|Protests against alleged fraud during the 2009 presidential election swept Iran for several months [EPA]|
Amid reports of a low turnout for the annual march commemorating the anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution on Friday, there are calls among opposition leaders for nationwide marches against the government on Monday.
Protesters, including university students, lorry drivers and gold merchants are said to be organising marches across the country under the umbrella of the country’s Green movement, apparently inspired by recents demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia.
|As in Tunisia and Egypt, cyberactivist Anonymous have given a statement of support to Iran’s opposition groups|
The movement, also known as the Green Wave, made international headlines after the disputed 2009 presidential elections which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win a second term in office.
Monday’s protests have been called at the behest of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, both of whom were backed by the movement as opposition presidential candidates in the election two years ago.
Permission to hold rallies in Egypt was sought prior to the demonstrators’ actions but no such permit has been granted in Iran, and the country’s Revolutionary Guard has already promised to forcefully confront any protesters.
The Facebook page calling for demonstrations has over 48,000 followers.
Keyhan, a state-run daily, reported that 50 million people turned up for the 32nd anniversary of the revolution, which, on the Iranian calender, takes place on the 22nd day of the month of Bahman.
Given that the country’s population is just over 75 million (according to Iran’s statistical organisation), the claim that 50 million attended rallies across the country is disputed by some independent media.
Some Iranian officials have suggested parallels between the February 11, 1979, overthrow of the shah of Iran and the resignation on Friday of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, under public pressure.
Both Ayatollah Sayyad Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and Ahmadinejad, have made statements in recent days comparing the toppling of Mubarak with that of the shah.
While it remains to be seen if Monday’s protests materialise, there are reports that at least 14 activists have been arrested in recent days and that Karroubi has been placed under house arrest.
A pro-government message online says that the Green Movement is supported by Zionist forces
Among those reportedly being held are some of Mousavi’s inner circle.
Kaleme.com has named them as Mohammad Hossein Sharifzadegan, who is Mousavi’s brother-in-law and a former welfare minister, as well as Saleh Noghrehkar, who heads Mousavi’s legal team.
According to Irangreenvoice.com, they also include Mostafa Mir-Ahamadizadeh, a law professor at Qom University, adviser to Karroubi and an ally of Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president and a noted reformist.
Irangreenvoice.com says that Mir-Ahamadizadeh has been taken to “a prison run by the Intelligence Bureau of Qom”.
The state has also engaged in jamming satellite signals and has blocked the word “Bahman” from search engines.
Kelly Niknejad, founder and editor in chief of Tehranbureau.com, an Iran-focused news site based in the US, told Al Jazeera that it is hard to tell what, if anything, may unfold on Iran’s streets on Monday.
“The Iranian government did a very effective job of keeping the protest down,” he said, referring to the absence of protests in Iran since 2009.
“They’ve made it such a high-stakes game to go out and protest.”
As a result, Niknejad, whose news site is noted for its street-level coverage of Iranian affairs, says she is surprised that Karroubi and Mousavi have called for the protests.
“Perhaps they know Iranians in a way that those of us who live on the sidelines don’t … perhaps they know something that we don’t,” she said.
Niknejad, who has been in touch with people in Iran, said that while some have said they will go out and protest, many are “are scared to death”.
She also says there may be a case of “Arab envy” among some anti-government Iranians.
With events in Egypt and Tunisia in mind, it seems that there has been a renewed interest in the opposition movement in Iran – at least among overseas Iranians. But while this interest might be a reflection of the mood within the country, it will not necessarily translate to action there.
“It’s easy to raise your fist from behind the veil of the laptop,” said Niknejad.
Although it is too soon to say what the results of any potential protests might be, anything approximating what happened in Tunisia and Egypt seems unlikely.
While deposed leaders such as Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president who fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, have often fled abroad, Niknejad says she cannot see the same happening to Iran’s leadership should any uprising be successful.
“I can’t imagine Mr Khamenei going to a Swiss cottage to live out the rest of his days,” she said.
Niknejad says the establishment in Iran will “fight tooth and nail” to remain in power. After all, the powerful Revolutionary Guard in Iran has a major financial stake in Iran, one far greater than even the Egyptian military.
It is heavily invested in Iran’s economy, including petroleum development, construction, weapons manufacturing, communication system, and as a result it has been specifically targeted by international sanctions on Iran.
Niknejad also pointed out that compared to Iranian security forces, who “beat Iranians to a pulp” in the 2009 protests, the military in Egypt – where journalists were still able to enter and talk to people at the height of the unrest – was relatively benign.
“Egypt on a bad day is better than Iran is on a good day,” she said.