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Entries in 16 Azar (34)


Iran Special Analysis: After Montazeri --- From Protest to Victory?

MONTAZERI FUNERAL3For an observer 1000s of miles away, the movement of events was dream-like. Initially, as Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's body was moved from his house to the Imam Hassan Mosque, the report were "30,000 to 40,000" on the streets. An hour later, as the procession moved from the mosque to the Massoumeh Shrine, where Montazeri would be buried, the news came of "more than 100,000".

Then it was hundreds of thousands. Not just claims of hundreds of thousands but the first pictures, with an aerial shot of of Qom filled with mourners and demonstrators. Then the videos, first in a trickle, soon a torrent, from Montazeri's house, from the mosque, from the shrine, throughout the city, in Najafabad (Montazeri's birthplace), and in other cities.

Just put two images side-by-side. Three days before Montazeri's burial, the regime struggled (and possibly manipulated) to fill Tehran's Enghelab Square with supporters. Yesterday, there was no need for PhotoShop: this was the genuine expression of emotions from anguish to anger to hope, in numbers not seen since the first days after the Presidential election.

For me, there was one key sign that this was beyond even the moments of the mid-July Rafsanjani Friday Prayer, the "40th Day memorial" of 30 July, the Qods Days demonstration of September, the 16 Azar protests two weeks ago. At no point, even as "Western" media were going Page 1 with their discovery that Iranian post-election resistance had not died, could I step back to evaluate the political significance. This was too big for snap judgements of the type that I could venture a few hours into the protests of previous occasions.

For this was a combination not only of a movement of the past six months but of political and religious sentiments of decades. Montazeri --- the pariah of 1989, dismissed as the next Supreme Leader and shunned by Ayatollah Khomeini, placed under house arrest, condemned as an irrelevancy by the regime --- was now Iran's hope.

Perhaps the most eye-catching testimony to that came not from an admirer of Montazeri or a member of the Green Wave but from a critic and defender of the current regime. Tehran Unversity academic Seyed Mohammad Marandi --insisted Montazeri "said the same thing" for 25 years, Montazeri was an insignificance, Montazeri was linked to "terrorism". What was meant to be a dismissal turned into a tribute: Marandi's words just did not match up to the videos that were reaching our desk at the same moment.

How much of yesterday's sentiment was sympathy, affection, and admiration of an important but singular figure, and how much was a well-spring of wider beliefs about the current state of an Islamic Republic, two decades after Montazeri's ostracism? And does this mean that the movement for fundamental change in the Iranian system, a movement put aside by many observers only weeks ago (note the lack of attention outside Iran to the significance of demonstrations of 4 November), is now unstoppable?

I'm not sure this morning. I'm not sure primarily because, even acknowledging that the mass sentiment yesterday was not only for Montazeri but for Montazeri as a symbol of what could and should be in Iran, a ground-swell still needs focus, direction, objectives.

The practical demands of politics are messy and long-term, compared to the sudden, clear expression we saw yesterday. So, even in the run-up to the ceremonies of Ashura on Sunday --- now how large the demonstrations? --- in the background will be all the legal, political, and religious calculations and manoeuvres that have both preoccupied and frustrated since June. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi made their appearances yesterday, but the reconcilation now has to be not only with a crowd of mourning but of a movement that seeks a significant victory for its demands of recognition and justice.

So, no easy answers. However, I will venture one far-from-tangential conclusion. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, six months after his claims of victory over the "dust" of opposition, is now a President of the past. I am not sure he was even prominent enough yesterday to get a specific chant from the demonstrators, but he was swept away in the cry, "Montazeri is not dead; the coup Government is dead."

It is surreal but essential ---the relevance of the irrelevant, so to speak --- to watch the interview of Ahmadinejad broadcast by America's ABC News last night. Because the encounter took place last week, both the President and the interviewer, trading punches over the nuclear issues and the detained US hikers, are unconcerned with Grand Ayatollah Montazeri and (in the interviewer's case) the political state of the opposition. So the interview now becomes testimony to a discussion taking place outside the realities of the conflict, both over the last six months and as they have evolved over the last 48 hours.

Ironically, however, Ahmadinejad's marginal position is important. Combined with the "marginal" on the other side --- the failure of Mousavi and Karroubi to get any concessions from the regime on their core demands, being met instead by more threats, the failure of others to establish a National Unity Plan --- it has led to the sharpening of the conflict between the Supreme Leader and a "radicalised" opposition. That, in turn, has led to a muddling, rather than clarifying, of the issues at hand: "radicalised" is at that point laid on certain symbolic acts such as "Death to the Dictator" chants and the omission of the Islamic Republic's coat of arms on the Iranian flag.

It is from that muddle that the next steps and possibilities will emerge. Is Ayatollah Khameini really willing to take this to a battle to the death with the Green movement or will he offer any way back from his threat to arrest them all? Does any space remain for those "within the Establishment" --- a Rafsanjani, a Larijani, other high-profile members of Parliament and Ministers --- to craft a settlement? Does the mantle of Montazeri lead Mousavi, Karroubi, or other opposition figures back to prominence not just through periodic statements but through a sustained public presence, accompanied by clear demands for changes in the Islamic Republic? Is there any possibility of a "movement from below" that frames and presses those demands to a satisfactory conclusion?

After emotions has to come political calculation. But right now, I don't have an answer to those sums and equations. I'm not sure anyone else --- Khameini, Mousavi, Karroubi, or anyone in that crowd at Qom --- does either.


The Latest from Iran (20 December): Montazeri Death; Regime Scrambles for Legitimacy

MONTAZERI POSTER2200 GMT: Stopping the Mourners. Rouydad News carries a story we've been hearing on the Internet all evening: Iranian security forces have stopped a bus carrying families of political prisoners and members of Women's Human Rights Committee to the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri in Qom, arresting several people.

2049 GMT: The Revolutionary Danger of Dating. More than 60 operators and managers of Iranian Internet sites for dating have been arrested for anti-cultural and immoral activities in their promotion of "a gallivanting lifestyle".

2045 GMT: The Kahrizak Abuses. The blog Persian2English has produced an English translation of the official report of the Armed Forces judiciary panel concluding that three detainees died from abuse at Kahrizak Prison.

1845 GMT: Another Demonstration. A brief video clip has come in of a protest today at Arak University.

1600 GMT: Ongoing Coverage of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's Death. We have updated with extensive information and analysis on condolences, political developments, and plans --- including tomorrow's funeral --- surround Montazeri's passing.

1345 GMT: EA's Mr Smith comments:
Grand Ayatollahs Safi Golpayegani, Mousavi Ardabili, and Sanei and Ayatollahs Gerami, Shabbiri Zanjani, Mousavi Tabrizi, and Taheri Khorramabadi have visited Montazeri's bayt (house) to offer their respects. This is extremely important as, in Shia clerical custom, going to someone's house means deferring to that person's authority and or power. It is therefore a significant slap in the face of Government efforts to belittle Montazeri.

1145 GMT: The Political Challenge of Montazeri. We're getting a lot of news on the regime's attempts to deal with the challenge posed by Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's death, first by ignoring it, now by belittling it and criticising the cleric --- all will be posted soon in an update in our separate entry.

Meanwhile Mr Smith checks in to give the political dimension of the events: "Montazeri simply could not have died at a more topical moment: the seventh day of his passing will be none other than Ashura itself, which this year is shaping up to be the very worst in the lives of Khameni, Ahmadinejad and their cohorts. The pressure on them on those days simply cannot be measured."

1135 GMT: Videos, Protests in Memory of Montazeri. We've posted the first videos of demonstrations in memory of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, and we also have put up the video of his October criticism that the Supreme Leader was not worthy to be a marja (senior cleric worthy of emulation).

1110 GMT: The Latest on Montazeri's Death. We have latest developments in a separate entry. One notable political move: the pro-Government newspaper Raja News is using Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's passing to attack Hashemi Rafsanjani, claiming the Grand Ayatollah was working with the "gang" of Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi.

NEW Iran Document: Karroubi Responds to Threat of Arrest
NEW Latest Iran Video: Montazeri’s Criticism of Supreme Leader Khamenei (October 2009)
NEW Latest Iran Video: Demonstrations in Memory of Montazeri (20 December)
NEW Iran Urgent: Ayatollah Montazeri Has Died
Iran Analysis: RegimeFail?
Iran Special: Austin Heap on “The Attack on Twitter”
Latest Iran Video: Mehdi Karroubi Interview with BBC (17 December)

The Latest from Iran (19 December): After the Mythical “Millions”

1100 GMT: Karroubi Responds to Threat of Arrest. We've posted Mehdi Karroubi's letter responding sharply to the threat of Iran's head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, that he has enough evidence to arrest the cleric and other opposition leaders.

0825 GMT: Sane'i Message for Ashura. Ayatollah Yusuf Sane'i has spoken to students about the protests during the holy month of Moharram and specifically on the day of Ashura (27 December), reiterating the need for non-violent demonstration: “If you respond to violence with violence then your reform movement will not have any result....Persist on getting your rights and be present anywhere and in any place that is talk of defending the oppressed.” He added that Imam Hossein will protect those who are mourning for him.

Grand Ayatollah Saanei repeatedly upheld both the image of Imam Hossein, whose death is marked by Ashura, and the ideals of Ayatollah Khomeini: “We wanted of the revolution a government come to power that protects the nation’s rights and that was what Imam and people sacrificed for....Powers will never survive by oppression and tyranny.”

0800 GMT: We are providing rolling coverage of this morning's breaking news of the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, 87, one of the most prominent clerical figures in post-1979 Iran and a vocal opponent of the Ahmadinejad Government and Supreme Leader. Most of the reaction is marking his death with sadness and tributes, but there is already some discussion of whether this news will hinder the opposition, as it loses one of its most powerful (if politically ostracised) voices, or boosts it, as Montazeri becomes a symbol for the cause of fighting injustice and oppression in the name of Islam.

The news overtakes a number of moves on both the Government and opposition sides. The regime moved yesterday to limit some of the post-election political damage from abuse of detainees, confirming that three had died from beatings in Kahrizak Prison and that 12 officials have been indicted for alleged abuses.

Perhaps more importantly, Iranian ministries are scrambling to repair the damage from Friday's mini-march that failed to establish Government legitimacy. The Ministry of Islamic Culture issued warnings to five newspapers (Abrar, Andishye-Noe, Jahan-Eghtesad, Etemad, and Mardom-Saalaari) for “not giving enough coverage” of the rallies, ostensibly organised to protest the burning of Ayatollah Khomeini's picture on 16 Azar (7 December).


The Latest from Iran (19 December): After the Mythical "Millions"

MOHARRAM31735 GMT: Making Stuff Up - The Twitter Attack. There's not much to add to Austin Heap's guest analysis for Enduring America this morning. Instead, The New York Times shows the power of pointless speculation, backed up by lack of any knowledge of important context, in an article by their technology writers:
Beth Jones, a senior threat researcher at the Internet security firm Sophos, said the attack did not look very sophisticated and probably was not the effort of a Web terrorist or other professional. “It could have been any number of people doing it,” she said. Ms. Jones said the incident may have been “hacktivism,” an attack with a social or political motivation. “The point could purely be just to prove the site is insecure,” she said

Just gonna say this one more time: if this was just "hacktivism" unrelated to the Iran internal crisis, why did the attackers first go after one of the Green Movement's primary websites for news?

(For an analysis which is more useful, and a lot funnier, see Persian Umpire's interpretation.)

NEW Iran Analysis: RegimeFail?
NEW Iran Special: Austin Heap on “The Attack on Twitter”
Latest Iran Video: Mehdi Karroubi Interview with BBC (17 December)
Iran: The Regime Takes On (Hacks?) Twitter for Moharram
Iran Analysis: The Regime’s Sword Wavers

Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?
The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

1730 GMT: Today's Foreign Enemies Will Kill All Iranians Warning. Let's hand over to Revolutionary Guard Lieutenant Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami:

Enemies will not give up their devilish moves against the Iranian nation, they have brought their front to our streets and universities today and the battle is still on....Pointing to the enemy's nonstop strategy to confront the Islamic Republic, the commander noted, "These moves form a chain of profound global plot against the Iranian nation....If we do not practice the necessary vigilance, we could (be obliged to) play in the enemy's court.

Etc., etc., etc.

1345 GMT: Confirming Torture Deaths? Mehr News reports that the judicial section of the Armed Forces has concluded that three detainees in the now-closed Kahrizak Prison died from abuse and not from meningitis, as was originally claimed. The deaths cited are those of Mohsen Ruholamini (son of the advisor to Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei), Amir Javadifar, and Mohammad Kamrani.

In its investigation of alleged abuses, the panel has questioned 22 people and indicted 12, three of whom are involved in the Kahrizak cases.

1315 GMT: Hashemi, Join Us. In an interview in Mizan News, conducted before Friday's events, the son of Mehdi Karroubi, Hossein, was blunt: people expect former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to distance himself from the Government and join those asking for justice.

1310 GMT: Khatami's Latest Statement. The website supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi published a statement from former President Mohammad Khatami to faculty at Hamedan University, insisting on reform and respect for protest:
The Islamic system does not respect people’s votes, those who behave like this should not claim to be on the path of Imam Khomeini and the revolution....The policy that is accepted in Islam is a moral policy. If we commit the worst actions under the name of religion we cannot claim that we are in favour of religion.

1300 GMT: Did the Clerics-Rafsanjani Initiative Reach Khamenei? Remember our analysis of recent weeks about discussions between senior clerics and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani in a bid for "unity" between the Government and the opposition?

Well, eyebrows are raised over this item from the reformist website Rah-e-Sabz, which claims secret but futile meetings of high-ranking Tehran and Qom clerics with the Supreme Leader. The website adds that the clerics warned Khamenei that many of his religious supporters, and indeed members of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia, are now searching for another "marjah" (source of emulation) after the brutal suppression of protest. (hat-tip to EA reader "Arshama")

1250 GMT: It Just Isn't Going Well. A public sign of doubt after the mini-marches yesterday: an EA reader points out the complaints from a pro-regime website about the "meagre popular support for yesterday’s rallies" and the focus of slogans attacking the opposition, rather than praising Ayatollah Khomeini. (And the comments aren't much more hopeful, with plenty to say about the "lying government".)

1230 GMT: Oh, Mahmoud, You Do Say the Darnedest Things.... Normally I wouldn't bother with this, but it's a relatively slow news day and the statement is kind of funny for its brazenness:
Iran's president says he will soon write to the UN Secretary-General asking for his country to be compensated for World War II damages. "We will seek compensation for World War II damages. I have assigned a team to calculate the costs," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at a Friday press conference in the Danish capital.

"I will write a letter to the UN Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] asking for Iran to be compensated for the damages," he added, pointing out that such a move is necessary to ensure that justice was served. Ahmadinejad told the reporters that the countries that won the Second World War had inflicted a lot of damage on Iran by invading the country and using its resources.

The president added that while the former Soviet Union, the United States and Britain received compensation after the conflict, Iran had been given nothing to make up for the suffering its people had endured.

Dude, I don't want to rain on your rhetorical parade, but the UN Secretary-General has no authority to order reparations. You could try the UN Security Council, I guess, but as three of its permanent members are the US, Britain, and Russia....

(And forgive me for being provocative, but wasn't there a really costly war for Iran more recently than 1945? One with a neighbour that supposedly has a bit of money from the oilfields it is auctioning?)

1020 GMT: And if you're into the Iran-Iraq border incident that is not war, Reuters indicates that Iran is seeking a "diplomatic" resolution over the alleged 11-troop occupation of the oil well.

0950 GMT: On the Nuclear Front. In case you want a break from the internal battle in Iran, the latest from Tehran, at least in the form of Ali Akhbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, is good-cop/bad-cop noises.

On Friday, Salehi said that about 6,000 of Iran's centrifuges were operational. That comment was jumped on by some media in the "West" and Israel as a sign of Iran's aggressive intention. In fact, it was far from that: Iran's chief enrichment plant at Natanz has 8000 centrifuges, so Salehi was admitting that, at most, Natanz was 75% effective. (The most recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that half of the centrifuges were working.) Salehi added that Iran would not be adding extra capacity soon, with a new generation of centrifuges not ready until 2011 and the heavy-water plant at Arak still "three or four years" away from service.

Today, however, Salehi is taking a tougher stance, declaring that "the IAEA Board of Governors' resolution against Iran is ineffective" and there would be no halt in the construction of the second enrichment plant at Fordoo.

0920 GMT: We've posted a guest analysis by Austin Heap of yesterday's cyber-attack on Twitter by an Iranian group.

0755 GMT: Mousavi Defiance Behind Regime Threats? One intriguing story this morning: the reformist website Rah-e-Sabz claims that Iran's judiciary pressed Mir Hossein Mousavi to withhold or at least moderate any statement of support for protests on 16 Azar (7 December). Mousavi's refusal, and indeed his publication of a high-profile message to Iranian students, angered the authorities and led to the ominous threats of arrests and trials.

0745 GMT: A morning, and possibly a day, to relax and assess after the fizzling of the regime's attempt to show strength on Friday (see our  special analysis, "RegimeFail").

No sign yet of counter-moves by the opposition, either within or outside the establishment, and Western media are likely to be wandering around after the Iran "invasion of Iraq" story (we're still treating 11 Iranian soldiers raising a flag over an oil well as a political manoeuvre which will bring more politics, rather than confrontation) and whatever pops up on the nuclear front.

Iran Analysis: RegimeFail?

MOHARRAM REGIME DEMO3If a demonstration occurs in the square but no one really notices, does it make a sound?

It is less than 24 hours after the Iranian regime tried to build up a mass rally on the first day of  the religious month of Moharram, not only for the pretext of protesting the burning of Ayatollah Khomeini's photograph but for the wider goal of showing the Government's political superiority over its opposition. Yet this morning, Iranian state medium Press TV, which was proclaiming that "millions" were on the streets of Iran, is not even bothering to mention the story, let alone update it. Fars News is now on the nuclear issue and promoting art about martyrs.  The Islamic Republic News Agency is trying to boost President Ahmadinejad, after his appearance at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, with his rhetoric on how Iran --- unlike European countries --- supports freedom and democracy around the world. (IRNA, further down its page, has a short, rather limp story that a million people marched in support of Khomeini and the Supreme Leader.)

Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?
The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

We tentatively suggested yesterday afternoon that the attempted demonstrations in Tehran, let alone in other parts of  Iran where I have still not seen visual evidence, were a regime "flop". No need to be tentative now: this was a clear picture, after six months, not of a regime asserting its political strength but of a Government and even Supreme Leader struggling to maintain even a 24-hour appearance of political legitimacy. The sensational cries of "Death to Mousavi", whipped up by an Ayatollah Khamenei ally, made little more than fleeting headlines; indeed, I don't think even the base charge of "insult to Khomeini" was successfully stuck upon the opposition.

This, however, is the easy analysis to make this morning. Now the ball bounces back into the court of the opposition, be that Hashemi Rafsanjani, senior clerics, or the Green movement. Once more they have both the initiative and the burden of showing that their supporters are still ready to press their demands.

So on to Ashura (27 December), the key day of mourning and commemoration in Moharram marking the death of Imam Hossein. The Green movement rallied on Qods Day (18 September), which traditionally had been a regime day as it displayed its support of the Palestinians and their claim on Jerusalem. It rallied on National Students Day (7 December), which had marked the supremacy of the Islamic Republic over the Shah with the memory of the killing of three students in 1953. Can the opposition now mark one of the most important days on the Iranian and Shi'a Islam calendar as their own?

The regime failed yesterday, but that is far from enough to argue that it has lost. Those challenging the regime now have to prove they can make a meaningful, otherwise many Iranians (how many?) may sit on their hands in passivity and resignation.

It is eight days to Ashura.


The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

MOHARRAM REGIME DEMO2310 GMT: A Sad End, Another Day. We took the night off to catch our breath (and catch up with some friends), as Iran winds down after an anti-climactic and possibly damaging day for the regime.

On a day that started with the cyber-drama of the attack on Twitter, probably by a group supporting the Iranian Government, the evening ends with the sad news that the domain of Mowj-e-Sabz, one of the key locations for information in this crisis, has been released for purchase. The activists of the website announced yesterday that they are taking a well-earned break.

But we'll back in a few hours to see what Saturday brings.

NEW Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?
NEW Latest Iran Video: Mehdi Karroubi Interview with BBC (17 December)
NEW Iran: The Regime Takes On (Hacks?) Twitter for Moharram
Iran Analysis: The Regime’s Sword Wavers
Latest Iran Video: Interview of the “Basij Member” on the Election and Abuses (16 December)
Iran & The Arrest of Majid Tavakoli: “To Men Who Are Not Ashamed of Being a Woman” (Shirin Ebadi)
Latest Iran Video: The Larijani Threat to Arrest Green Leaders (16 December)
The Latest from Iran (17 December): An Uncertain Regime

1810 GMT: Stratospheric Media Speculation of Day. The cyber-attack on Twitter this morning (see separate analysis)? It's all down to the Iranian Government's new strategy in the nuclear negotiations.

That's according to TechCrunch, who get bored with all things computer-y and decide to become political analysts (this morning, they didn't even know that the "Iranian Cyber Army" had been assaulting Green Movement websites):

Other sources told us that the timing of the attack on Twitter is part of a concerted effort across the Iranian government and military to take a stronger diplomatic stance against the United States and European Union in the lead up to negotiations on Iran’s nuclear plans.

Oh, yes, it has to be all about "us" in the West and not about the internal political battle in Iran. That's why the hackers went after the website Mowj-e-Sabz, which as far as I know is not involved in any way with discussions of uranium enrichment. And that's why they invoked Imam Hossein, who may just have something to do with the first day of Moharram, which just happens to be today.

All of this would be end-of-day silliness were it not for the high-profile and normally perceptive blog The Daily Dish, who decided to feature this as the real story behind the Iran Regime v. Twitter fight.

1730 GMT: More "The News is No News". Fars News, spinning a tough line, only offers further testimony to the weakness of the regime's position. It headlines the warning of the Supreme Leader's aide, Mohammad Hassan Rahimian (see 1405 GMT), that those who "continue to intrigue...will encounter the worst possible situation" and the response of those demonstrating, "Green riot leaders should be executed".

At no point, however, does Fars let us know how many actually joined in this heart-warming performance.

1630 GMT: The News is No News. Our interim assessment of the regime's "flop" today is holding up pretty well. Press TV website's story drops the "millions" of its over-excited (or over-scripted) correspondent and of other state media; indeed, it puts no number at all on a rather bland description of the protest for Ayatollah Khomeini.

The non-Iranian media are nowhere to be found. Having chased after the "hacking of Twitter" story, they now have the distraction of some Iranian troops acting up on the border and occupying a (possibly out-of-use) Iraqi oil well. We're monitoring the story, but sources indicate this incident, which appears to the third incursion in recent weeks, is more a political signal by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps --- don't think of attacking Iran --- than the start of a serious conflict.

1440 GMT: Western Mediawatch. Let's give Reuters credit for at least noticing that something happened in Tehran today, as other outlets are blissfully void of news.

That said, Reuters' headline --- "Death to Mousavi" --- succeeds in being both sensationalist and tangential at the same time. It may be that some folks chanted, "Mousavi, this is our last warning. The sedition leaders should be executed," and that --- as we just noted --- the regime put out one representative (Rahimian) to issue that call.

This lifting of a few snippets from Iranian state media, however, says nothing about the size of the rallies or their political impact (or lack of such).

1405 GMT: Shaking the Fist. Actually, in the context of the threats earlier this week, the regime's efforts today were not that intimidating. Ayatollah Emami Kashani, the leader of Friday Prayers in Tehran, does not exactly cut the most menacing figure.

That said, Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, the Supreme Leader’s former representative in the Bonyad-e Shahid (Martyrs' Foundation), tried his best in his speech in front of Tehran university. Arrest the opposition leaders? Too soft, asserted Rahimian: why not execute them?

And here's today's unsubtle connection: Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has declared that the cases of several people accused of "insulting Imam Khomeini" will go to court next week.

1310 GMT: An Interim Assessment of The Regime's Demonstration on Moharram. We have enough to venture an interim assessment of the significance of today's events for the regime and its attempt to establishment of "legitimacy".

1125 GMT: Hmmm..... IRNA now has a story about today's events, but it is a dry recitation of a "Friday Prayers" resolution condemning the insult to Ayatollah Khomeini, accompanied by a photograph of a group of protesters (see inset).

1100 GMT: The Regime's Day. Press TV has now got its lines straight, "Iran Outrage", with shots of thousands in Enghelab Square in Tehran and large posters of Ayatollah Khomeini (but note: few prominent images of the Supreme Leader). Correspondent Saman Kojouri is reciting the same litany he used 30 minutes ago.

Fars and IRNA still have no visible coverage on their websites. (This has now changed with IRNA --- see our interim assessment.)

1030 GMT: Let's Try This Again. OK, now this is more like it. Here's Press TV's live coverage from "the streets of Tehran" with correspondent Saman Kojouri:
Thousands of Iranians, millions of Iranians all across the nation have taken to the streets, especially here in the capital Tehran. The people have flooded the streets after Friday prayers to show their anger over what happened a few days on December 7th, when an insult occurred against the portrait of Imam Khomeini, the Father and Founder of the Islamic Revolution.

From that day on, the Student Day on, the public outrage went high across the country and many people took to the streets, from different walks of life.

Kojouri repeats this for about four minutes. The widest shots offered by Press TV are of thousands at the venue outside Tehran Friday Prayers.

1015 GMT: Really, That's All You've Got? So far, the story has been lack of attention byIranian state media to the ceremonies for the first day of Moharram. The Islamic Republic News Agency's lead story is on 250 new suppliers of "hot meat" in Tehran.

Press TV has the Copenhagen Summit at #1, then it's Iran's nuclear programme at #2, and only then do Tehran's Friday Prayers sneak in. The spin is unsurprising: Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, leading the prayers, has criticised the defacing of the image of Imam Khomeini. He then "called on Iranians to be aware of enemy plots to take advantage of objections against the June Presidential election....The protests that started in the wake of the vote will eventually benefit the enemies."

And Kashani's reference to the political challenge from Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Green Movement? "Officials should try to prevent radical moves that...merely triggered  new triggers in the country....All political groups should stick to the guidelines of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, to resolve disputes and promote unity."

0933 GMT: Pushing "Regime Change". The Wall Street Journal, a firm advocate of the toppling of not only the Ahmadinejad Government but the Islamic Republic, features an editorial by Heshmat Tabarzadi, leader of the Iran Democratic Front:
Dec. 7 [the protests of 16 Azar] proved that the movement for a free, democratic Iran is robust and only growing in strength. If the government continues to opt for violence, there very well may be another revolution in Iran. One side has to step down. And that side is the government—not the people.

Here's the interesting points, especially in light of the continuing debates over the aims of the Green Movement. Tabarzadi never uses the words "regime change" --- those belong to the Journal's headline writers --- but he does feature university protests "openly denouncing the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, challenging the entirety of the ruling establishment, and demanding the separation of religion and state".

So does this constitute the demise of the Islamic Republic?

0930 GMT: Karroubi Reaches the West. We've posted the video of the BBC's (rather disappointing) interview with Mehdi Karroubi.

0750 GMT: Iran Mediawatch (2). After early-morning silence on Moharram from regime outlets, Fars News is now headlining today's commemorations, claiming ownership of Ayatollah Khomenei amidst the recent "burning picture" controversy: "United Iran will declare its love for the Imam".

0740 GMT: Cyber-wars for Moharram. Here's an entry we didn't expect to write today: an Iranian group, which also took over the Mowj-e-Sabz website this week, has claimed to have hacked Twitter, which has been running slowly since 1200 GMT on Thursday. We've got the latest.

0655 GMT: Iran Mediawatch. Right now, the state media --- at least on the Web --- are more concerned with "bigging up" President Ahmadinejad and his speech in Copenhagen ("capitalism and materialism are to blame for environmental crisis", "profit-making approach to the world resources must be avoided,", ""greenhouse gas emission has dealt a blow to the planet earth") than they are with today's events. The Islamic Republic News Agency confines itself to a statement from the head of the Islamic Propaganda Organization that Moharram commemorations will be even bigger and better than last year.

0630 GMT: Eleven days after the protests of National Students Day on 16 Azar, the holy month of Moharram begins today. In contrast to the period between previous important public occasions since July, there has been no significant pause in protest, demonstration, and political manoeuvre. University campuses have continued to simmer, the regime has raised the threat level with its dark hints of arrests and trials, and opposition political figures have been more forthcoming in their statements despite (and indeed because of) those threats.

So we begin this morning watching for two signs of the political situation. The easier reading will probably be of the opposition. The indecision over whether to march today, diluting if not seizing the Government's control of the commemoration of Moharram, is likely to end in 1) a declaration from Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi that they regret that their request for a permit has been denied by the regime; and 2) an acceptance by most of the Green movement that it is best to lie low. A scattering of opposition demonstrators are likely to turn out, but this will not be an organised response.

So that leaves the public arena open to the regime for the first time in six months and raises the more difficult question: how significant will their own effort and that of their supporters be today? As an EA reader noted yesterday, the answer does not rest solely or even primarily on the number who appear at Friday Prayers and the subsequent rally: there are enough core elements such as the Basiji movement and enough people who will be brought into the demonstration to fill a television screen or the front page of a newspaper. How many others will not only turn out but will be vocal in their acclamation for not only Imam Khomeini but also the Supreme Leader? And perhaps more significantly in the short-term, how many will be raising their voices not only for Ayatollah Khamenei but also Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?