Iran – Quick Note on Yesterday's Protest

A quick overview of the opposition movement’s message to the world: WE ARE BACK

Update: Two quick fixes. It was brought to my attention that Hamed Nor Mohammadi, killed on 1 Esfand, was a 2nd year student studying biology, specializing in molecular biology, at Shiraz University. We had reported that he was a second year student.

Also, in the boneheaded mistake of the day, we reported that the Iranian diplomat that defected was in Norway. That was a story from 2010. The newest Iranian diplomat to defect was in Milan.

For over a year, the media, the Iranian regime, and their supporters abroad, have said that the opposition movement in Iran was dead.  On Monday, February 14th (25 Bahman), Tehran saw its biggest protests since the summer of 2009, with many cities across the nation reporting protests as well. On Sunday, February 20th (1 Esfand), the opposition in Tehran rallied their second largest crowd since 2009, and protests in other cities were larger and more widespread than we’ve seen in well over a year. For a year, those who follow the news in Iran every day have been saying that under the surface dissent was still simmering, just waiting for an opportunity to show its face.

We were right, they were wrong. The opposition movement in Iran is not going anywhere.

(See our full coverage on Sunday’s protest)

So what happened on Sunday? Tens of thousands of protesters showed up, and perhaps more than a dozen cities (we’re still sorting through a lot of data). The protests were peaceful, relatively silent, and were broken up periodically by the regime.

One person was killed. According to the blogger Homy Lafayette:

“At least one protester was killed during nationwide demonstrations on February 20 in Iran, according to opposition sources.

Hamed Nour-Mohammadi, a second fourth-year biology student at Shiraz University, was thrown off Namazi Bridge in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, eyewitnesses said.”

The regime is scared, and cracks are beginning to show. The brutality of the regime’s crackdown over the last week, and beyond, convinced Iran’s ambassador to Milan to resign in protest this week (the ambassador to Norway resigned in protest last year). The regime is scared enough to keep the reformist leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hosseing Mousavi under house arrest. This morning, despite being in a kind of ward of the state, Mehdi Karroubi’s home was attacked and sound grenades thrown through his windows.

The opposition is encouraged by what is occurring as well. One of Karroubi’s advisors released a statement that they were impressed by the size and scale of the protests. My own contacts are equally encouraged.

It’s easy to look at Egypt and forget that these things don’t usually happen that quickly. It’s also easy to forget the level of oppression facing the opposition. Government forces were video taping the face of protesters, several hundred were arrested, the internet was censored and slowed to a crawl, SMS and cell phone data networks were disrupted, and ambulances were used to arrest people and break up crowds. The military, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the police and the basij (plain clothed paramilitary) are all loyal to the regime. Change is going to take time, but the protests this week were the first steps towards a revitalized opposition in Iran.

The last week and a half have been exhausting, without a break in the action in the Middle East. In ten days I’ve published more than 15,000 words of analysis. Though for the 20+ months I’ve concentrated on Iran, and will continue to do so, but I’ll also be ramping up my other coverage of the Middle East, as this wave of pro-Democracy protest, and the pushback against them, continues to spread.

Stay tuned, because the opposition in Iran is still alive, but now it is riding the same wave that is washing over the rest of the Middle East.

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