2011-02-13 Iranian Green Opposition Seeks to Re-Ignite Spirit of Revolution

Image Cable Indicates the Green Movement May Not Be Capable of Launching Uprising

On the twenty-fifth of Bahman on the Iranian calendar or February 14, the Green Path Opposition (GPO) or “Green Wave” plans to mobilize people and hold demonstrations in Iran. Organizers inspired by recent events in Egypt and Tunisia are hoping to see many turn out and defy an Iranian regime that has rhetorically indicated its support for the Egypt revolution but yet refused for some time to permit public demonstrations in Iran.

The upcoming day is something WL Central has been following closely. On February 10, WL Central looked at plans for the upcoming “Day of Rage,” the Iranian regime’s pre-emptive crackdown on activists planning demonstrations, and how Iran was jamming BBC’s Persian TV so Iranians could not witness what was happening in Egypt.

February 12 WL Central covered the arrests and detentions of journalist and dissidents, how “Iran’s telecommunications company” was filtering out the word “Bahman” ahead of the planned “Day of Rage,” the house arrest of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi (two political leaders urging demonstrations), and the simultaneous celebration of the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in the midst of state repression designed to prevent something similar to events in Tunisia or Egypt from unfolding.

Hours away from the beginning of demonstrations, the key question is whether the GPO will have a huge demonstration and whether the people of Iran have truly been moved by what has unfolded in Tunisia and Egypt. The Tehranbureau, based in the US, reports, “It is interesting to note that beyond the publicly announced goal of solidarity with the Egyptian people, there is no other specific demand. There are a number of slogans for on the web, but beyond that there is no goal, at least no publicly stated goal. Right now it seems the question is not what the strategy is, it is if the crowds will gather in the streets of Tehran on Monday.”

Many within the Green opposition believe their actions in 2009 in the aftermath of what was largely regarded as a fixed election have been part of what has moved people to act in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. Spokesman for the former presidential candidates Mousavi and Karroubi, Amir-Arjomand, according to The Guardian said, “The green movement influenced the movements in Egypt and Tunisia, and now we can learn from their movements, this shows that there is a historical desire for democracy in our region.” But, that may not be accurate. Most of the unrest was came from the escalation of food prices coupled with increased unemployment.

Cables from the Iran Regional Press Office (IRPO), which were released when WikiLeaks and news organizations first began to publish the US Embassy Cables, show reason to the GPO might not have what it takes to turn out demonstrators. A cable specifically focused on “Iran Domestic Politics” as they pertain to the GPO from January 2010 indicates the regime has an unwavering commitment to “using force and repression against the GPO as necessary to both incapacitate its first- and second-tier leadership (primarily through detention) and its rank and file (through detention and violence, to include deadly force).”

The regime is described as having a strategy of a “pre-emptive ‘rolling round-up’ of not just active GPO elements but also sympathizers.” Reformist reporters, feminists, human rights advocates, labor organizers, aging “National Front” sympathizers, and others not active in GPO are targets. The strategy likely means thousands if not tens of thousands of people have been detained since 2009.

Furthermore, the cable describes how the regime is working to make it possible for “broader use of lethal force at the popular level” and what the impact of state repression is on the media press environment:

Indications are that the regime is laying the groundwork for using even more violence, to include the broader use of lethal force at the popular level if necessary. This could include executions of those found guilty of 'warring against God,' a term which the regime is prone to define somewhat expansively. And while there is certainly a limit to the regime's willingness to use violence against its own people, there are no indications that it is anywhere near it. One former IRGC officer told an Iranwatcher that the IRGC wants to avoid killing more than a 'few dozen' protestors in any one location on any one day, partially to avoid associations with 'Black Friday' -September 8, 1978 - when mass fatalities in a demonstration turned many against the Shah). The Ashura-day murder of Mousavi's nephew, in addition to the January 7 incident where security officials seemed to have coordinated shots being fired at a car carrying Karrubi [sic] indicate a regime intent to calibrate its level of violence to intimidate the opposition and its leadership.

The media press environment is also expected to become far more restrictive, with one prominent reformist newsman telling IRPO that he expects all reformist papers to be shut down in the short-term. The regime continues to block 'subversive' websites, while also stepping up it jamming of satellite broadcasts from both VOA and BBC.

The Tehranbureau notes that the government is a “fast learner.” When the GPO “called for demonstrations on the anniversary of the Revolution last year, government forces were well prepared to prevent crowds from assembling. In many cases, people were dispersed as they exited metro stations. Any small gathering was attacked and the mass demonstration did not take place.”

A Washington Post shows the Iranian government is fulfilling expectations. The country has opened a prosecutor’s office “for offenses related to media and culture.” The move will make it possible to further restrict journalists and artists in Iran and deter them from fueling unrest like they did during protests in 2009.

The entire cable provides a key illumination of the GPO. There are more excerpts worth citing, but the most key section is likely the following:

No one knows or can know what will happen next. While Iran is not North Korea, since June 12 and the subsequent crackdown it has become harder to follow significant events there, both at the popular and elite level. Foreign media presence has been severely curtailed and domestic media is increasingly censored. And Iran's hardline intelligence-security cabal's 'soft overthrow' fixation has reduced the number and type of Iranians willing to talk frankly to the press (and to Iranwatchers) about domestic events.

Against that backdrop one must note the 'selective perception' bias that tends to over-emphasize the GPO's potency. Some pro-GPO bias stems from their being the (relative) 'good guys' in this drama, to the extent that their agenda encompasses principles dear to Western democracies. Additionally, Western media's Iran contacts tend to be pro-reformist, with Western press quoting pro-GPO activists and analysts almost exclusively. Also USG officials' interactions with Iranians tend to be largely limited to Iranians willing and able to talk with us, with a disproportionate number of them being those seeking USG assistance in helping fight the regime. Finally and in many ways most importantly 'if it bleeds it leads,' so there are no 'Youtube' uploads on demonstration days of the millions of ordinary Iranians who are going about their business.

Although the GPO will, as they have done prior to previous days of protest, cite Article 27 of the Constitution to remind Iranians the demonstrations should be permitted or allowed, there is no guarantee the Iranian population will be out to protest. The GPO does not have a vision, it lacks plans, which isn’t entirely different than Egypt, but, unlike the Mubarak regime, the Iranian government seems to be much more prepared for an uprising.

The GPO will be working to escalate opposition to the Iranian government weeks before the fifth birthday of Twitter. The protests in the aftermath of the 2009 election became known in many reports on the events as something that was part of a “Twitter Revolution.” The GPO is a group that has worked to use services like Twitter to expand efforts to, as the aforementioned cable says, “create a virtual space in which it can disseminate information to Iranians inside Iran.”

But, this “cyber-utopianism” is often hyperbolically emphasized in Western media. Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion points out, “There were only 19,235 registered Twitter accounts in Iran (0.027% of the population) on the eve of the protests. The biggest night of protests in Egypt came amid an internet blackout after the government pulled the plug for most users.” He adds, “Social media works as well for tech-savvy dictators and government spooks as for pro-democracy advocates. The Twitter revolution in Iran ended in a violent crackdown and 2,000 new political prisoners.”

Thus, it seems it is imperative for those planning the demonstrations to actually get millions into the streets tomorrow and show they have been inspired. They cannot rely on a social media presence or sympathetic coverage from news media. If they do not get a huge portion of the population out, a portion that is willing to return periodically over the next days and face a crackdown from the regime, there may be little chance of a revolution picking up momentum as the revolution did in Egypt.

*Photo a screenshot from promotional Iran Anger Day video posted on YouTube.

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