Revolutions are a serious business

iran-riots.jpgNov. 10, 2009

Revolutions require zeal, energy and fervor – all of which need to be maintained. For the past 30 years, Iran’s Islamic regime has struggled to keep its revolution alive. The latest round of the nuclear deal is no different. It is already presented as another revolutionary victory, and it might strengthen the hold of the fragile government in Teheran that is desperately seeking legitimacy since its controversial elections in June.

But legitimacy, we should note, is no longer in the hands of the International Atomic Energy Agency or the international community; it is in the hands of the Iranian people.

Take last week for example. November 4 was the official day of commemorating the seizure of the American Embassy in Teheran 30 years ago. It was intended to be a day of anti-American protests. But this year hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets to protest something else. Despite the Islamic regime’s repeated warnings that any deviation from the official demonstration line would be met severely by the security forces, Iranians came out in defiance and again, just as they had for the past five months, shouted “Death to the dictator.”

And just as in the past five months, video clips of these demonstrations circulated on the Internet. In one, young Iranians cheer and jump into the air as one of them tears down a huge banner of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the clip, they throw the picture on the ground and walk on it. As Judith Miller wrote in her opinion piece on Fox Forum: “The Iranian government is now loathed by most of its people.”

The demonstrations on November 4 were no surprise, especially after the last round just weeks ago on al-Quds Day.

International Quds Day is a day of Muslim solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and is scheduled for the last Friday of Ramadan. Traditionally – and ever since it was initiated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – this was one of the strongest rallies, orchestrated as a show of support for the revolution. Defying the supreme leader, who had warned not to use that day for anything except its intended purpose of solidarity with the Palestinians and opposition to Israel, millions of Iranians poured into the streets to do the exact opposite. They cheered another revolution on the streets of Teheran. They cheered the March of Liberty.

Before the demonstrations were even over, video clips were posted on the Internet. Masses of Iranians could be seen walking in the streets of Teheran, Shiraz, Isfahan and Tabriz with their green colors. Even more telling were the clips of official cheerleaders on the back of pickup trucks trying desperately to get people to chant “Death to America” – to which people would respond: “Death to Russia.” Frustrated, the cheerleaders would shout, “Death to Israel” and people would shout back, “No to Gaza. No to Lebanon. We give our lives for Iran.”

In an open letter to Mir Hossein Mousavi and former president Mohammad Khatami, Ahmad Tavakoli, one of the most prominent hard-line members of the parliament and head of the Center for Strategic Studies of the Islamic Parliament, expressed his outrage about the al-Quds Day events. He demanded that both Mousavi and Khatami distance themselves from the demonstrators and their slogans. The movement, he wrote, enjoys global support from the “enemies of Iran, the Islamic revolution and Muslims.” Its members, he added, “are seculars who intend to challenge the Islamic regime.”

Similar comments and expressions of outrage poured in from preachers all across the country.

In their outrage, the hard-liners unintentionally admitted something they had always tried to deny. For the first time, high-ranking officials were forced to admit that millions of Iranians have nothing in common with the Islamic revolution’s ideology and are determined to challenge its authority.

And this might be another point in the history of a revolution in the making. Al-Quds Day and the November 4 demonstrations were a turning point in the Iranian people’s struggle to regain their freedom. They taught the Iranians that they can turn government organized and sanctioned demonstrations that had worked for years as instruments of indoctrination and intimidation into a nightmare for the Islamic officials.

Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

For the past 30 years, people were fearful of the Islamic regime, but since June’s presidential election and the al-Quds Day demonstrations, it seems like it is the Islamic regime that is increasingly more afraid of the people.

True liberty might not be granted yet, but its spirit is already marching in the streets of Teheran. There is no question about that.

Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East and a cofounder of the CyberDissident project. Shayan Arya is an Iranian activist and a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran.

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