you’ve been following these emails closely you know that the Assembly of Experts is an 86-member body charged with overseeing and choosing a successor to the Supreme Leader. Throughout its history its never actually acted upon that overseeing role, and in the one case when a new SL was chosen, basically rubber-stamped Khomeini’s recommendation. Essentially the assembly has been a symbolic check and balance to the SL and has never acted autonomously in any way. Rumors continue about Rafsanjani being in Qom and meeting with members of the assembly to try to get them to replace Khamenei with another SL or perhaps a collective body of high-ranking clerics. These rumors have persisted given that they have yet to officially weigh in on the situation despite Khamenei’s Friday sermon. Yesterday a statement was issued by the assembly confirming their support for Khamenei, but upon closer examination it was
revealed that this statement was only signed by one person, Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi—note: not to be confused with Muhammad Mesbah-Yazdi—the deputy of the assembly. Yazdi lost out to Rafsanjani for the chairmanship of the assembly when the previous one died a few years ago, so him not backing Rafsanjani is not all that surprising. Still, unlike Mesbah-Yazdi, he has not been in the staunch pro-Khamenei, pro-Ahmadinejad clerical camp, so it does have some significance, although I think what’s more relevant is that this statement was only signed by one person, which shows Rafsanjani is likely still meeting with them and they have yet to take a stand as an
institutional whole.

- *Three prominent people speak out: *people have been wondering where Khatami has been in all of this, and he has issued a statement supporting the protestors right to assemble and calling upon the government to cease their violence. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri—who, as you may remember, was supposed to be Khomeini’s successor until he was passed over for political reasons—issued a similar statement and called into question the neutrality of the Guardian Council. Importantly, Ali Larijani appeared on State TV and said something similar when he criticized the Guardian Council for its
partisanship. Khatami and Montazeri are reformists, but Larijani is a conservative and has been close to Khamenei—though he has had clashed with Ahmadinejad, particularly during his tenure as speaker in parliament. Larijani was in the front row with Ahmadinejad and the head of the judiciary during Khamenei’s Friday sermon, so we’re seeing further evidence of fissures within the regime. As noted above, Rafsanjani still has not issued any statements and whether or not he is in Qom has not been confirmed, but today five of his relatives—included his daughter—were arrested, though his daughter was later released. A few days ago state TV showed his daughter speaking to and leading a group of protestors during some of the larger rallies that occurred before the Friday sermon.

- *Media: *just a quick note about how the state media is handling these events. In an important rhetorical shift, Khamenei is now being referred to as the “father of the revolution,” instead of the usual “Supreme Leader” or “Leader of the Islamic Revolutoin.” They’re really trying to play up his credentials and boost his legitimacy. Also, when state TV reported on the ten people who died, they were referred to as ‘terrorists.’ The official line, as to be expected, is that they were foreign-back or –trained terrorists.

- *What now: *as far as I can tell, there is no large protest or demonstration called for by Musavi, Karrubi or others where they plan on attending and speaking. In his letter yesterday Musavi did say if he was arrested he wanted the nation to go on strike, and in Montazeri’s statement he called for three days of mourning, from wed to fri—in effect a *de facto *strike. A nationwide strike would be a huge blow to the regime and the opposition upping the ante in their standoff. It was the nationwide
strikes that really showed the power of the revolution in 1979 and brought down the Shah, particularly when the bazaars—the center of Iran’s domestic economy—went on strike as well. There are rumors, but not yet confirmed, that the Tehran bazaar might join in on this strike. We’ll see if Musavi, Khatami, Montazeri, etc issue any more statements in the next few days, but as of now I think the type of scattered clashes and protests we’ve been seeing these past two days will continue until Wednesday, and then we’ll see whether the idea of a strike has gained momentum. Things could surely change if Musavi or his wife are arrested, of if Rafsanjani makes progress with the
assembly of experts or makes a statement, but for the time being I’d expect more of the same.

- *Neda: *some of you may have seen a gruesome video of a young woman protestor who was shot and killed yesterday. She’s been identified as Neda, and in the video you can hear her dad at the end saying “stay with me, Neda.” Her name has now become a rallying cry for the opposition and a symbol of their struggle. While the video is quite disturbing and hard to watch, I think people need to see it so they realize what's going on in Iran. If you care to see the footage you can find it here:

The person who sent the email two days ago saying she was ready to die wrote another email about Neda. I’m copying and pasting it in full (fyi, sister is metaphorical):

*“Yesterday I wrote a note, with the subject line "tomorrow is a great day perhaps tomorrow I'll be killed." I'm here to let you know I'm alive but my sister was killed...*

*I'm here to tell you my sister died while in her father's hands I'm here to tell you my sister had big dreams... I'm here to tell you my sister who died was a decent person... and like me yearned for a day when her hair would be swept by the wind... and like me read "Forough" [Forough Farrokhzad]... and longed to live free and equal...
and she longed to hold her head up and announce, "I'm Iranian"... and she longed to one day fall in love to a man with a shaggy hair... and she longed for a daughter to braid her hair and sing lullaby by her crib...*

*my sister died from not having life... my sister died as injustice has no end... my sister died since she loved life too much... and my sister died since she lovingly cared for people...*

*my loving sister, I wish you had closed your eyes when your time had come... the very end of your last glance burns my soul....*

*sister have a short sleep. your last dream be sweet.*

If you want to see some videos from yesterday I’ve copied and pasted some links. The last one is reportedly from today and shows people chasing back the army. The others are from yesterday, and as a word of caution, the first one is graphic.

Videos: (man shot dead in protests) (yesterday in Tehran)
in Tehran, with footage at the end of someone shot)
away army)

Finally, I’m copying and pasting two key sections from Musavi’s letter. First, there is this part, and the underlining is mine because it highlights what I’ve been saying is what really set these protests in motion: “If the high volume of cheating and vote manipulation, that has put a fire to the foundations of people's trust, is itself introduced as the proof and evidence of the lack of fraud, *the republicanism of the regime will be slaughtered and the idea of incompatibility of Islam and republicanism would be practically proven.” *

Lastly, an entire paragraph that is worth reading in full:

*“As I look at the scene, I see that it has been set to achieve more than just forcing an unwanted government on the nation, it is set to achieve a new type of political life in the country. As a companion who has seen the beauty of your green wave of participation, I will never allow anybody’s life to be endangered because of my actions. At the same time, I stand by my firm belief of this election being null and void, and insist on reclaiming people’s rights, and in spite of the little power I possess, I believe that your motivation and creativity can still result in following up your legitimate rights in new and civil guises. Be confident that I will stand by your side at all times. What this brother of yours advises for finding these new solutions, especially to the beloved youth, is: Don’t let the liars and fraudsters steal the flag of defending the Islamic regime from you; Don’t let "the delinquents and the strangers" [quote from Khomeini, quotation marks ours] confiscate from you the precious heritage of the Islamic Revolution, which is built from the blood of your honest fathers. With trust in God and hope for the future and relying on your capabilities, continue your social movements based on freedoms explicitly stated in the constitution and stay away from violence, as you have been doing. In this road, we are not up against the Basij members; Basiji's are our brothers. In this road, we are not up against the Revolutionary Guardmembers; they are protectors of our Revolution and regime. We are not up against the military; they are the protectors of our [country's] borders. We are not up against our sacred regime and its legal structures; this structure guards our Independence, Freedom, and Islamic Republic. We are up against the deviations and deceptions and we want to reform them; a reformation that returns us to the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution.”*

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran update 6.0 (Saturday, June 20th)

Apologies for the late update but I was waiting for news to get out of Iran, which was harder to come by today with the crackdown. With that said, here’s what’s going on and some interpretation/speculation interspersed:

* Street clashes: the announced plan for today was for people to march from enqelab (revolution) square to Azadi (freedom) square, but there were conflicting reports—which people pinned to hackers on opposition sites, including their facebook accounts—of whether these were cancelled. Eventually the plans were more or less confirmed as still being on, and people tried to make it to the march. The head of police in Terhan went on TV ahead of the scheduled protests and warned people not to take part in these ‘illegal’ demonstrations. The security inside Tehran was far above and beyond what was seen in recent days. There were riot police and basijis with clubs, tear gas, water cannons, and live rounds blocking off almost every conceivable entrance to Azadi square and preventing people from assembling on large streets. The metro was shut down so people couldn’t get into central Tehran, and student dorms were surrounded so they couldn’t leave. Helicopters flew overhead and gave tactical support to the security forces, and in short, all the stops were pulled out and crowd control was exercised to the maximum extent. Still, people dared to come out and tried to demonstrate in the streets. The numbers were far less than in previous days, but in Terhan in the thousands. They began with silence but when attacked fought back the basiji with rocks, bricks, throwing back tear gas, and from several youtube videos, you can see them actually forcing the basiji to retreat (which was greeted by the roar of the crowd). The violence unleashed upon them was more brutal than ever before. It’s still unclear but there have been reports of around 20 dead and 50 or so badly beaten. I won’t link to them here, but there are several widely circulated videos of a woman being shot dead in the protests, a middle-aged woman being beaten with batons by several basiji while people around her curse at them. Apparently the water cannons being sprayed at people was more than water and some sort of a mix of water and chemicals that burned the skin. People were again scared of being taken to hospitals and several European embassies were accepting injured people. Almost all the footage I’ve seen is from Tehran, but there were reports of riots in Tabriz, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Isfahan, and Shiraz.

* Musavi: Originally today’s protests were supposed to be attended by Musavi, Karrubi and Khatami, but they did not (or very possibly, could not) attend them. Musavi is not under arrest but is not allowed to speak near cameras or microphones, but later in the day there were numerous reports that he did make it onto the streets where he spoke to his supporters and said that he is ‘prepared for martyrdom’ and if he is arrested the nation should strike. Later in the day he released an official statement that you can read the English translated version of below, but in general he is not letting up and will not accept the results of the election. This is a much needed statement, given that some people were waiting for an appearance or statement from him. Still, as my previous posts should have made clear, despite his courageousness and emerging leadership, the opposition isn’t really about him. It’s about things larger and deeper than just the election. Anyway, here’s a link to his statement:
* Legal update: the Guardian Council said it would recount 10% of the votes, chosen at random, which was rejected by Musavi and Karrubi. Recognizing that dealing with this body was futile, these two didn’t attend the scheduled meeting to discuss electoral fraud today, while Rezai’i did (though to no resolved conclusion). Musavi also wrote to the Guardian Council complaining that there were plans to rig the election at least a month in advance. I’m sure he knows that nothing will come of this complaint, but he’s keeping the legal avenue open so that he can claim to be trying to work within the system to resolve these problems.
* Fake bomb: Iranian state TV reported that a suicide bomber struck one corner of the Khomeini mausoleum outside of southern Tehran, and claimed that 2 people were injured and the bomber killed. There was initially speculation that the regime may have been responsible for this so that it makes the opposition look like vigilantes, and also possibly that an exiled opposition group—which is reviled by people inside Iran, named the Mujahedin-e Khalq—could have been the perpetrators. They later showed footage of the bombing and it became clear than this was entirely fabricated. The ‘aftermath’ was essentially just a broken window. No damage, no blood, nothing, just a broken window. This just shows the desperate tactics the regime is resorting to, and also how haphazard and clumsy they are getting. Similar to this, State TV showed a few young people ‘confessing’ to traveling to the US so they could get training in guerrilla tactis and stroke unrest. It’s a typical regime canard and one that almost no one believs anymore. Also, state TV is showing parts of Obama’s statements on Iran, but mistranslating him as saying that he supports the protestors and wants them to continue protesting.
* Where’s Rafsanjani: there’s still no word on where Rafsanjani is. The general belief is that he’s still in Qom speaking to clerics and members of the expediency council, but he hasn’t been heard from or seen since the protests began. Late today there was one article that said the assembly of experts will issue a statement saying they fully support khamenei and his sermon from yesterday, but that is very likely the state’s further attempt at mis-information. Whether they eventually do come out and support Khamenei, it’s telling that they have taken so long and remained quiet for this amount of time at this crucial period of his tenure.
* More on khamenei: there’s an important point several commentators made about his Friday sermon that I didn’t include yesterday, that is, that it’s very rare for Khamenei to openly side with one faction against another. His traditional way of ruling has been to keep all sides and factions happy, and thus keep the regime’s support base as broad as possible. Whenever an unpopular decision has to be made that may alienate one faction, he usually delegates this to other persons or bodies such as the Guardian Council. In general he has tried to remain ‘above the fray’ from politics and prefers to work behind the scene, his so explicitly coming down on the side of Ahmadinejad is rather unique.
* Who won?: with everything that was building to this day, the question remains of who won, the opposition or the regime. I wish I could provide a more definitive answer, but I believe in the end both sides did. On the regime side, they prevented another massive gathering through both threats of and use of force. Musavi, Khatami and Karrubi were not able to address the crowds, and the regime made a point that this is how they will deal with such demonstrations in the future. However, on the side of the opposition, the fact that thousands of people were still willing to go onto the streets and risk—if not lose—their lives is an accomplishment. They exposed the brutal tactics of the regime, and people continue to be furious about the state-perpetrated violence. Many reports said that the ‘allah-u akbars’ are louder now than ever before, and at least for the time being, the opposition is not backing down. It’s been somewhat underreported just how many prominent members of the opposition have been arrested. Senior members of both reformist candidates, as well as members of reformist political groups and democratic activitist groups, have been rounded up and arrested, and yet the protests continue. The regime is hoping to render the movement immobile by taking out its limbs, but it’s become clear that the movement is not directed from above but is a truly popular movement that has no one center directing it. We’ll see tomorrow where this is headed. If people somehow came out in the numbers they have been the security forces would be unable to stop them from marching or assembling, but clearly this would result in massive bloodshed. Musavi and others do not appear to be backing down, and the prospect of a national strike could cripple the country, much as it did in the 1979 protests. I remain hopeful and in awe of the protestors, but whatever happens, Iran has experienced fundamental changes that cannot be undone, and the cleavages that have emerged will not go away any time soon.

As a last note, this is a must read from someone from the NYT on the ground in Tehran:

I should also say that I’ll be traveling for a few hours tomorrow for an interview so the update will likely come as late, if not later, than today’s, but I’ll try to send it out as soon as possible.



Friday, June 19, 2009

Iran update 5.0 (Friday, June 19th)

> Apologies for the lateness of today’s update, but here’s what happened today. As always, feel free to forward or post, but please take off my name/email.
> Unlike previous days I’m combining my interpretation with the updates:
> * Opposition protest called off: yesterday I wrote that today (Friday) could very well determine the future of Iran, given that the opposition was going to hold a protest and march to Friday prayers where regime supporters were being bused in for Khamenei’s Friday sermon. Musavi, Karrubi, and the opposition decided to call these protests off for two reason: 1) the ‘turnout’ for the Friday sermons and the corresponding protests would be used to show regime support, and the opposition didn’t want to inflate these numbers; and 2) the opposition wanted to avoid being provoked into violence and wait for Khamenei’s sermon to see how to react. As I’ll highlight below, given what Khamenei said in his sermon it now seems absolutely clear that the gauntlet has been thrown down and this watershed moment will now take place tomorrow.
> * Khamenei speaks: leading up to Khamenei’s speech, there was speculation that Khamenei might compromise, sacrifice Ahmadinejad for the sake of the regime, or heed to some opposition demands to save face for the regime. From his sermon, though, he is not backing down in any way, and has firmly thrown his support behind Ahmadinejad and conceded nothing to the opposition. The speech was full of usual scapegoating of Western media and enemies of the regime, claims that the huge turnout was a victory for the regime, but there are some very significant parts of it:
> o he explicitly chided Ahmadinejad for attacking family members of Rafsanjani and Nateg Nouri, but he also fully supported Ahmadinejad. Khamenei went as far as to say that the incumbent president’s views and opinions are the closest to his own than any other candidate, and that there was no fraud in the election—without any sense of irony, Khamenei actually said how is it possible to fake 11 million votes (Ahmadinejad’s winning margin;
> o Khamenei also made several points to woo Rafsanjani back to his side. He did so, as noted above, by reproaching Ahmadinejad for attacking Rafsanjani’s family, but also tried to co-opt Rafs by talking about his importance to the regime, his revolutionary credentials, his important positions within government, etc. Ahmadinejad, as well as some other senior regime members, were present at the sermon, but Rafsanjani was not, and speculation continues that he is in Qom rallying support against Khamenei;
> o Most seriously of all, Khamenei not-so-subtly said that any violence coming from future protests is the opposition’s fault and not the regime. He called the protests illegal, said they must stop, and again said that people must move on and accept the election results.
> * Opposition response: there was no immediate response to Khamenei’s speech from the opposition, but no one is backing down from holding a protest tomorrow at 4 pm. Reportedly Musavi, Karrubi, and Khatami will all be there, and again it will be a silent protest with a combination of mourning for those killed in the protests so far and a continuation of the ‘sea of green.’ I can’t overemphasize the importance of tomorrow’s events. As scary as it may sound, so far the regime has tempered its response to the protests, and is capable of far more brutal tactics. As Khamenei’s speech suugests, there is every indication that the crackdown will occur tomorrow. People were bused in from across the country for the Friday sermon, among them basiji members and reservist, who unlike the army and even some revolutionary guards, are almost uniformly pro-regime and will not hesitate to inflict violence on what they see as anti-regime activities. The basij numbers could be around 500,000, and their reserve forces 1 million. While all of these will not be mobilized, they will be in much stronger force than any other day. How the opposition responds to this violence and whether their momentum continues will be the most clear indication so far of where the movement is going. On top of this, after Khamenei’s sermon tomorrow’s protests are a direct challenge and rebuke of the Supreme Leader. Not that the opposition has in previous days been in any way pro-regime, but as I said above, Khamenei has essentially thrown down the gauntlet and dared people to demonstrate, and tomorrow, we’ll see their response. Lastly, Musavi called on people to again yell “allah-u akbar” from their roofs and balconies, and some people are saying it’s even louder than in previous nights.
> * Whither Ahmadinejad: I believe I noted yesterday about the conspicuous three-day absence of Ahmadinejad, but on late yesterday a recorded TV statement was broadcast on national TV where Ahmadinejad adopted a more conciliatory attitude and claimed his remarks about the protestors were taken out of context. He said that his previous words were not meant to insult or disparage any Iranian, and said that every single Iranian is valuable. The government is at everyone’s service.” This is quite a turnaround from his usual uncompromising stance. While on the topic, I should also note here why Khamenei has and continues to support Ahmadinejad despite the clear advantages of sacrificing the president for the sake of the regime. As I said yesterday. Khamenei’s religious credentials have always been suspect, and his religious authority and legitimacy is in no way comparable to Khomeini’s. Compared to his predecessor he’s fairly weak, and since taking the position of Supreme Leader in 1989 has tried to consolidate his power in the face of direct and indirect challenges to his rule. For example, when he became SL Rafsanjani was president, and the latter managed to abolish the position of Prime Minister, thus strengthening his position against the Supreme Leaders. That rivalry has continued behind the scenes since then, and is becoming more apparent now. When Khatami was president there were direct challenges to his authority that were not seen during the more moderate days of Rafsanjani. Khamenei was able to deal with these much more easily than the insider Rafsanjani, but his sense of vulnerability surely increased. With Ahmadinejad he found a base of support in the Revolutionary Guards, basij, and radical members of the clergy. Ahmadinejad’s supporters have been labeled Iran’s ‘neo-cons’, as they represent a new generation of regime supporters different from traditional conservatives, and Khamenei seized upon them and has used them to consolidate his grip on power. In summary, letting Ahmadinejad fall from power at this point could mean subjecting himself to the same fate.
> * Legal update: not much to report on the legal front, but the Guardian Council may recount votes in some districts, but in light of what Khamenei said today not much is to be expected from this. I haven’t heard whether Musavi, Karrubi and Rezai’i will meet with them as planned tomorrow, but I suspect they will continue to at least entertain legal channels in addition to mass movements.
> * Western response: some commentator, and I apologize that I forget who, made the point that the European and US response to Iran has essentially switched. European states have had a more critical response to events in Iran, while the US has been more silent and diplomatic. This could be an example of ‘good cop, bad cop,” and is significant in that these European states are the ones that, unlike the US, actually have economic and diplomatic ties to Iran. While I don’t doubt the necessity of these states adopting a more hardline approach, I think Obama should make a more explicit denunciation of what’s going on in Iran. This may not mean endorsing the election results, but at least taking a harder stance on human rights violations. The other day Obama unfortunately said that for US national security purposes, there is “no difference” between an Ahmadinejad or Musavi presidency, and while this may have been taken somewhat out of context, this is clearly not the message to be sending the Iranian people.
> * Finally, I wanted to quote in full an email (translated) from someone in Iran that underscores what’s at stake tomorrow:
> “I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I like this post over at Thinking Again

An Interview with David Bromige

Three Poems: Amy Wright

Nighttime again in Iran

Nighttime again in Iran, so here’s my daily update. As always, feel free to forward but make sure to take off my name.

First, what’s happened:

* more protests: there was another protest today that by some accounts was as well attended, if not more so, than the one on Monday. With foreign media banned from covering these it’s difficult to tell, but The Guardian said it could have been as many as a million, and Iranian State TV even admitting it was in the tens of thousands. Whatever the number is, the important thing is that they show no signs of stopping. Musavi and his wife both attended and spoke at today’s rally, which he called (loose translation) “a sea of green in black silence.” Like yesterday’s it was a silent protest where people mourned those who have been killed so far in the protests. Thankfully, so far there have been less reports of violence from today’s demonstrations, though I don’t doubt that plainclothes officers were still beating people in the streets. Musavi has called for a candlelight vigil tonight, and the protests now have taken on an explicitly mourning theme, much as happened during some of the protests during 1979.
* Tomorrow’s events: with the magnitude of what has happened so far it is difficult to call any one day more important than another, but I believe tomorrow will be perhaps the most important day thus far, and could very well determine how the rest of these events play out. The reason for this is because tomorrow, Friday, is the Muslim Holy day, which is when Friday prayers are given in mosques and where state-sponsored political messages are disseminated to the public. According to one report I’ve seen, tomorrow Khamenei will give Friday prayers in, of all places, Tehran University. People are already being bused in from outside the city to shore up support for the regime and bolster its numbers. Khamenei might maintain the line that the elections were legitimate and the protests are illegal, or he might soften his stance and promise some sort of recount. Either way, I don’t see him making any sort of grand gesture to the opposition, and if he does speak more of an accomodationist line, it will likely be to buy more time to diffuse the situation. On the opposition side, Musavi has again called for mourning and silent protests, and urged people to march from one large public square to mosques to attend Friday prayers. Both Musavi and Karrubi will attend the events tomorrow. Jumping ahead to Friday, a clerical group that I mentioned in previous emails, the Association of Combative Clerics, has asked for official permission to hold a protest and rally on Saturday. I read a few reports that another, more centrist clerical group has issued a statement supporting the protests, but nothing I can call definitive.
* Government response: one expert who I link to below said that so far the government has had no clear strategy in how to deal with these protests. I couldn’t agree with this more. After the first few days the government has dispatched security forces including the Revolutionary Guards, Basij, Hezbollah, etc, but without a coherent plan on how to deal with the protestors. Their strategy initially seemed to be to scare the protestors with arrests and violence, but that has clearly failed so far and the protests continue to gain momentum. There has not been—and hopefully will not be—a massive show of force like the rolling in of tanks at Tianamen, and police, army, and even some revolutionary guards do not seem willing to crack down on the protests. There were reports today of basiji wearing masks because they were afraid of the repercussions which is significant, but I have seen photos of them arresting people in previous years donning black masks. This and what appears to be a decrease in violence perhaps shows the security forces waning will to deal with the protestors (or alternatively, the government backing off its earlier strategy). Also, the interior ministry tried again to paint protestors as supporting a foreign-backed coup when they claimed they uncovered was a ‘foreign-backed’ plot to bomb mosques on election day.
* Soccer protests: some of you may have seen this already, but yesterday Iran played South Korea in a World Cup qualifying game. Six of the players wore green wristbands for the first half, and one kept his on for the second half after being told to take them off. If any of you have seen the movie Offsides, you know that soccer in Iran is massive and by far the most popular sports in the country. People were undoubtedly watching this and the courageous stand the players took on national TV was not lost on the population. On the downside, Iran tied Korea 1-1 and is now eliminated from the next World Cup, something that further angers Iranians (Ahmadinejad actually spoke about improving the soccer team in one of his campaign appearances).
* Summoning ambassadors: Iran has so far summoned 6 ambassadors in Tehran, including the Swiss one to discuss “US interfering” in Iran’s internal affairs, and also the Canadian one for similar reasons.
* Legal update: the latest news out of the Guardian Council is that they are now looking into 646 submitted electoral problems and, as reported on state TV, have invited the 3 losing candidates to discuss the election with the 12-member body. Rezai’i, who was a conservative challenger to Ahmadinejad who initially did not denounce the election results, has no done so since he wanted the GC to finish with its recount by the end of yesterday. He, along with Karrubi and Musavi, may speak to the GC as early as Saturday. Tellingly, before the GC invited these three to speak with them and was beginning its “recount,” the Interior Ministry’s electoral commission said by law they could not show the contents of ballot boxes to the presidential candidates, so they essentially had to trust them that an actual recount was going on. These are the kind of non-solutions that have been proposed so far, though Saturday may see a change in that (though this is doubtful, given the composition of the GC). Also, Musavi and Khatami have issued a joint statement to the Judiciary asking for the release of those who have been arrested during these protests.
* Parliamentary investigation: the parliament’s investigation into the attacks on the Tehran University dormitory began and ended in a fistfight. MPs who convened the investigation asked why plainclothes officers had been sent here without official orders, and also questioned the Treasury Ministry as to why “shares” of money were given to Ahmadinejad before the election basically to dole out to people on his campaign stops. When the questioning of the attacks continued some of their staunchest supporters in parliament began arguing with those asking questions, and eventually the verbal fight turned physical. I highlight this just to show that while support for the regime and such tactics may be waning, it is nevertheless still strongly held by an amount of people that should not be discounted.
* Some rumors: I mentioned yesterday that there were rumors some senior members of the Revolutionary Guards had been arrested for siding with the opposition. I spoke to a few of my Iranian friends who confirmed this and said it was in some reliable Persian-news sources, but no conformation of this from official government channels or Western media. Soon after the election some rumored ‘real’ numbers were released by a supposed dissident member of the Interior Ministry that showed Musavi winning more than 50% (I forget the exact numbers). This person was apparently killed in a car ‘accident.’ Again, the same goes for this as the Revolutionary Guard arrest story, though the Iranians I’ve talked to (admittedly partisan in these matters) believed both to be true and confirmed from their own sources. Lastly, there’s a rumor that several members of the Interior will soon write to the GC themselves saying they found widespread problems with the election. We’ll see if this does happen, but for now just a rumo

Some thoughts:

* Pro-Ahmadienjad poll: I mentioned this in one of my previous updates, but there was a pre-election poll carried out by an NGO called “Terror Free Tomorrow” that some of you may have seen mentioned in various articles (they defended their poll a few days ago in the Washington Post). The poll was taken via telephone and purportedly showed Ahmadinejad was twice as popular among the respondents, which is now being cited to show that Ahmadinejad did win the election, and the cries of fraud are unwarranted. I’m including the link to a full debunking of this poll below, but there are 2 major problems with this poll. First, methodologically, the phone survey was of a little over 1,000 people, and just only 57% answered definitely. The rest either said “no comment” or were undecided. That’s a large number of unanswered, and when you weigh that with the percentage that said they did support Ahmadinejad, you get a far less overwhelming endorsement of him. Second, and more importantly, there are political problems with this poll. This poll was conducted around a month before the election, and before the official campaign time began. Unlike American, Iran has no strong political parties, and people will not just vote for someone—say, like Musavi—because he’s a member of the party they identify with. Opinions change and undecided sway much more in Iran than in American. Musavi had been out of the public eye for almost two decades before the official campaigning began, so it’s no wonder he didn’t have more support when this poll was taken. On top of this, his campaign really built steam later in the campaign period, particularly after his June 3rd televised debate with Ahmadinejad when the latter attacked numerous members of the establishment such as Rafsanjani’s family, Musavi’s wife, and others. If you want to read more about this poll, check:
* Revolution? (again): One important aspect of the protests we’re seeing now that people have mentioned but I have failed to include in my updates is the class component of them. What we’re seeing now, in contrast to protests such as 1999 and 2003, is the conspicuous presence of the middle class. Like I said yesterday, it’s not just students vs. regime, but a large collection of groups, including the ‘new’ middle class, against some (but not all) of the regime. The videos and pictures from the protest show a wide diversity of people taking part in the protests that really brings to light how much legitimacy the regime has lost and the various groups and sectors of society it has alienated. Again, this is far different from previous protests, and similar to ones from 79. With that said, and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves and see this as a repeat of the revolution three decades earlier. I’m copying a link to the best analysis I’ve seen of this, but one of the major points he makes is that unlike 79, the opposition now does not have a clear leader driving the movement. Musavi is at least the symbolic head of these, but in many ways he’s “catching up” to the protests rather than driving them. Anyway, read the whole thing:
* Obama: Lastly, as the protests pick up steam Obama is being urged to take a more definitive stand in support of the opposition. Some republicans like McCain have been urging him to do so, but some Iranians I’ve talked are agreeing with this. The European Union in fact came out in support, but I’m not sure if any individual countries have followed suit. This is an extremely complicated question and one I’m still unsure about. My default position is to listen to Iranians on the ground themselves and respond to their wishes, but I still believe Obama fully supporting the protests just plays into the hands of the regime and lets them paint the opposition as foreign puppets. Obviously he should continue to support the peaceful right of assembly and speak out against the violence, but perhaps he should take more of a stand on electoral transparency. Again, a tricky question, but I’d urge caution.

PS, check out this picture. One of my favorites:
Flarf article in P&W by Shell Fisher

Exoskeleton comments

Wednesday, June 17, 2009



Tom Raworth

(starring it)

A prose work in 23 sections, mislaid for 35 years and then found in an
attic, this is a classic Raworth text from the era of Logbook: fast,
profound, knockabout, intense, tricky, brainy, daft, those were the
days once again…

A5, 28pp (price £4.50 including P&P)
Cheques to ‘Equipage’ c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge, CB5 8BL

Take it: people dont like poetry dont mean: poetry sdn’t like people.

Expect nothing from organizations.

Beware of all existing social milieus,

and above all, don’t become one.

Despite the group's penchant for

shocking content and outrageous titles

the entire payment process is,

of course, SSL encrypted.

Let me know what you think.

Form communes.
w/ 38 Special
@ Merriweather Post Pavilion • Columbia, MD
This Tuesday!
June 23
5:30pm Gates

Nightime again in Tehran, so here's today's update.

What's going on:

* more protests: there was another huge protest today in Tehran. The Guardian (UK) reported it was 500,000 strong, but that's probably a bit high. I've seen pictures and some video from it, and it's certainly very sizeable, but maybe not as big as monday's. Today's protest was a silent protest, and if some of you have seen the videos, it's quite chilling seeing tens of thousands of people walking in silence and holding their fingers in a "V." People also planned on bringing flowers and giving them to members of the basij. Like the other days, the police and army are just standing by and doing nothing, and even in a few cases, protected them from attacks by the basij. Musavi and Khatami weren't present at these protests either, but Musavi's wife was and went to Tehran University to denounce the attacks against the students. Again the night before people went to their rooftops to scream "Allah-u Akbar" (a throwback to the 78-9 protests), and a few people said security officials were walking around the streets taking down addresses where people were doing this.
* violence: the violence has increased, with people again being beaten indiscriminately in the streets by plainclothes officers. Many of the hospitals are reported to be filled, and official orders are to take anyone injured in the protests to one of the military hospitals, which clearly no one wants to end up in. A report from the largest student group in Iran reported 32 deaths, but that has not yet been confirmed. People are again reporting seeing Arab (specifically Lebanese) security officials among the basij, which wouldn't be unprecedented in Iranian protest-quelling history. It's interesting, though, that the regime needs to outsource this job, and perhaps evidence that they don't have the numbers willing to subdue these protests. There's a very scary email from a female medical student that I'm quoting here in full to give you a sense of what's going on:


It's painful to watch what's happening.

I don't want anything to do with what has been said this far, as I neither have the strength nor the resilience to face all these unfathomable events.

I only want to speak about what I have witnessed. I am a medical student. There was chaos last night at the trauma section in one of our main hospitals. Although by decree, all riot-related injuries were supposed to be sent to military hospitals, all other hospitals were filled to the rim. Last night, nine people died at our hospital and another 28 had gunshot wounds. All hospital employees were crying till dawn. They (government) removed the dead bodies on back of trucks, before we were even able to get their names or other information. What can you even say to the people who don't even respect the dead. No one was allowed to speak to the wounded or get any information from them. This morning the faculty and the students protested by gathering at the lobby of the hospital where they were confronted by plain cloths anti-riot militia, who in turn closed off the hospital and imprisoned the staff. The extent of injuries are so grave, that despite being one of the most staffed emergency rooms, they've asked everyone to stay and help--I'm sure it will even be worst tonight.

What can anyone say in face of all these atrocities? What can you say to the family of the 13 year old boy who died from gunshots and whose dead body then disappeared?

This issue is not about cheating(election) anymore. This is not about stealing votes anymore. The issue is about a vast injustice inflected on the people. They've put a baton in the hand of every 13-14 year old to smash the faces of "the bunches who are less than dirt" (government is calling the people who are uprising dried-up torn and weeds) .

This is what sickens me from dealing with these issues. And from those who shut their eyes and close their ears and claim the riots are in opposition of the government and presidency!! No! The people's complaint is against the egregious injustices committed against the people.

* more arrests: arrests of opposition leaders and activists continue, including a few more people from Khatami's administration, and a prominent leader of the Iran Freedom Party, Ibrahim Yazdi, who some of you may have seen speak or interviewed in the US at times. The same student publication I mentioned above says the arrests are now more than 500.
* legal update: there's been a few interesting updates in terms of the legal process. One, the Guardian Council began its 'partial recount' of votes in Kermanshah (a Kurdish province), and surprisingly, found 'little irregularities.' Khamenei reportedly continues to meet with all 4 candidates to figure out a solution, but clearly nothing has been agreed upon. One story I've seen is that Karrubi wants the entire election to be declared void, while Musavi is lobbying for an independent "truth finding commission" to pour through everything that happened leading up to and including the voting. I find Musavi's strategy to be a bit odd, since one would assume he would want to capitalize on the momentum he has going, not to mention the fact that the people in the street would find anything short of a re-vote appalling. Still, it might be a clever ploy to expose all the fraud and irregularities that went on in this entire election and de-legitimize not just Ahmadinejad, but other ranking regime members that were active or complicit in this.
* Whither Khamenei: this is very much unconfirmed, but there are some reports that Rafsanjani has called an emergency meeting of the Assembly of Experts (the body charged with overseeing and choosing the Supreme Leader) in Qom. Long before this people thought Rafsanjani was interesting in holding the position of Supreme Leader when it became vacant--there's been rumors of Khamenei's illness and impending death for almost a decade--but now there is speculation he's been in Qom lobbying for the removal of Khamenei. Hopefully there will be more news about this later, but this would clearly be a ground-breaking development.
* media wars: the media and cyber-warfare going on between the regime and opposition continues. Most English-language websites are blocked sporadically, communication has been spotty at best, and as of a few days ago regime loyalists have caught on to the twitter phenomenon and have begun setting up accounts and posting mis-information. People on twitter are urging people not to trust new users, and also, are urging people with pre-existing accounts to change their location and time zone to Tehran to overwhelm Iranian authorities. So if you want to help, set up a twitter account from "Tehran" and help keep Iranian intelligence busy!
* just for fun: there's a very famous Iranian folk singer named Shajarian, and the other day he said he did not want any of his music played on state-run Iranian TV or radio anymore. Earlier Ahmadinejad called the protestors "brushwood and thorns," and Shajarian said "Don't broadcast my voice on Seda va Sima [IRIB Music channel] ever again: my voice is like brushwood and thorns, and it will forever remain brushwood and thorns!"
* coup right back at you!: Ahmadinejad and his supporters like to call protestors American, Israeli puppets and their actions an attempt at a CIA-backed crew. Musavi's European spokeman, the famous film Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, accused Ahmadinejad and his supporters of carrying out a Russian-backed coup! He said Ahmadinejad travelled there to get advice on quelling the protests from Medvedev, and said in the past 4 years Iran has sold off its economic interests in the Caspian Sea to Russia. I don't know about the veracity of his claims, but you gotta love to jujitsu.
* day of mourning

So, again, what does all this mean?

* There's not much more to add in terms of interpreting what's been going on, but I will say that the protests have no signs of dissipating, and the regime is increasingly facing a difficult decision of whether to more violently crack down or not. So far it has used measured but still cruel pressure, but it doesn't seem to be acting to definitely crush the protests....perhaps because at this stage they simply can't. There's further protests planned, and importantly, Montazeri has called for a day of mourning for those killed in the protests so far. Many of the large protests in the early days of the revolution came from mourning and funeral processions for those killed by the Shah's police, so this is again an explicit throwback to the events of 30 years ago.
* lastly, the fact that the election was rigged is beyond debate now, despite what some of the neo-cons might be saying (I'm looking at you Robert Kagan), but if you want to read a bit more about it:

Thanks for putting up with my emails and if you want to show your support wear green! Again, if you forward just delete the line with my name and email.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


an international gathering of contemporary performance art, poetry, and music Saturday 06.20.09,$8, doors at 7pm, sets start at 8pm, 18+

THE VELVET LOUNGE 915 U Street NW, Washington, DC

Haley Dolan (Providence/DC)
Justin Katko (Providence)
Jow Lindsay (England)
Nour Mobarak (Portland)
Andrew Bucket (DC)
Ryan Dobran (NYC)
Joshua Strauss (Buffalo)
Keston Sutherland (England)
Mike Wallace-Hadrill (England)
Adrian Parsons (DC)
Chris Grier (DC)

AND a special performance by Lampduck (baltimore) to make-big-party
--How are used-by-capitalism today?

--Fine thanks, and used-by-capitalism?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bill Berkson at Bridge Street this Sunday 6/14!


Sunday, June 14th, at 7 PM


Please join us for a reading to celebrate his latest book, Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems.

Bill Berkson was born in New York in 1939. A poet, critic, teacher, and sometime curator, he moved to Northern California in 1970 and during the next decade edited a series of little magazines and books under the Big Sky imprint. From 1984 to 2008 he was a professor of Liberal Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute. He is a corresponding editor for Art in America and has contributed reviews and essays to such other journals as Aperture, Artforum, Works on Paper and Modern Painters. His recent books of poetry include Gloria (in a deluxe limited edition with etchings by Alex Katz), Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently, and Goods and Services. Other books include a collection of his criticism, The Sweet Singer of Modernism & Other Art Writings: 1985-2003; Sudden Address: Selected lectures 1981-2006; an epistolary collaboration with Bernadette Mayer entitled What’s Your Idea of a Good Time?: Interviews & Letters 1977-1985. His Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems appeared form Coffee House Press in April 2009. Berkson was the 2006 Distinguished Mellon Fellow at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and received the 2008 Goldie for Literature from the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He now lives in New York and San Francisco.

2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC

ph 202 965 5200

Bridge Street Books is located in Georgetown next to the Four Seasons Hotel, five blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro Stop it.


The VELVET LOUNGE, Saturday June 20th
an international gathering of contemporary performance art, poetry, and music- $8, doors at 7pm, sets start at 8pm, 18+
Haley Dolan (Providence/DC) Justin Katko (Providence) Jow Lindsay (England) Nour Mobarak (Portland) Andrew Bucket (DC) Ryan Dobran (NYC) Joshua Strauss (Buffalo) Keston Sutherland (England) Mike Wallace-Hadrill (England) Adrian Parsons (DC) Chris Grier (DC)

DCAC, Sunday June 21st, 3 pm
Buck Downs reading 69 poems
from Black Peppermint

this is not that Cafe at The PHILLIPS COLLECTION
Thursday July 2nd, 5-830 PM
Lee Ann Brown, C.A. Conrad, Mel Nichols,
Jason Zuzga, Greta Byrum, Rod Smith, and others