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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