Today, pro-government Iranians took to streets in Tehran and possibly other cities in a show of support for the Ahmadinejad government and for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. A report by CNN spoke of hundreds of thousands of people in Tehran alone and perhaps thousands more in “Tabriz, Shiraz, Arak, Gilan and Sistan-Baluchestan province.”
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According to CNN, protesters chanted slogans against Mir Hossein Mousavi, America, Britain, France, Israel and the Green Movement’s protests on Sunday (Ashura). However, the CNN report while accurate in most respects, failed to mention key facts about the protests, facts that would show their true nature.
For starters, the CNN report and some other media account do not mention that dozens of buses chartered by the Iranian government ran non-stop from villages and suburbs around Tehran and other cities, bringing in government supporters in hordes to the protest venues. The buses began their operation the day before, ensuring the protest looked large enough.
These protesters were then later dispatched to their homes outside Tehran and other cities by the same buses. So what seemed like tens of thousands of Tehranis was in reality a mix of Tehranis and non-Tehranis brought in specifically for the purpose of fooling the world into believing that Tehran and other cities fully support [Supreme Leader] Khamenei and [President] Ahmadinejad.
And while government-run media claimed millions and CNN claimed hundreds of thousands and that Tehran was ‘packed’ with protesters, independent analyses show that the protest in Tehran was composed of no more than 20,000 people. (a larger copy of image below)
Secondly, the reports fail to mention that the protesters were offered free refreshments at the expense of the government to keep them there and to boost their morale. Their banners, slogans, and even the declaration they released denouncing the opposition were written, prepared and handed over to them by the government. Protesters received all their material needs from the government from the minute they boarded the buses to the minute they got back home.
Even so, the enthusiasm that Green Movement supporters show when they are out protesting was non-existent during this protest. People had simply brought their whole families out for a day out on the streets after being prepped up by the government to counter the popular movement that is shaking the core of the Islamic Republic.
And even the government’s own media announced that there were no protests in some of the other large cities. Mashhad, the second largest city, saw almost no response. Neither did Isfahan, the third largest city. And there was no independent confirmation of protests from the cities that the government-run media reported.
Finally, there was no riot police, Basij or IRGC members out with batons, cables, pepper spray, tear ga,s and bullets to disperse the people or stop them from chanting and gathering. Compare this to the millions of people who marched onto streets in June or the hundreds of thousands that marched on Sunday in the face of brutal repression and a government ban on their protests, and you will clearly see the desperate attempts by the Iranian government to make the world believe it has significant support among the populace.
If the government lifts bans on opposition protests, does not cut off telecommunication systems to disrupt planning, does not arrests hundreds and kill dozens, then we’ll see millions out on Iran’s streets every day.
The truth is, if the government did have support among the people, the crowds on Ashura would have been split between the Green Movement and the supporters of the Islamic Republic. On that day, it was an overwhelming show of support for reform and a clear rejection of the Islamic Republic. Plain and simple. The ‘Tehranis’ the government showed the world today were huddled up in small pockets on that day or sitting at home in their villages, watching government propaganda on TV.
Protests like today’s may make the government feel a bit less insecure about its prospects of survival, but it is in no way going to change the resolve of the Iranian people or the perception of the government’s brutality and weakness in the minds of foreigners.