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« Iran: A Point of No Return? | Main | Today on EA (27 December 2009) »

Iran: A 5-Minute, 5-Point Reaction to The Events of Ashura

ASHURA4This evening an Italian journalist asked me to give him four points for an article considering today's developments in Iran. He was on a tight deadline, so I gave him five points in five minutes:

1) This is a big victory for the opposition --- they rallied in mass and, for the first time, pushed back security forces across Tehran (we are still lacking information on how much of an impact they had in other cities). The scenes of takeover of police stations, raiding of vans, fighting with (and "arresting") Basiji, and control of streets by demonstrators are striking and without precedent in this crisis.

2) And they did it without a major "leader" (Mousavi, Karroubi) coming out --- there is a video of Khatami in crowd but no real reference to him in a leading position --- or with an intervention by Rafsanjani or even a guiding voice from the senior clerics turning against the Government.

Iran: A Point of No Return?
The Latest from Iran (27 December): The Day of Ashura

3) Regime is on back foot --- confused as to whether to try and hit harder and risk mobilising opposition further or to back away. No sign of Supreme Leader or President today.

4) For first time, I can see Government (not just President) falling and Supreme Leader having to compromise to save position.

5) A lot depends on whether opposition can link up their show of defiance to a political agenda in next days/weeks in lead-up to anniversary of 1979 Revolution.

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Reader Comments (20)

Valid points Scott-making a compromise proposal more and more urgent for the future of Iran.

December 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterteez negah

What kind of compromise? I think it's a little bit late for Khamenei. Maybe his resignation in exchange for immunity and a one way plane ticket for a destination of his choice,,,

December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGloumdalclitch

"A lot depends on whether opposition can link up their show of defiance to a political agenda in next days/weeks in lead-up to anniversary of 1979 Revolution."

OOh! When is that??

Personally, although yesterday was Ashura - in any video I have seen, I have seen no evidence of Ashura. If this demonstration was "violent" - then it will pale in comparison to what the Regime will throw on the aniversary of 1979. They will be even more antagonistic on that day - as it is "the Revolution" that is so important to them, much less so than Shiite dogma

If I was going to demonstrate on the anniversary of 1979, I would make sure that I took sufficient personal protection.


December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarry

"A lot depends on whether opposition can link up their show of defiance to a political agenda in next days/weeks in lead-up to anniversary of 1979 Revolution."

OOh! When is that??

Personally, although yesterday was Ashura - in any video I have seen, I have seen no evidence of Ashura. If this demonstration was "violent" - then it will pale in comparison to what the Regime will throw on the aniversary of 1979. They will be even more antagonistic on that day - as it is "the Revolution" that is so important to them, much more so than Shiite dogma

If I was going to demonstrate on the anniversary of 1979, I would make sure that I took sufficient personal protection.


December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarry


I would think that there will be those in the Iranian system who will now revive a legal/political plan --- in the name of "unity" --- redefining roles and authority in the Republic. Would that go as far as setting aside velayat-e-faqih?


December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas


I really think that option has repeatedly proven itself to be a road to nowhere. I really don't see this as a catalyst for compromise. There's no breathing life into that cadaver. The regime will probably view today as evidence that the combined use of restrained lethal and unrestrained non-lethal violence is yielding diminishing returns. Those advocating full repression may use today as evidence that absolute lethal force is the only remaining option, and should have in fact been used from the beginning.

December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg

If anything chance of a military coup has increased after tonight or the other side removing the SL from power through the council.

Increased yet on both cases it is still to soon. We are still early in the game and alot is there to play for.

National Unity Plan will be dusted off and will again be trown in and will again fail. People will have more small protests and big ones such as today untill something major happens such as strikes.

December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAfshin

After the first kick at the can, the National Unity Plan, in my opinion, was employed to deflate post-protest momentum. Essentially - ok, ok, simmer down, let's talk about it - but not really. National Unity Plan = cynical flame retardant.

I really thought today would be the final round, but looks like there will be a few more.

What's really itchin' me is why Karroubi and Mousavi haven't called for a strike. Are they unwilling or unable? It seems to me that a general strike will (a) conclusively hasten the demise of the coup government and (b) offer a non-violent outlet for public dissent.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg

Obviously organizing a mass general strike is no easy task. But do we have any evidence that K and M are working towards it?

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg


Pardon me, but your question about putting aside velayat-e faqih largely ignores the actual state of affairs. 6 months ago, when a German analyst said that Iran is no longer a mullahcracy during a discussion, I got furious. Now I have to admit she was right.
Your question supposes a functioning political system, formed by clerics, while the assaults on all dissident clerical factions during the last months prove that the clergy is largely disempowered by now. Imho what we see is a widening devide within the clerical camp, leading to an exclusion of all the SL's clerical rivals in the long term. The attacks started with the reformists and will certainly be extended to hardliner factions as well. This gradual coup by the IRGC-backed SL was suddenly interrupted by an insubordinate people, especially the young generation, which is fed up with daily harrassments by the moral police, increasing unemployment, increasing corruption and no perspectives for a better future.
At present the SL is not strong enough to eliminate all "rivals", especially Rafsanjani, because of his influence in the expediency council and among the IRGC, but it is his final goal.
Today's shootings, which are unprecedented in Iran's modern history, prove that even "their" Islam has lost all significance for this regime, so what is left over?
Currently hardline clerics and politicians are trying to avoid open confrontation in order to save their assets and do not realise that they are progressively loosing all their legitimacy among the people, especially after this Ashura.
If they had a spark of decency, tonight dozens of them would have issued statements, condemning the terror against unarmed civilians on Ashura, the use of force being traditionally prohibited on this holy day. Did you read any relevant statement except for Karroubi's?
The IRI has never been a republic in its real sense, now it has also lost its legitimising adjective. The alternatives are clear: either a paramilitary dictatorship or some kind of popular democracy, which remains to be defined within the parameter of Iranian society.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArshama

What happened to the 'army intention' of supporting the opposition ? Did anything happen anywhere in any town ?

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpessimist

I think point no. 2 greatly undermines the conclusion in point no. 1.

Let's face facts: --No army intervention, no revolt of any kind, not even a whisper from those famous regiments of a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes the greens own rumor machine backfires on them.

--No clerics in large numbers taking to the streets against the government. Where were the green Mullahs? If it was going to happen it would have happened after Montazeri.

--What happened to the millions of protestors? Few demonstrations in history have been hyped as much as this one. This was the "perfect storm" with the passing of Montazeri. The Basij would desert, the helicopter to take the Supreme Leader to safety was ready. Instead you got running street battles which we've seen before.

Any pluses for the greens? Sure they got what they wanted a few more martyrs who were not 87 years old and did not die in their sleep. It was slightly bizarre when they shouted "murderer" riot after every riot when individuals walked away with bloody noses.

The govt. does have somewhat of a problem with riot control and it is mostly of a technical nature. Firearms should not really be used unless it is to defend the lives of the security forces or in a Tianamen Square type assault where the aim is to wipe out the protestors once and for all like China did 20 years ago.

I suggest that the security forces implement three steps immediately:

First it is clear that the tear gas being employed is not exactly state of the art. The green mobs are not being affected quickly enough. Either a more concentrated form must be used or one that blends tear gas with any type of military grade pepper spray.

Second it is inexplicable that the security forces are not equipped with either plastic or rubber bullets to deal with crowd control. These are very effective and minimize the need for hand to hand combat. Used correctly they would take down the rioters easily. Of course they are non-lethal.

Third, the police should consider the use of trained snipers with small caliber scoped rifles. Nothing is more effective in diffusing a tense situation than a few well placed rounds below the waist directed against riot leaders. Again non-lethal and only if the first two measures prove inadequate which is unlikely.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

Samuel, those are some intriguing ideas. Why don't you travel to Iran and suggest them to Khamenei? Of course, you'd have to leave your parent's suburban basement first.

Did you and John Walker Lindh hang out at the same comic book store?

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg

"Samuel, those are some intriguing ideas. Why don’t you travel to Iran and suggest them to Khamenei? Of course, you’d have to leave your parent’s suburban basement first."

Thank you for the compliment and suggestion. I'll ask my parents and maybe bring my younger brother along.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

"What happened to the millions of protestors? "

Samuel is right - the masses have stayed inside their houses. They need to be flushed out.

Obama - bring on those "crippling" petroleum sanctions.


December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarry


Excellent analysis regarding your post on 00:53. I happen to agree with it. I think many have missed this aspect of the revolt. If they had paid attention I think a lot less people would have been surprised by the loss of "Islam" within the regime. Instead they would have noticed the IRGC behind the scenese pulling more and more strings.


December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBill


A very interesting post. I was very glad to see your opoosition to lethal force. Frankly I always thought your were against it. Here are some observations in light of your comments:

1) No Green Leaders: I think you would even have to admit it was going to be tough for any leader to participate considering most were baricaded in their houses or offices. Did you really think the regime was going to give them leave to lead? It was actually a prudent move on the part of the regime.

2)No Clerics: See the reponse above. In addition the regime has begun arresting and intimidating them so again one has realize they will be limited in what they can do as well.

3)Millions of protestors: Ironically the regime only reported small bands and almost completely blacked out an news or video on them. Why? Because again to admit the scope of it, even if not in the millions, is a direct strike against the regime's authority. You also have to take into account the huge presence of police, basiji, and IRGC respective to the numbers able to protest. Personally I saw it as amazing despite the government presence, censorhip, and communications blockage that so many did come out. The mere fact the regime press largely choses to ingnore the movement speaks of the severity of the issue. While not at the absurdity level of Baghdad Bob the regime's comical dismissal of the green movement is a sign of the seriousness of the issue. They are caught in a trick bag of their own making. They are damned if the recognize it and and damned if they don't.

4) The loss of "Islam": You have mentioned this point many times regarding the seperation of state/religion and nationalism mindsetsd present within the Green movement. I happen to agree with you but disagree on how prevalent it is. What I find is striking is your lack of critique when it comes to the regime's loss of "Islam." As I have stated many times the regime has demonstrated time and time again they have lost the essence of Islam enshrined within the consititution. I would have to think even Khomeini would not have approved of lethal force during Ashura of all times. The regime's actions during Ashura, Shia Islam's most holy time, showed a clear disregard to the sanctity of peace and no blood shed. How can the regime justify itself knowing it violated Ashura in the worst way by killing? Even their own officers on several occasions refused to shoot and that in it self is a huge strike against them.

In summary you need to ask yourself which side has trully lost their "Islam." In my mind it is the regime who lost their Islam. The slide of the state into domination by the IRGC, the clear support by the majority of the clerical establishement for the Green movement, and the regimes propensity to use force so easily clearly makes a case which side Islam is on. In all sincerity you need to look into this further and ponder this.

Some Quotes from Imam Ali to reflect on:

"Infuse your heart with mercy, love and kindness for your subjects. Be not in face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds:either they are your brothers in religion or your equals in creation. Error catches them unaware, deficiencies overcome them, (evil deeds) are committed by them intentionally and by mistake. So grant them your pardon and your forgiveness to the same extent that you hope God will grant you His pardon and His forgiveness. For you are above them, and he who appointed you is above you, and God is above him who appointed you. God has sought from you the fulfillment of their requirements and He is trying you with them."

"The right of freedom of speech consists in speaking the truth."

"A tyrant's success is his moral defeat."

I have to admit the more I read about Imam Ali I have to admit I like him. I am also fast coming to the conclusion that the Shia faith is the one who are the true followers of Islam. The Sunni faith in my mind has become a slave not to Islam but the politics espoused in the Hadith. By the way I personally give you and your brother permission to come out and play! :) All the best to you.


December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBill


Opps just realized I used quotes from Ali's father. Here are some pertinent quotes from Ali:

"Oh people, the Messenger of God said: Whoever sees an aggressive tyrant that legalizes the forbiddens of God, breeches divine laws, opposes the tradition of the Prophet, oppresses the worshippers of God, and does not concede his opposition to God in word or in deed, surely Allah will place that tyrant (in the Hell) where he deserves"

"Tolerance is man’s ornament, keeping promises is a sign of nobility, and bonding with others is a grace."

"If one does not have these five things there is no good in him: intellect, religion, etiquette, shame and good manners"

Like this one

"Those who worship God for the hope of gaining, they’re not real worshippers, they’re merchants. Those who worship God out of fear (of punishment), they’re slaves. And those who worship God to be grateful towards their creator, they are the free people, and their worship is a real one." The regime probably does not like this one especially Prof Crocodile!!!


December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Bill, correction all the quotes you stated are attributed to Imam Ali, the first of the 12 Shia Imams.

Obama is a hypocrite, if he really cares about human rights and democracy why does he not get his friends in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to hold democratic elections even in the style of IRI. They would dare not for none of these regimes which are even more repressive than anything witnessed in IRI would be in power if put to a 'democratic' test. During its 30 years, the Islamic Republic has held 10 Presidential elections and several parliamentary elections a record unmatched by any of the US's friends in the region. Even in the recent election over 80% of the electorate participated a percentage unmatched by any Western democracy. Obama with all his messianic message of 'hope' could not get more than 50% of the electorate to turn up to vote. Ahmedinejad in percentage terms probably was elected by a greater % of Iranian voters then Obama.
It is obvious that the looting and the riots in Tehran are orchestrated to take advantage of the internal rift between two parts of the political elite by forces unidentified and probably unidentifiable.
The fantasists of this US financed website can dream on about bringing the Islamic Republic down. This just won't happen. Changes however will come, it is just a matter of time.

December 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrezvan


Yes I caught that thank you. I do agree it is hypocritical that Iran gets singled out when you have dictators running Egypt, Saudia Arabia, and a number of other places. I do agree Iran has always been more "democratic" than most of the Middle East but being more does not mean good all the time. For the US the difference is the Nuke issue and the people rising up. You have to understand freedom movements unlike anything else tend to capture the attention of the American public. As for your points on the Iranian presidental elections lets call them for what they are, selections. As your aware every candidate has to be vetted by the regime and ultimately approved by the Supreme Leader. That my friend is not democratic but totalitarian in nature. The US system is far from flawed but unlike Iran the power does not rest just with the President. We have the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary setup so they counter balance each other. No one person such as a supreme leader can dictate what the US does. As for orchestrated what do you mean by that? If your implying the US, MI5, CIA, or Mossad had their hands all over the protests your dead wrong. The evidence was the shear shock every Western nation had over the events. Not one analyst predicted what took place and that in itself proves without a dobut the protests were completely homegrown with little to no foreign influence. I know it may be hard to believe considering things like operation Ajax(which I apologize for) but the reality is the US is not involved like some would believe. By the way this EA is not a US website but an independent website run by a proffessor and students from a Universtiy in the UK. The only finances they get are donations and what they contribute themselves. In fact this website was largely unknown until the crisis in Iran popped up.

I hope you read my quotes from some of the great figures of the Shia faith. Reflect on them and ask yourself who has lost there Islam. The fact remains Sharia is the main source of the consititution and the regimes actions trampling all over it clearly says they care more about power than faith. How can you with any conviction support a regime that abuses human rights, kills, beats, and rapes its own citizens to stay in power. Just think one day you may not agree with the regime and it will be you looking at the walls of evin! I sincerely love Iran and the more I read about the Shia faith the more I believe that it was the Shias who got it right not the Sunnis. Go back to your faith, study it, reflect, and honestly ask yourself if this so called Theocracy is actually upholding the pillars of the Shia faith! I think they have lost it and that is why they are resorting to oppression.


December 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBill

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