2300 GMT: Mahmoud Fights Back? On a day which began with our analysis that the President is scrambling to maintain any legitimacy, it appears he tried to send out a signal tonight with the dismissal of Mir Hossein Mousavi as head of the Arts Institute. Salaam News reports that Ahmadinejad flew back from Shiraz just for the meeting deciding on the sacking of Mousavi and will now return to Shiraz.
Then again, one wonders if that will be enough to show Mahmoud's muscle. According to Peyke Iran, only 40 people were on hand to greet Ahmadinejad at Shiraz's airport this morning.
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Latest Iran Video: Mourning Montazeri (21 December — 1st Set)
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The Latest From Iran (21 December): The Montazeri Funeral
2230 GMT: Back from break to find discussion still going on about possible paramilitary/security forces threat to Ayatollah Sane'i, with Rouydad saying that followers have declared their readiness to defend the cleric.
1930 GMT: Rahesabz.net is reporting that Mir-Hossein Mousavi has been finally removed from the directorship of the Farhangestan Institute of Arts - Ali Moallem has been selected as his replacement. The move was decided by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which decides on major cultural issues.
1730 GMT: The Internet is buzzing with stories that Government supporters and plainclothes officers have attacked the offices of Ayatollah Sane'i, following vandalism against Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's house and image yesterdat. There is also chatter that a permit has been given for a Basiji march on Sane'I's offices on Wednesday. A story in Radio Zaamaneh summarises the chatter.
Given the volatile situation in Qom, we are being very careful with the reports, which we cannot verify.
1645 GMT: We're off for a holiday break this evening, returning for a wrap-up of the day's events later. Thanks to all for ideas and contributions today.
1545 GMT: Hitting Back. More on that "Ayatollah" we mentioned briefly earlier (1208 GMT), who was taking a shot at both Grand Ayatollah Montazeri and those who mourned him yesterday: it's the Supreme Leader's representative to the Revolutionary Guard, Mojtaba Zolnour.
Zolnour said, "Ayatollah Montazeri was a deputy to Imam Khomeini who misused his power...and meddled in the country's affairs and this served as one of the reasons for his dismissal." As for the crowd in Qom, Zolnour snapped, "Certain individuals...have engaged in confronting the religious leadership...These opportunistic individuals ... engaged in creating chaos, breaking car windows and chanting anti-leadership slogans to destroy the Islamic establishment."
1530 GMT: Regime Tensions? An article in the reformist Rooz Online claims to document unease between Iran's armed forces and the Revolutionary Guard.
1430 GMT: Karroubi Spreads His Message. Another interview with Mehdi Karroubi in the "Western" media, this time in The Times of London. Karroubi, answering written questions, maintains both his defiance and his criticism of the regime while seeking a return to the "right" path of the Islamic Republic and Ayatollah Khomeini:
In today’s Iran, republicanism and Islamism are severely damaged and a lot of the revolution’s principles and the Imam’s have been undermined....If the Imam were alive, without doubt this would not have happened....As one of the Imam’s students and close friends I frankly say that those who claim to act on his thoughts had the least personal, emotional and intellectual closeness to him.
The significance of the statement is almost lost, however, amidst near-farcical ineptitude by Times journalists. They fail to set the interview in the context of the developments since the weekend. Far worse, they headline the article with a "surprising twist": "Mehdi Karroubi warned the West against exploiting the regime’s weakness to strike a deal to halt a nuclear programme that was, he insisted, for peaceful purposes." This is based on the following Karroubi quote:
Nuclear science and achieving peaceful nuclear technology is a right reserved for all NPT [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty] members. We ask Western governments not to use this internal situation as a bargaining chip with the present Iranian Government to reach agreements which would undermine the rights of the Iranian people.
Far from outing himself as a nuclear hardliner (which is a dreadful misrepresentation that has led some in the US to keep the Green movement as arm's length), Karroubi is simply asserting that nuclear power (not nuclear weapons) is a sovereign right. More importantly, his message is that the "West" should not give the Iranian Government legitimacy --- a legitimacy it has failed to establish at home --- through a high-profile agreement.
So a valuable opportunity wasted. Pearls before swine, as my grandmother used to say....
1330 GMT: We're Watching You. An Iranian blogger has posted photographs of Government operatives filming and photographing yesterday's crowd in Qom.
1215 GMT: Today's Protests. We've posted the first claimed video of demonstrations at Elm-o-Sanat and Kurdistan Universities.
1208 GMT: Propaganda of Day. There is the same exact story in both IRNA and Fars News of an Ayatollah denouncing yesterday's demonstrations in Qom, but that's a trifle compared to Fars' attempted top story. Apparently there will be a "large gathering" of people in Qom this afternoon to denounce the recent treatment of the image of Ayatollah Khomeini.
To illustrate the story, Fars has a photo of a recent "large gathering", presumably from last :
1200 GMT: Similar coverage of the Ahmadinejad speech, albeit with a lot more extracts from the speech, by Islamic Republic News Agency.
1155 GMT: And Here's Mahmoud. A massive surprise here: according to Press TV, the President avoided any reference to internal events in his speech in Shiraz and kept it international by attacking the US:
The problem is that the US seeks to dominate the Middle East but the Iranian nation is an obstacle....The nuclear game is repetitious, old-fashioned and boring. Say publicly that you are seeking dominance over the Middle East but Iran does not allow [you]....The world should know that the Iranian nation and the regional countries will make it impossible for the US to dominate the Middle East.
There was more tough talk for Washington on Iran's nuclear potential:
[You should] know that if we wanted to build bombs, we had enough courage to announce that we were making bombs. We are a great and brave nation. We told you that we will launch the [nuclear] fuel cycle and we did it. We told you that we will industrialize the fuel production and we did it....We told you that we will launch a new generation of centrifuges and we did.
No indication in the Press TV article, either in text or photographs, to the size of the crowd, let alone the events of the last 48 hours.
1150 GMT: Sideshows. In case you want a diversion from the main event, here's Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki being tough with France on the nuclear issue: "The French must try to avoid the failed policies that Washington and London have employed during the past few years. It is better for Paris to adopt a policy that is in accordance with the country's prestige."
Or you can tune in to Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, waving his fist: "My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results. However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready."
1140 GMT: Claims of student protests at Tehran Azad University and at Oloom Tahghighat University.
1130 GMT: No clashes reported at the Beheshti University protest. Meanwhile, reports that more than 50 (one report says 230) Najafabad University students have been summoned for disciplinary action, presumably in connection with protests surrounding the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri.
There is also a report that electricity was cut off to a student residence at Razi University in Kermanshah, with students ordered to remain in their rooms, to prevent protests.
1100 GMT: Demonstrations v. The President. News is emerging of a protest at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, with students demanding the release of classmates arrested on 16/17 Azar (7-8 December). There are also reports of demonstrations at Elm-o-Sanat University in the capital. Reports indicate that security forces have surrounded the campuses to prevent protest moving to Tehran streets.
Meanwhile, we are looking for news on President Ahmadinejad's appearance in Shiraz. Activists are claiming that the regime struggled to get an audience of 10,000.
0945 GMT: From Protest to Victory? We've posted a special analysis, in light of the events of the last 48 hours: "Is there any possibility of a 'movement from below' that frames and presses demands to a satisfactory conclusion?"
0803 GMT: The Iconic Video? We've posted a lengthy (4+ minutes) video of yesterday's crowd in Qom. Words cannot summarise it.
(But, to raise a smile, set this footage against the claim in the pro-regime newspaper Kayhan, noted in yesterday's updates, that "a maximum of 5000 people" turned out.)
0800 GMT: The President's Test. Ahmadinejad is now in Shiraz. We're monitoring carefully both for his statement and any news on the size and mood of the crowd.
0745 GMT: A later and quieter start to the morning after the drama, sorrow, anger, and hope of the last 48 hours. We're working on a special analysis evaluating the significance of the events surrounding Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's death: is this now the next great Green wave of change?
In this context, there is an unintentionally funny sideshow exposing both the weakness of a President and his best (if unintentional) friend yesterday: the American ABC News. Last night Ahmadinejad appeared on the channel which, for days, had been shouting about its "exclusive" interview with the US Public Enemy Number One.
Here are ABC's self-promoting highlights of the discussion: 1) "Iran Prez Won't Say Yes-or-No to Nuclear Bomb"; 2) "Obama Didn't Deserve Nobel Prize"; 3) "Ahmadinejad Defiant Over Sanctions Threat"; 4) "Hiker's Mom Made Christmas Appeal to Ahmadinejad" [three US citizens, detained after they entered Iranian territory this autumn, remain under threat of trial for espionage]. Because the story was written soon after the interview was taped last week, there was no reference to Grand Ayatollah Montazeri or any considered question about the political challenge to the President and the regime.
(In grudging fairness, it appears that ABC re-positioned the clips they showed last night to get some connection with developments. Diane Sawyer's lead question, over archive shots of mass demonstrations this summer, was whether Ahmadinejad would guarantee that protesters would be safe. Ahmadinejad's response: "Can the people in America come on the streets anytime they want?"
That --- again to give some redemption to ABC --- brought out a telling moment. When Sawyer assured Ahmadinead that, yes, with a permit Americans could demonstrate, the President looked a bit uncertain, "Are you sure?" before declaring, "In Iran we have got freedom, more than there is in America.")
A classic example, therefore, of the blinkers of sensationalism but, more importantly, an illustration of Ahmadinejad's fragile position: who amongst the crowd in Qom yesterday really cared about the words he put out on American television screens last evening?