Pre-22 Bahman commentary

10 02 2010

published by the good folks of  PERSIAN UMPIRE

I don’t remember being as freaked out as I am now before any other demonstration. Caffeine and Nicotine are my best friends these days. Part of the reason is the unpredictability of 22 Bahman, in terms of turnout on both sides, the regime’s reaction, and the outcome. I have a small window for talking about this past week as internet connections are fading away, so I’ll skimp on details, but here’s how things are, a sort of “word on the street is”, from my usual sources (butchers, intellectuals, businessmen, grocers, cab drivers, artists, old, young):

The Turnout: It looks like the opposition will hit the streets massively. Over the past ten days, the higher-ups, including Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami, and some organizations, have come out in support of the demonstrations. We had not seen anything like this before. This time, the calls for protest and criticism of not just the government but the system as well, have been out in the open and unveiled. To me it seems like after a short period of dancing around, following the Supreme Leader’s call for everyone to clarify their positions, they came out and made their moves: All in. And if that wasn’t enough: All in again.

This makes turnout a particularly critical factor. Should Iranians leave the fields to the government, no one has any doubt that the regime will move to eradicate all elements of reform, up to the highest levels, immediately after 22 Bahman.

The Strategies: A low turnout is the best option for the regime, and up to now it has used its finest tactics to instill fear in the protesters and prevent them from showing. The regime’s recent rhetoric though, coming from the likes of Motahari and Ahmadi-Moghaddam, is interpreted by many as showing its own level of anxiety. The response: we’re coming out on 22 Bahman. Last night I went into a store to buy some cigarettes, and the owner abruptly said to everyone: “don’t forget your green signs on Thursday.” This level of openness is not something I am used to.

Some too, have told me that they are scared or disillusioned. Well, not in these words exactly, but the idea was clear. So the worry is there, that the government tactics – mass arrests, executions, threats – may have been partially successful. We’ll know in less than two days.

In case of a massive rally, there is talk about two alternatives that the regime has:

First, is to allow it, and this is the better alternative. Bear the embarrassment and let people scream on the streets, and they will go home in the afternoon. Maybe beat some of them on their way home just like Qods day. Simplistic? Possibly.

Second, is confrontation. This is the alternative that everyone is anxious about. This time, it is not an issue of fear – we’ve been through confrontations before – but one of scale. Some are saying – threatening – that if the regime prevents people from demonstrating, Ashura will look like a picnic. With the exception of a few locations, and with regime forces concentrated on those, people will have the entire city to themselves. Heck, they may even have the entire country.

There is even talk of the possibility of conflicts breaking out between government supporters and the opposition on the streets. A people vs. people scenario that leaves the regime’s hand open in entering the fray and suppressing the Greens.

The general – and new – feel to this demonstration is much like a medieval war. Two armies are building up and preparing to meet at the battlefield in two days. Numbers will mean a lot, but emotions are running high too.

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