After the government cracked down harshly on this summer’s protests, some questioned the viability of the new found Green movement surrounding Mir Hossien Mousavi. The movement originated as a presidential campaign of Mr Mousavi running against President Ahmadinejad. Mousavi stylized his campaign as a grassroots effort to appeal to Iran’s disaffected youth. He utilized Facebook and Twitter extensively in order to tap the computer savvy youth. One strategy of his campaign was to adopt green, a color traditionally associated with Islam, as his campaign color.
After it became apparent that the election was a farce, the campaign quickly reconfigured itself for protests and resistance. Facebook and Twitter found new uses in organizing and mobilizing protests as the Iranian government cut off cell phones and the international media. Green rapidly swelled throughout Tehran and other cities like Efsahan, Tabriz, and even Qom, the theological heart of Iran. The color emerged as an easy rallying sign for the opposition and a hated stigma for the government.
A prime example of this comes from soccer, a seemingly apolitical event. At the outset of the protests, Iranian soccer players wore green bands of solidarity at the Iran-South Korea game and were subsequently suspended from the team. In a more recent game, protesters clad in green filled the stadium and chanted “death to the dictator.” Government censors, urgent to hide signs of dissatisfaction, switched the game to black and white and broadcast without sound.
Numerous tried and tested techniques play their part as well. With the Islamic Revolution a mere thirty years past, many veterans of the struggle against the Shah brought experience to the fore against the current government. Old chants and slogans have found new voice and the rhetoric of revolution has been given new life in this unfolding conflict of people against the current government.
The protestors are keen on adopting religious rhetoric and symbolism as tools against the theocratic regime. Nightly rallies of “Allah huAkbar” stream from the rooftops of Tehran. Another popular slogan “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossien” refers both to Mr Mousavi and the third Shia’ imam who was martyred at the Battle of Karbala. These slogans turn the government’s claim to religious legitimacy against itself.
An even greater threat to the current regime comes from the fracturing of the Ayatollahs. Many Ayatollahs have come out to castigate the government’s actions and response. Grand Ayatollah Montazari and Sanei have both been vocal critics of government and Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Khameini. The kingmaker and pragmatist, Ayatollah Rafsanjani, has been careful in his criticism. Still, he has often come out in support of the protestors and has distanced himself from Khameini. These charges take on greater significance than the mere moral stature of these religious figures. The dissent of the Ayatollahs challenges the very theological underpinnings of Iranian theocracy known as wayalat el-faqih.
The government is finding that harsh crackdowns beget stronger public backlash when the rallies grow around the deaths of young people like Neda Agha-Sultan or Sorhab Arabi. Iranians have tapped the rich tradition of Persian poetry and song to immortalize their martyrdom and galvanize the public. When government forces arrested and tortured protestors in the aftermath of the initial outbreak, opposition candidate Mehdi Karroubi released a shocking report of the abuses in prison that appalled the Iranian public. In response, there were even calls from within the government to investigate prisoner treatment.
Thus far, The Reform movement has surprised the international community with its persistence and longevity. Against the odds and international inaction, people filled the streets on Quds Day with renewed spirit after months of quiet. Ostensibly, the day was meant to protest oppression of the Palestinians, yet protesters instead chanted “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran.” Low estimates put numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
All these signs of people power are inspiring and hopeful, yet the Green Movement still has many difficulties ahead of it. Cohesive, unified leadership and structure are lacking, and it is uncertain how far the government will go to maintain power. Thus far, the Iranian people have pulled off great feats of resistance in the face of a repressive regime. Though it’s impossible to know what’s exactly going on in Iran, the momentum is behind the reformers as they chip away at the veneer of the government.