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Thursday
Feb102011

The Latest from Iran (11 February): The Regime's Big Show?

2205 GMT: Claim of the Night. An opposition website asserts, "The word 'Bahman' has been filtered in Iran Farsi Google search."

2145 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Mohammad Housein Mehyimni, the son of the former Governor of Golestan Province, has been arrested.

2130 GMT: A New Role. What better way to end 22 Bahman than with a feel-good story?

The Basij militia are providing the dowries of needy brides.

2055 GMT: Celebrating? An encounter between President Ahmadinejad right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, and a crowd at today's 22 Bahman gathering:

2045 GMT: Back from Egypt coverage to find pictures of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani in today's rally:

1545 GMT: A Message from Cairo. Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who emerged as a prominent activist in the current uprising, has spoken to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: “I would tell Iranians to learn from the Egyptians, as we have learned from you guys, that at the end of the day with the power of people, we can do whatever we want to do. If we unite our goals, if we believe, then all our dreams can come true.”

Ghonim was detained for 12 days during the crisis. Released on Monday, he gave a dramatic interview to Dream TV and then appeared in Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests, on Tuesday.

1530 GMT: How Big? Mehr has a series of photographs from Tehran today, including this one from the top of the monument at Azadi Square:

Mehr also has images from other cities, such as this one from Rasht:

1500 GMT: Getting Tough. No doubts about the regime strategy before 25 Bahman, as two more journalists join the list of the detained (see 0920 GMT)--- Nezhat Amirabadian, who wrote for Fararu, Aftab, and Hammihan News, and Maziar Khosravi of Shargh.

1225 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayer (Cut Short). Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi trying to get a sliver of attention amidst the day's big events: "Today the leaders of Egypt's revolution are learning from Imam Khamenei."

Afraid I'll have to stop you there, Kazem, as I'm busy covering the real developments in Egypt, where surprisingly not one person has mentioned the Supreme Leader."

(That is, except for the protesters in Tahrir Square who said Khamenei was trying to "steal the revolution" --- see 1015 GMT.)

1215 GMT: Cutting Off Karroubi. The pressure on Mehdi Karroubi increases --- Saham News reports that the cleric's phone lines have been cut.

See separate EA feature for the last interview with Karroubi.

1205 GMT: Assurance of the Day. Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei says it guarantees that Parliamentary elections will be held without any possibility of fraud; however, those involved in "sedition" after the 2009 elections will not be eligible to run for office.

“The Guardian Council is highly sensitive to violation and fraud in the parliamentary elections,” Kadkhodayi told a press conference. “If there are any violations, the Guardian Council is ready to nullify the results regardless of the political background of the candidates.”

1155 GMT: Extra, Extra! Green Support. The German newspaper Die Tageszeitung goes Green, as its front page reports on the support of the Berlinale Film Festival for Iranian director Jafar Panahi, sentenced to six years in prison.

And Peyke Iran features this photograph from the Festival:

1150 GMT: Shutting Off 25 Bahman. Radio Zamaneh summarises the latest arrests and intimidations by the regime to pre-empt any rally on Monday.

1015 GMT: From Cairo to Tehran. Al Masry Al Youm reports that a statement from protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square shows a developing link between the Egyptian uprising and events in Iran, though it may not be the one that the Iranian regime desires:

After denouncing the call by the Supreme Leader last Friday to link the Islamic Revolution and the Egyptian movement --- "outsiders are trying to steal your revolution” --- protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo declared:

Leaders of Iran's “Green Revolution will devote tomorrow Friday in solidarity with the Egyptian people. Egyptians must respond to these honorable people by allocating the same day in solidarity with the Iranian people who suffer injustice, dictatorship and corruption.

0950 GMT: Blocking the Reports. International media are now noting that Iranian authorities have jammed BBC Persian.

The new block comes ahead of Monday's planned opposition rally, although The Guardian believes the catalyst was "a joint broadcast on Wednesday by the [BBC's] Persian and Arabic services in which Iranian and Egyptian callers exchanged views".

0943 GMT: 25 Bahman. On-line activists have called for co-ordination in preparation for Monday's rally, including:

  1. *@Speak2Tweet numbers and volunteer translators in case Internet is cut off but landlines are working;
    *Safe email addresses and sources of anonymous email and SMS services;
    *Safe video upload services;
    *Video editing and subtitling volunteer teams;
    *Where & how to record information about incidents, in case of arrest, disappearance, injury, etc.;
    *Curators and translators of information from different timezones to provide cover on Twitter & FaceBook 24/7, fact-checking info as it comes in, getting it translated and disseminated efficiently and with a few errors as possible;
    *Media liaisons --- again different time zones and countries, preferably with at least Farsi language skills.

0939 GMT: Sports Report. An Iranian mountaineer has failed to return from a competition in France, apprarently becoming the latest in a growing number of athletes to defect while abroad.

The Alpine Club of Iran did not disclose the athlete's name.

In the last three months, Payam Moradi, a member of Iran's karate team, and Ehsan Rajabi and Vahid Sarlak, members of the national judo team, have sought asylum in the US and Germany.

Last November, Mohammad Hassan Ebrahaimi, a member of Iran's national fencing team, sought asylum in France.

0933 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. More on Wednesday's seizure of Taghi Rahmani, a key advisor to Mehdi Karroubi....

Following the raid on the home, Rahmani's wife Narges Mohammadi, a journalist and human rights activist, reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown and was taken to a Tehran hospital.

Mohammadi was detained for three weeks in June 2010 and was hospitalised for a month after her release.

Rahmani's arrest is part of the regime's attempt to break any opposition rally next Monday by detaining key organisers and activists.

0922 GMT: Well, That's That. Press TV has left behind Tehran and the Islamic Revolution, focusing on events in Cairo.

0920 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Press Edition). Arshama3's Blog updates its go-to list: "Even if one ignores the names lacking recent information, a total of 60 imprisoned Iranian journalists, bloggers and human rights reporters, together with two German colleagues, remains. Another 65 journalists are released on bail, awaiting their sentences."

0913 GMT: Backing Off on Egypt. A bit shift in Press TV's line, only a week after the Supreme Leader's long appeal to link the Islamic and Egyptian Revolutions: "There are some differences in the Islamic leadership [in Egypt] from the people here in Iran, and the people in Egypt are not coming out on the streets specifically for an Islamic Republic, although it has an Islamic flavour to it."

0900 GMT: Now to Other Events. A Facebook page, "Free Karroubi NOW" has been set up.

Opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi is now under effective house arrest ahead of the opposition rally called for Monday. No one except his wife is being allowed into the residence.

0824 GMT: A Snap Reaction. Standard, competent oratory from President Ahmadinejad, but nothing of political significance apart from the passage defending his economic approach and expansion of powers against opponents within the Iranian establishment.

Beyond the boiler-plate rhetoric on "arrogant powers", Ahmadinejad did make an appeal --- being played up by state media --- of Iran as a "model for other nations", referring to the uprisings in the Arab world. It was a pretty clumsy attempt, however, and I doubt it will cause even a ripple, given the drama of events elsewhere and the pointed rejection of the Supreme Leader's attempt last week by Egyptian groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

The big question, however, is how Ahmadinejad went down with his own people. It was the standard 22 Bahman crowd in Azadi Square --- no shots of any marches elsewhere in Iran, so far --- so it is difficult to draw any conclusions.

0822 GMT: Well, Press TV can't take any over. It has cut away while Ahmadinejad is still speaking.

0819 GMT: Ahmadinejad banging away, "The arrogant powers will fail in the new Middle East."

Then a quick tribute to the Supreme Leader, who with his "vigilance" carries on his shoulders the Revolution.

0814 GMT: More of the say on showing "dedication" to fight "evildoers", with a warning to "arrogant powers" that they are "at the end of their life": either "join other nations" or perish as they support the "Zionist regime".

0804 GMT: With this key message sent to others within Iran, Ahmadinejad returns back to general statements on standing up --- via Imam Khomeini --- to the world and ensuring "divine humanity".

And thus the references to today's Tunisia and Egypt to affirm that "the movement has already started" in every country.

0800 GMT: OK, now this is important. Ahmadinejad is now trying to sell his subsidy cuts and economic programme. He makes the pitch that an additional 1.6 million jobs have been created this year. He declares, "Before the end of this Government's term, there will be no problem with unemployment in this land."

Then the appeal: "Today your Government is under tremendous pressure, but I am decisively staking that we will follow up the past work with justice and this is our commitment....Despite all the domestic and external pressures and acts of obstructionism, this glorious path will be followed."

So Ahmadinejad has declared: in your face, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani. You too, Expediency Council and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. These are my political and economic powers.

0755 GMT: Ahmadinejad says, "The whole world had better appreciate the strength and glory of the Iranian nation."

0750 GMT: Ahmadinejad, now hitting his stride, declares to the "arrogant powers" that Iran wants cooperation on the nuclear issue, but the West does not want this, "we don't need you".

Then it's back to the list of Iran's scientific and technological progress.

0747 GMT: Got to be honest here --- really hasn't been much to catch attention. But now the President tries his first flourishes with the declaration of Iran putting satellites and soon astronauts into space. And then there is Iran's nanotechnology.

All of that is a set-up to bring in the nuclear issue: with "the arrogant powers mobilising their forces" but failing to check Iran's progress.

0735 GMT: Nothing of significance so far from Ahmadinejad: a rambling historical review of the world going to hell by the 1970s and Imam Khomeini rescuing it, at least in Iran.

0728 GMT: Here's your theme from Ahmadinejad: the Revolution as a "step to perfection" and then a look at the "situation around the world".

0725 GMT: Opening speeches and music in Azadi Square in Tehran, and now President Ahmadinejad is at the podium.

0702 GMT: Your Analyst Today. Good to see my old friend Seyed Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University is the on-the-spot analyst for Press TV. The correspondent interviewing him tries to hold focus, "Before we get to the international aspects of this, we should just talk about today."

Marandi delivers immediately, "I think it is extraordinary that, despite the weather being very cold and it is snowing in parts of Tehran and raining in other parts, you still hear the huge crowds coming to the rally commemorating the anniversary of the Revolution. I think it is largely because Iranians feel, as a result of the Revolution, they have been able to regain their dignity and independence. The country is an exceptionally independent country in a region which is in the hands of foreign powers."

0700 GMT: Let the Show Commence. Press TV, which had been headlining developments in Egypt, now turns its spotlight on the gathering crowds in Tehran, "reaffirming their support for that Islamic Iranian Revolution 32 years ago", despite earlier snow and the cold that lingers.

Still, within 30 seconds, the correspondent on the ground has gone back to Cairo: it seems the crowd feels the 1979 Revolution was a "stepping stone" to Egypt 2011.

0600 GMT: And so it is the 32nd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Last year on this day, the regime won a notable victory as it was able to mobilise supporters while the opposition, riding high expectations since its challenge six weeks earlier on the religious day of Ashura, failed to put together a public challenge. In the face of a massive security presence, detentions of many key organisers, and intimidation of others, the Green Wave failed to rise.

(Yesterday there was a painful reminder of the regime's suppression of dissent with the posting of photographs of the bruised body of Mehdi Karroubi, the 72-year-old opposition figure who was beaten away from the Green rallies on the day.)

Since that 22 Bahman, the regime has been able to claim that it defeated the "sedition". Yet, as we noted on that day and ever since, the other half of the formula for legitimacy has been unclear. Can the Supreme Leader and President Ahmadinejad, amidst not only the political issues but also economic tensions and grumbling, point to a positive affirmation of their rule?

The 10 Days of Fajr (Dawn) leading up to 22 Bahman have brought only the curiosity that Iran's Revolutionary celebration has not only been overshadowed by other events --- Iranian eyes, like others, are on Cairo --- but on the regime's public attention to another rally: the opposition's proposal for a march on Monday in support of the Egyptian and Tunisian people. 

Once again, and a year after the triumph of the last 22 Bahman, the regime focus has been not on internal signs of prosperity and stability but on the threat of an opposition which supposedly had been vanquished. 

Later today we will get the pictures of crowded streets and squares and we will be treated to the setpiece speeches. But does it mean that this regime has secured its own place as the inheritors of the 1979 Revolution?

Check back with us later today....

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