Sunday Protest in Iran: The Election, Two Years Later (Lucas)

We don’t know how many protested, but what we do know is that without leaders, two years after the election, the opposition in Iran refuses to go away.

Professor Scott Lucas (EA Worldview) offers this analysis of protests in Iran, marking the two year anniversary of the 2009 election, on June 12, 2011:

More than 12 hours later, it is still difficult to get details on how many people showed up in Tehran on 22 Khordad for a “silent” protest yesterday, two years after the disputed Presidential election and all the repression and denial of rights that would follow. It is not possible to put an approximate number on how many were seized last night by security forces, taken to unknown locations, and how many will then be despatched to Iran’s prisons.

It may be days or weeks before we know those details. Indeed, we may never know at all. For the first priority of the regime, as it maintains the claim that only a few agents of sedition are challenging its legitimacy, is to ensure that silent protests remain not only unheard but unnoticed. No journalists would be at Vanak and Vali-e Asr Squares, the main gathering points; communications would be disrupted and fragmented.

Iranian State and semi-official media, if they referred to the possibility of protest at all, would claim there was nothing to see and all was normal. Foreign media, with reporters shut away in offices, under threat of losing licences if they dared to report first-hand, relied on sketchy accounts on opposition websites. Even Reuters and Associated Press, normally the best sources for immediate news from Iran, were reduced to snap citations from Kalemeh or Saham News.

Only one “Western” report would claim first-hand support, and that was so striking in its claim that it added to the question. Were there really tens of thousands of people, as a producer at NBC News asserted, on the streets to show dissatsifaction and dissent?

So back to basics and what we do “know”. EA, from sources on or close to the location of protests, “knows” that there was a significant turnout in Vanak and Vali-e Asr Square. We know that security forces — police and plainsclothes agents — swept up someone as soon as they suspected that he/she was involved in the “silent” demonstration. We know that shops and cinemas were closed in the two areas, partly because of the possibility of trouble, partly to prevent people from taking sanctuary. We know that last night many families were desperately trying to get information on those who had disappeared.

That knowledge from first-hand sources matches up with other eyewitness accounts that came out last night. “Thousands”, with the wide range in that one word, is still the best we can venture.

But that does not stop revelations beyond the lack of detail. The assessment of EA staff yesterday morning was that nothing of significance would occur in Tehran. The opposition had been so scattered by imprisonment, house arrests, intimdation, and disruption — for me, a “decapitation” of any movement that dare make a challenge — that we did not see the prospect of an organised effort.

That was wrong. The message did get out inside Iran, and some people dared to respond. Sceptics and regime defenders, self-blinded to any information or oblivious to the context of any show of protest, will put up empty denials or set up barriers: “Where is the video?” This, however, will not erase that there was defiance on 22 Khordad.

Which is by no means an endpoint or even a significant turn in the situation. After all, thousands — how many thousands, we still do not know — turned out on 14 February (25 Bahman) to demonstrate that there was still a flicker of fire under the post-election ashes. And the regime responded by shutting away opposition figures like Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi under house arrest, detaining more activists, threatening more journalists, lawyers, and “common people” with a return to prison if they dared step out of line, blacklisting more students from further education.

And so it will go this time. The opposition, pressed by sceptics and critics last week, said there will be a “not silent” demonstration on Wednesday, the 2nd anniversary of the turnout of millions to defy the official election result. It is more likely in the circumstances that any renewed public attempt is weeks or months away.

But two years after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supposedly was re-elected President of the Islamic Republic, the story is this. Legitimacy — let alone justice, rights, or freedom — has not been assured. No lack of detail, no shout of denial can obscure that bigger picture.


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