Is Iran the next Egypt?
With the recent upheaval in the Middle East and the toppling of Mubarak in Egypt, there has been a significant reaction from Iranians. This success experienced in the region by these opposition movements has fueled the fire for Iranians. Slogans of “Tunisia tunest, Iran na-tunest” (Tunisia could, Iran couldn’t) have thrust the opposition movement forward. The fact that only several hundred thousand people gathering in Egypt brought down Mubarak when upwards of 3 million gathered in Tehran last summer has sparked a new fire in the Iranian people to voice their opposition.
On Friday, February 4th, when Supreme Leader Khamenei made a speech in support of the anti-government protests in Egypt, calling them the beginning of an “Islamic awakening.” Khamenei said the Egyptian military should back the will of the people over the government. In turn, Iranian opposition leaders Mousavi and Karoubi asked for permission to hold a protest in solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt on 25 Bahman (Monday, February 14) which is 3 days after the anniversary of the Islamic Republic’s inception, and the government rejection of this permission has been seen by the Iranian people as a hypocritical denial of rights and insincerity of support for the Egyptian movement. Iran’s chief prosecutor, Gholam Ejeie, stated that the only rallies allowed are those that are government sponsored. This has only furthered Iranian sentiment that reform is not an option and the regime needs to be changed.
Iranian opposition leaders have decided to hold protests despite the government rejection of their petition and the recent escalation in executions of opposition members in jail.
On Feb 14th, despite warnings by government officials not to come out, crowds numbering in the thousands came out across the country. Much like the situation in Egypt where crowds gathered in Tahir square, the Iranian people have tried to assemble in Azadi (Freedom) Square. Additionally, students at Tehran University have gathered and have coordinated with other students and opposition forces in other major cities a
nd Universities in Iran. In an effort to stifle mass groups forming, the IRGC and Basiji have been prepped to break up crowds and block protestors from the streets leading into the Azadi square. The people have been resilient in trying to find alternative ways of forming groups and protesting despite thousands being tear gassed and met with stern opposition from police forces and plain clothes Basiji in the crowds. Approximately 1500 protestors were arrested and the regime has called for the death penalty for protestors involved in the opposition.
The new found resurgence of the Iranian Green Movement has also been strengthen by shift in U.S. policy. On February 12th, U.S. National Security advisor Tom Donilon stated that the Iranian regime should allow the Iranian people to have the same rights to peacefully assemble in the same way the Egyptians did. Additionally, the U.S. State Department has launched a twitter site in Farsi to be able to directly communicate with the Iranian people along with statements being made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton in support of the protestors.
According to sources inside Iran, the protests today will only continue to come about on upcoming important days. Important dates to come include the Iranian New Year in March and the anniversary of the inception of the Green Movement this summer. There is a wide spread hope among Iranians on the ground that this will be the beginning of the end of the Iranian regime as there has been recent success in toppling the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. Potential trigger points for a volatile situation are if the regime arrests Moussavi and Karoubi (Karoubi is already under house arrest and has been sequestered from seeing his children). Meanwhile the Iranian parliament called for the arrest and death of Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami. The resurgence of the Green Movement and a continuing round of protests will heighten due to not only the political dissatisfaction with the regime but the increased economic pressures imposed with subsidy cuts and the execution of sanctions.