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.