Monday, 29 June 2009


Iran is in the grip of a popluar rebellion unseen since the 1979 revolution.

The rebellion began as a protest against alleged vote rigging, but has now become a movement that lays bare the deep contradiction inside Iranian society.

Over the next week these demonstrations became more than the contested elections.

This uprising revolved around four crucial days.

On the Saturday 13 June, the day after the presidential elections, tens of thousands of people spilled into the streets to protest at what they considered to be widespread election fraud.

These protests spread rapidly to other cites, including Tabriz in the north and
Esfahan, a city of 1.5 million south of the capital.

The Basaji militia loyal to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won the elections, moved to crush the protests. The Basaji raided Tehran University which is the centre of the reform movement. Five students are believed to have been killed. There were similar raids, and many more deaths, in other universities across the country.

But far from taming the movement it grew in scope. On Monday 15 June millions of people turned out in the biggest demonstration since the 1979 revolution. Similar mobilisations across the country transformed the protest into a national movement.

Over the next two days supporters of Ahmadinejad and the opposition The two became involved in a battle of mobilisations. It would be a real test of popularity and support on the ground.

Rumours began to circulate that elements within the Revolutionary Guards mutinied, saying that they were there to defend the people. Unconfirmed reports say that the head of the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, a decorated veteran of the war with Iraq, was arrested after he refused an order to attack the demonstrations.

The battles on Wednesday 17 June became decisive. Dispirited, Ahmadinejad's supporters melted away. The struggle became between the crowds and hated Basaji militia backed by riot police.

In Esfahan the rioting, that at times verged on an uprising, gave way to fear. The Basaji militia took the offensive in night time raids on popular neighbourhoods. The city, an important centre for the textile industry, had been at the centre of a mass strike by teachers several years before.

Meanwhile rumours began to circulate that workers at the giant car plant north of Tehran planned to hold two one hour protest strikes. While a statement from the heavily repressed bus workers union declared its support for the demonstrations.

One 26 year old worker in Iran contacted by Socialist Worker on Thursday of last week said that many people felt like it “was like 1979”. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The protests are very uplifting and most people do not see it as a challenge to Islamic rule,” he said. “But people are very angry, they have lost their fear of the state.”

“Many of the protesters do not have much affinity for Mir Hussein Mousavi and they are frustrated by the lack of alternative to both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad.”

“The movement is very determined and feel they can now express their deep frustrations about the country and its rulers.”

He spoke of the extreme tension ahead of Ali Khamenei’s key speech following Friday prayers and said many people were convinced that Iran’s supreme leader would give some concessions.

They would be deeply disappointed. Khamenei seems to have calculated that his threats would be enough to quell the protests.

The reformers and their allies inside the establishment called on the demonstrations to continue. This open defiance of Khameini illustrates the depth of the divisions within the Iranian state. Mousavi called for a general strike if he was arrested.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mousavi’s conservative ally, fled to the holy city of Qoms. He won the support of half the Guardian Council, the body that elects the supreme leader, in attempt to stage a palace revolution. But it was not enough to displace Khameini.

That night Tehran, and other cities, resounded to the wail of rooftop protests. By Saturday 20 June, Khamenei’s gamble seemed to have paid off.

The repression began to take its toll on the size of the demonstrations.

Security forces acted with extreme brutality on those who defied the ban on protest. The planned demonstration through Tehran was stopped before it could form. Police and militia charged into crowds that had gathered.

During the day snipers fired at protesters.

Some 30 people are said to have been killed, including the Neda Soltani, her last moments captured on a mobile phone camera. Her death has come to symbolise the cruel repression fo the regime. Mosques were ordered not to hold services to mark her death, while her family had to bury her in secret.

The battles on the Saturday became more frantic and desperate.

One eyewitness described how construction workers in Tehran come to the aid of demonstrators.

“We watched from our apartment window a clash between the police and the construction site workers at the Towhid Tunnel (in Tehran).

“The police tried to take a shortcut to ambush the protesters. The workers used shovels, bricks and construction equipment to stop the police. At this point the demonstrators joined in to help the construction workers.”

The involvement of workers, and the poorer neighbourhoods, is an indication of how this movement is reaching deep into Iranian society.

As Socialist Worker went to press reports were emerging of protest strikes involving millions of Iranian workers.

Many of the reports that have emerged from Iran are difficult to verify.

But the eyewitness statements and film footage of mass demonstrations and street battles, as well as disturbing science of brutal violence meted out by state security forces, point to a transformation of a movement from a protest over the elections into a deep convulsion from below.

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