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Iran: Harsh Words on Both Sides Make Bloody Showdown Likely February 11

By Shayan Ghajar,

Both the government and the opposition are looking to February 11, the 31 year anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, to bring the post-election unrest out of its current stalemate by staging massive shows of force in the streets of Iran's cities. Traditionally, the anniversary has been a time for pro-government rallies to commemorate the overthrow of the Shah. This year, however, the event is being used as an opportunity for both sides to demonstrate their popular support by mobilizing as many people as possible to participate in their demonstrations either for or against the current government.

The political atmosphere has shifted in the past few days, from one of possible compromise to increasing polarization and radicalization, with the prospect of violence on February 11 ever more likely.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi issued a joint statement on January 30 calling for an opposition rally on February 11, inviting everyone supporting the opposition's demands to take to the streets in peaceful protest. The opposition leaders condemned the recent executions of two political detainees, saying it was a scare tactic aimed at intimidating potential protestors from participating on Revolution Day. Moussavi and Karroubi also decried the widespread arrests of opposition leaders and protestors as illegal and contrary to the principles of an Islamic system of governance.

More pointedly, Karoubi and Moussavi asserted that these attempts at intimidation were serving only to shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic rather than making it more secure. The opposition leaders characterized allegations of conspiracies against the government as an "illusion," saying that the crisis would be resolved if the government freed all political prisoners, lifted restrictions on the press and on political parties, and held free elections. An English-language summary of their statement may be found here, and the original Farsi version is posted on Saham News.

Moussavi has since elaborated upon his thoughts regarding Revolution Day in more detail in a February 2 interview in his Kaleme newspaper. Moussavi repeated his invitation to "men, women, youth, the middle-aged, and elderly" to take to the streets on February 11 in peaceful protest. As with his previous calls for demonstrations, Mousavi reiterated the need for demonstrators to remain within the bounds of "religious law, secular law, and community norms."

Despite these words advocating restraint, the rest of Moussavi's interview consisted of scathing criticisms of the government, in which he compared Iran's current rulers to the tyranny of the Shah they deposed in 1979. The political arrests, restrictions on the press, and killing of protestors, Mousavi said, were the repressive acts of the tyranny of the monarchy that the 1979 revolution sought to end. Mousavi then went on to say that the revolution of 1979 must be regarded as a failure inasmuch as the government it established engages in the same acts of tyranny it was intended to stop.

In mainstream Iranian political discourse, this statement is nothing short of heresy. By calling into question the success and sanctity of the Iranian Revolution, Mousavi is questioning the legitimacy of the government as a whole, not merely the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi continued by drawing parallels between the struggles against injustice in 1979 and the current goals of the Green Movement, a comparison that carries heavy implications regarding the current government. Mousavi's interview may be found in its entirety here (Farsi language), and an informal translation to English is in progress here.

Just as Moussavi's rhetoric has become dramatically more polarized, so too have the words and actions of the government's hardliners. Ayatollah Jannati, the Friday prayer leader of Tehran, praised recent executions of dissidents, saying "there is no room for Islamic mercy," and that the government must act strongly and with speed to discourage protests by executing more of the opposition. "If rioters are not dealt with firmly and strongly, the situation will become more serious in the future." Jannati's statement may be found here. A summary and analysis of the executions by Nazila Fathi may be found here.

Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, commander of Tehran's IRGC, has implied that the military might take an active role in suppressing protests on February 11. "We will not allow anything that resembles the Green Movement to show its presence," he stated in a press release on Sepah News, the news site of the Revolutionary Guards. He emphasized, "Even if a small group of people step outside the norms, we will harshly deal with them." A summary of his comments may be found here.

What has been largely a war of words in recent weeks is developing into the likelihood of a major physical confrontation on the streets of Iran. While Moussavi and Karroubi grow ever more outspoken against the establishment and call for massive protests, it seems that the government is gearing up for more executions and the possibility of military intervention. Despite Moussavi and Karroubi's calls for the protests to be peaceful, they are certainly aware at this stage than any protests at all will be met with violence from government forces, and that any attacks on protestors will result in retaliation, as was seen during the demonstrations in December.

Both sides seem to have abandoned hope in compromise, and are gearing up for a head-on confrontation on Revolution Day next week.

About: is a bi-weekly journal of analysis and research written primarily by scholars and activists living inside Iran and those who have recently left the country. Our purpose is to provide in-depth information about the internal political dynamic that is unavailable in the mainstream media. Through research and commentary, we will continue to document the political and theological crisis.

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