Iran: from embers to flames

Saturday, 19th September 2009 at 8:00 UTC Leave a comment

So, by the time you read this, you probably already know that things in Iran have flared up quite notably yesterday. People on twitter have had a lot to say (the topic is at number 4 as I write this) and its all very much confused by the combination of Ahmedinejad’s supporters and loathers on the streets at the same time, but the ongoing saga known affectionately as ‘#iranelection’ appears to have a new chapter.

As stuff bounces round the net, two major problems are emerging; first that footage of earlier protests could be mistaken for footage of today’s protests by careless observers, thus causing people on the ground to make incorrect responses, especially if those pictures show violence from the state. The way to tell with the videos is apparently a shift in chants, but even then, its hard to follow, and the pictures are going to look very similar.

We’re already hearing immense stories of human solidarity, with shop keepers handing out bottled water despite it being Ramadan. There is some danger that the timing could lead to badly thought out actions, with people short on food making rash decisions, but so far, things are progressing nicely. The authorities in Tehran haven’t reacted as forcefully as expected, though we can be sure that when they do, it will be much the same as before; violent arrests and missing prisoners.

People did seem rather disheartened when everything died away a few months ago, but there might be a very simple reasoning for this: its very hard to survive the physical endurance of daily street protesting. Usually people manage two weeks, though many will hit the wall around the 10 day mark. Some suggest this is a reminder to take a days rest in seven, but I doubt many people stop to think about such things when caught up in a situation like this!

So a break was inevitable, but what what remains to be seen is how much they can ramp things up from this morning’s turnout. But the tactical success of using Al Qud’s day to get people out on the streets seems clear, even if it makes it hard to tell how many people are supporting the “Greens”. So often protests against an election result can be quelled by the psychological sense of certainty that a ‘swearing in’ ceremony provides, but somehow not this time.

Al Quds day is a festival initiated by Ahmedinejad, taking its name from the Arabic name for Jerusalem, and is held on the first Friday of Ramadan each year, mostly as a chance for Tehran to be seen to fake its own support. Instead, this year, the regular anti-Israel protests in Tehran have been interrupted with anti-Ahmedinejad protests.

There’s been any amount of reporting that Ahmedinejad has denied the holocaust again, which will probably stoke some of the external support for these protests. Perhaps this was a calculated move; Ahmedinejad probably gives a similar speech each year, and so it was possible to foresee a situation where he painted himself in a bad light and the protesters could seize a moral advantage to make their case for post-Ahmedinejad Iran. Again, the tactical advantage is with the protesters, who are outmanoeuvring their would-be oppressors wonderfully.

One hopes this develops into something even more long term. Its exciting to see new technology working, and thankfully Twitter hasn’t failed so far. Despite the inevitable spam tweets (apparently some people would rather be using $500 of free groceries. $500 could buy a lot of tomatoes for throwing!), it remains a useful way of getting the general gist of what’s going on, though one has to read at a huge rate to keep up. Part of the confusion is because the protests are spread so widely between many different cities, but mostly its because two sets of protesters are in the streets, and figuring one from the other is tricky because, although known as the Greens, rarely will they wear all-green clothing, usually its a rag or hand paint that gives them away. But the images of defiance that are coming out right now are definitely something to be thankful for.

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Entry filed under: Elections, Iran, Middle East, News, Politics.

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