Monday, December 13, 2010

Iranian Revolutionary Fires Still Burn

by Ryan Mauro

On December 7 of every year, Student Day is held in Iran to honor three student protestors who were killed in 1953 while demonstrating against the U.S. Now, Student Day has become a day of demonstration against the Iranian regime. This year’s protests were only a fraction of last year’s, but the students still stood strong in the face of tremendous security measures.

The activism for freedom last week has been described [1] as “some of the worst civil unrest this year.” It is impossible to know how many students were arrested because the regime ordered a news blackout on all protests and arrests, but information coming out of Iran indicates it is in the dozens. The regime also slowed [2] the speed of the Internet two days before the holiday to inhibit the transmission of news and especially pictures and videos.

The week before Student Day reminded the regime that it had to prepare. On December 1, students at Gilan University in Rasht disrupted [3] a speech by the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Sabzevar Rezai. There were strikes [4] by factory workers, truck drivers and construction workers demanding [3] they receive their wages that were 19 months overdue. Shortly before December 7, student activists at Kerman University released a statement [5] that read in part, “Students’ Day is a day that students found their identity as patriots in Iran; the day that they learned that a responsible student should not stay silent and should act out and cry out constantly in the face of insults and inequality and force. We cry out in the name of jailed students that ‘we will fight, we will die, and we will take back Iran.’”

Known activists in Tehran reported [2] receiving text messages that read, “Thanks for the calls regarding the assassination of professors. You can call 113 and the people should know that news and intelligence on any kind of movement will be given to the Ministry of Intelligence.” Of course, no one talked about killing professors. This was just a way of frightening students away from associating with other opponents of the regime and an excuse to send out a threatening text message warning that protestors will be watched. Security personnel also showed up at scenes of protests with video cameras as a means of intimidation and to identify protestors for later reprisals.

The Open University of Arak was closed [6] for the day without any prior announcement and there are reports of some student activists being arrested at their homes before they even participated in any activities. Three journalists and a financial manager for a top reformist newspaper were arrested on December 7 after they put out a special issue in honor of Student Day.

On December 7, security forces encircled Tehran University, the hotspot of political protests. Reports [7] from Iran estimate that 400 security personnel out of uniform invaded the school and set up obstructions inside and outside. Hordes of vehicles were parked on the street where millions gathered to protest Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election and agents were dispatched to scrub off anti-regime slogans written on walls.

Despite these measures, students assembled at universities across Iran. About 2,000 showed up at Free Qazvin University; 400 at Tehran’s Shahid Abbaspour University; 300 at Mashhad University; 300 at Gilan University and the list [4] goes on [5] and on. [8] At the University of Sistan and Baluchistan, students had a candlelight ceremony [8] near the cafeteria in honor of students killed, imprisoned or tortured last summer. The regime also tried to assemble pro-government rallies and failed. At Isfahan University, no one showed up for the pro-regime demonstration the Basiji tried [6] to arrange.

The heavy security may be discouraging for observers who want to see a repeat of the masses of 2009, but to the Iranian students, it is a sign that the regime is weak. One student from Tehran University is quoted [9] as saying, “The university is practically under siege, no one can get in and no one can get out safely. It shows the government is still very scared of us.”

The acts of protest are inspiring, but are miniscule compared to those of last year, [10] which were the second largest of 2009. Reza Kahlili, author of A Time to Betray [11] and a former Revolutionary Guards member who spied for the CIA, told FrontPage this summer that the regime came “very close” to falling last Student Day.

“The reason [the rallies were so much smaller] is that the opposition gave it all last year but when the West chose to negotiate with the regime as opposed to supporting their movement, the regime was able to clamp down on the opposition with an iron fist,” Kahlili explained to FrontPage.

“The opposition has clearly lost steam but as the Persian saying goes, ‘it is fire under the ashes.’ Should the West come out and openly support the aspirations of Iranians for freedom and democracy while pressuring the radical leadership, this would embolden the opposition and widen the crack currently among every segment of the government,” he said.

The protests on December 7 were a reminder that the Green Revolution is still very much alive. The Iranian government is doing its best to make the West think that the opposition has been stifled, but it remains the most effective weapon against the regime. And it’s a weapon we should start using.

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Ryan Mauro

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