By Shayan Ghajar, insideIRAN.org
The low turnout and disorganization of Green Movement protestors on February 11, Iran's 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, highlighted the weaknesses of the opposition's approach in the face of intensifying pressures from the government. However, while the Green Movement may have suffered its first significant blow from the government last Thursday, both the leadership and grassroots supporters appear to be returning to their original strategy of decentralizing their protests.
Ahmadinejad's motorcade in Tehran - February 11
In a February 13 interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mehdi Karroubi acknowledged the need for a change in strategy. Although Karroubi still supports the idea of protests, in light of the heightened levels of violence used by the government against Green demonstrators, he described them as having a "high price" that people shouldn't have to pay. Karroubi did not delineate any specific new approaches, but spoke of a meeting with fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi in the "near future" and the unveiling of a new strategy afterwards.
Green Movement activists in the blogosphere are publishing their own analyses of February 11, and advancing ideas for future protests or grassroots actions to re-assert pressure on the government.
Agh Bahman, a blogger in Tehran, participated in the protests last Thursday and drew many conclusions about the most effective ways for Greens to protest. Because the Green Movement's planned protest routes were known, he says, the government found it easy to bus in their own supporters to those areas and seal them off with guards. Agh Bahman points specifically to two prominent Iranian political exiles, Mohsen Sazegara and Alireza Nourizadeh, as having called for protests in areas locally known to be dangerous for protesters. Listening to expatriates with no knowledge of the facts on the ground, he concludes, denies protesters their best weapons against security forces: ingenuity and the knowledge of their local streets.
Hundreds of government buses had lined up in the streets of Teharn
Many bloggers are suggesting holidays associated with the Persian New Year, which begins in mid-March, for the next major protests. Agh Bahman suggested the Iranian holiday of Chahar-Shanbeh Suri as the perfect time for protests. The holiday, a precursor to the Iranian New Year, is marked by informal public gatherings in local streets, ceremonial fire jumping, and fireworks. Security forces, Agh Bahman argues, would find it difficult to suppress the protests because the holiday gatherings occur on almost every street, and separating the protesters from the usual celebrants would prove impossible. Agh Bahman's blog may be found here (Farsi language) and a translation to English is available here.
Other bloggers disagree however, pointing to the holiday's chaotic and violent atmosphere. Pedestrian, a blogger based in Tehran, describes past holiday celebrations there in near-apocalyptic terms: "dozens of people are killed, paralyzed, burned, injured, etc. People make sure to be home before nightfall, because the city feels like a war zone. Molotov cocktails go off every second, and the city shakes. Add to this the excitement and anger that comes with a protest. It could easily get out of hand." Pedestrian's fellow blogger Turbulent Mind (Farsi language) agrees, arguing that any violence whatsoever during those protests would leave the Green Movement vulnerable to government claims that they are rioters and thugs. An alternative date for protests suggested by Pedestrian is Sizdah Bedar, a family-oriented celebration falling thirteen days after the Iranian New Year. The celebrations are culturally associated with the color green, symbolizing renewal and growth, making the holiday very convenient for a beleaguered Green Movement.
Rumors are also circulating on various Iranian forums about the potential for labor union strikes to pressure the government. Tehran Bureau reported that the Bus Union of Iran, a prominent and active labor organization, declared solidarity with the Green Movement and called a strike. The story was later retracted, though the excitement it generated was visible in the number of times the story had already been reposted to other sites.
The likelihood of strikes in solidarity with the Green Movement is debatable. Certainly, the Green Movement itself has already influenced labor movements in Iran, according to Iran-based labor researcher Mohammad Maljoo. In the post-June elections Iran, various labor organizations that were once fragmented are beginning to coalesce into more unified forces for social and legal change, Maljoo asserts. When asked about the possibility of labor strikes in solidarity with or as part of the Green Movement, Maljoo muses, "A unique feature of this period is that labor actions are more prominently placed on the agenda than in the past. Among workers, there is a potential for coordination with the civil rights protest movement."
Will the Iranian workers strike?
Iran is already experiencing major issues with its labor movement as a result of the Ahmadinejad administration's mismanagement of state-run sectors of the economy in recent years. Mohammad Parsa, chairman of the Electrical Industry Union said in an interview with the Iranian Labor News Agency that 900,000 workers are in danger of losing their jobs. The Ministry of Power has an outstanding debt with electrical contractors for $5 billion. Many factories have been shut down as a result of worker protests, and blackouts around Iran may be possible, says Chairman Parsa. Mohammad Parsa's interview may be found here (Farsi language), and an English summary may be found here.The prospects of hundreds of thousands of disgruntled workers in a vital industry going on strike, losing their jobs, or being financially unable to perform them must be daunting for a government already facing a widespread protest movement. If the labor unions join their cause with the Greens, as Mohammad Maljoo suggests is possible, it would be a major success for the Greens. Labor/Green alliances aside, the necessity of protests for the Green Movement remains. The suggestions to protest during Iranian New Year celebrations ensure the inability of the government to preemptively seal off a certain square or street, while promoting visibility.
In the coming days and weeks, the Green Movement's plans will be revealed more definitively as Moussavi and Karroubi confer regarding new strategies.
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