But it’s a Slow Burn
All the intelligence before Tuesday’s Chaharshanbeh Suri celebrations showed that the Green Movement, as an organization (if it can even be called that) had no plans to protest during the Feast of Fire. In fact, there was a semi organized buzz, created with the help of some of our most esteemed Tweeters, that protests were being planned on March 10th and 16th, when, in fact, no such protests were planned. The buzz seemed to work. Reports of government roadblocks, increased security, IRGC checkpoints, and even helicopter and heavy security presence have been coming in for over a week. At huge expense to the government, the Green Movement’s plan to deny the regime a peaceful holiday while celebrating one themselves was going very well.
And something small, but unexpected, happened. The government announced that it was banning fireworks, bonfires, fire crackers, and even motorcycles during the Feast of Fire. Then, on Wednesday night, spontaneously and throughout the country, people started to harass security forces. Unprompted by their leaders, the Iranian people proved once again that they will not stand by while the authorities tell them what to do.
The lack of organized protests should not be taken as a sign that the Green Movement is weak. The protests and celebrations that occurred without organization are a sign of how widespread discontent really is. However, these events also signify that there has been a shift away from open street protests during national and religious holidays.
This week, there were also very interesting political developments in Iran. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s primary political opponent during the rigged June elections, made a speech to the Islamic Iran Participation Front, a major reformist party in Iran. He spoke of the constitutional right to gather and organize, of the fact that the Iran has fundamentally changed since June and it cannot go back to where it was before. He said that the Green Movement will succeed through patience and endurance, and as Iran is celebrating new year, he went as far as to dub this year “the year of fortitude and resistance.” (FULL TRANSCRIPT)
Mousavi also spoke about the way the youth of Iran and the Green Movement are changing their views towards engagement with the rest of the world.
We want to regulate our foreign relations based on national interests, instead of winning so many enemies and leaving not a single friend with every speech. We should not be so adventuristic. Independence is a benediction the Islamic revolution bestowed upon us and we should not lose it. We have some problems with the US and Europe, but we should set our relations based on our national interests, security, safeguarding territorial integrity and national development and growth. Our foreign policy should not be adventurist, nor should it create tensions. We don’t have reliable friends to count on in difficult conditions.
Mehdi Karroubi, another major reformist leader, said at the same event that the Islamic Republic of 1979 “is not the Islamic Republic that we now have.” He also condemned the attack on his house, and said that this was an action of Hezbollah.
The harsh words of these two leaders are coming at a time where the government of Iran seems least open to reform efforts. In fact, the largest reform political party, Islamic Iran Participation Party (Mosharekat), was banned and its headquarters locked this week. A leading member of the party said that this was a sure sign that the government is afraid of the climate of change brewing in Iran.
If the government is closing its doors to reform through a political process, it may very well be closing the door on reconciliation between the Green Movement and the Ahmadinejad administration. If reform is not an option through official means, then any with a reform agenda may be forced to openly oppose the legitimacy of the government.
The general economic condition in Iran has been worsened, the result of international isolation, sanctions, and internal work disruptions and economic protests. According to Conn Halllinan, “over the next few months the government will begin dismantling $20 billion a year in subsidies for gasoline, water, electricity, rice, flour, bus fare, and university tuition.” Ahmadinejad gained much of his political support from a combination of hardline support and populist measures, such as the distribution of food and wealth in return for political support. Large unemployment numbers and low wages will make the effects of these government cuts even worse. The cutting of subsidies, and the general discontent of labor unions, will only lead to the gradual erosion of what little support the regime still garners.
In large ways, and small ways, the Green Movement is heeding the advice of Mousavi; They are pursuing freedom through patience, perseverance, and endurance; through protests, celebrations, and strikes; and they are gaining ground. The government of Iran is afraid of the people of Iran. As long as that government is destructive to the rights of its people, it should be.