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?