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Disappointment in Iran Special

By Sean O'Flynn-Magee     Feb 12, 2010 in World
Tehran - Although hopes were high that the Green Movement would use yesterday's celebrations as a venue for protest, the government successfully quelled dissent.
When the sun rose today in Tehran all was quiet. Typical, really, for a Friday except that today the silence had a mournful quality, like waking with a depressing hangover. The reason is clear. Yesterday marked the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and opponents to the governments (the so-called Green Movements) had hoped to use the planned celebrations as an arena to express discontent. However, despite mounting numerous successful protests since the controversial election last June—which gained international attention—the Greens were unable to mount substantial action due to a heavy police presence.
The stage seemed to be set. On Wednesday night, following pro-government firework displays, protesters scaled rooftops across the capital and made their dissent with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime clear, shouting "Death to the Dictator." However, when Thursday dawned, the government seemed to be in complete control of the situation. Ahmadinejad supporters flooded to Azadi Square, a site famous for its protests during the 1979 insurrection, waving flags, singing songs and displaying the usual posters calling for "Death to America" and "Down with Israel."
The Green action plan, spread over the Internet and through text messages, had been to secretly join the demonstrations and disrupt the President's keynote speech. But while some screamed when Ahmadinejad stepped to the podium, widespread agitation was absent. Security agents were scattered throughout the crowds and many protesters reported being prevented from entering the Square and its surrounds by police blockades.
In anticipation of protests, the government had stepped up security, sending agents into Azadi Square the night before to intimidate opponents and transporting 5 000 buses of supporters from surrounding communities, including members of the Ayatollah's Basij and Sepah milia. Numerous government opponents had been jailed in the weeks previous. In addition, communication between Greens was severely limited. While the state news networks played footage of celebrations complete with patriotic songs and commentary extolling the successes of the Islamic Republic, Internet connections were dramatically slowed and text messages were interrupted.
Foreign media coverage was also restricted. Although more than 300 foreign correspondents were invited to cover the anniversary, they were confined to Azadi Square, where security agents were placed throughout the crowds, and prohibited from investigating the streets nearby.
With such a heavy-handed government response, getting information was understandably difficult. In order to get a clearer picture, I ascended an apartment block near Azadi Square, with Ali, a local photographer. Instead of seeing streets filled with green, however, we saw only gangs of armored militia, ominously patrolling on motorcycle.
The Persian blogosphere, one of the most active in the world, attempted to fill the information void, chronicling, in real time, events from around the country. Reza, a friend of mine who was closely monitoring the blogs, said that protest was heaviest in Esfahan, where protesters clashed with police, and at least one person was killed. Attempts attempted actions in other big cities like Tabriz, Shiraz and Mashad. They also reported that opponents had been tear-gassed by police in Tehran.
Nevertheless, the consensus amongst Greens was that the government had won the day. Ali, his head hanging, summed up a long, disappointing day: "I will go to sleep. Maybe there I can dream of freedom."
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