Fascinating Iran news round-up

My unnamed expert friend provided the following email today. It’s a great summary of the news from inside Iran, and includes some really cogent analysis. In the interest of getting it up immediately, I’ve inlcuded the whole thing, including a few typos and references to things I haven’t posted here. Hopefully you still find it useful…

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 of 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 cold 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 that 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 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 ecnomy—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 is 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: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/13/iran-demonstrations-viole_n_215189.html

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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsOPOmmdjZc (man shot dead in protests)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgVGfCTjC2I (yesterday in Tehran)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/13/iran-demonstrations-viole_n_215189.html (more in Tehran, with footage at the end of someone shot)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2009/06/090621_ag_street_clashes.shtml (chase 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 Guard members; 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.”

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