Tuesday, June 23, 2009


B. Raman

There have been no reports of any major street demonstration in Tehran on June 23, 2009. Calls were sent out through Tweets to the protesters in Tehran to assemble at the Baharestan Sq at 4 PM Tehran time, but not many managed to reach there.

2. The Iranian intelligence agencies have been successful in identifying and arresting many Tweeters in Tehran. As a result, the number of Tweets coming out of Tehran is declining. However, the Jundullah, the Sunni organisation which has been fighting against the Iranian regime in the Iranian Balochistan (Sistan Balochistan), has started sending news of developments in Tehran and other cities of Iran through Pakistan for re-transmission to the rest of the world. Similarly, Iranian exiles abroad have been using the Jundullah elements in Pakistan for sending instructions and advice to the protesters in Iran.

3. On the night of June 23 too as on previous nights thousands of people got on to the balcony of their houses and indulged in well-synchronised shouting of Allah-o-Akbar. Many also reportedly shouted "Death to Khamenei" --- a reference to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Tweets coming out of Tehran have claimed that in a response to a call from Mir Housain Mousavi, who has been spearheading the protest movement, many bazaris (shop-owners) observed a shutter-down strike on June 23.

4. The protesters seem to have realised that in view of the heavy deployment of the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards and their readiness to use lethal force to put down street demonstrations, huge processions of the kind witnessed every day last week are no longer possible. They are, therefore, holding discussions among themselves as to how to keep up the momentum of the protest movement. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, who had maintained a discreet silence in the first few days of the protest lest their comments be projected by the Iranian authorities as proof of external orchestration of the protest movement, have become increasingly vocal in criticising the violent suppression of the protest movement. This probably indicates that the Western Governments have assessed that the protest movement has reached its apogee and that it cannot increase further without evidence of some external solidarity.

5. Moreover, despite the restraint exercised by the West in the initial days, the Iranian authorities, unnerved by the massive protests, started demonising the protesters by projecting them as "terrorists", members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a terrorist organisation, and stooges of external powers. Even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, has been accusing the protesters of acting at the behest of external powers.

6. One would have expected that their campaign against the "external satan" would have been mainly against the US, which has had a past history of supporting dissident movements in Iran and undertaking destabilisation operations there. Surprisingly, they have not done so. Instead, their anger has been directed more against the British. The correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Tehran has reportedly been expelled and two middle-level British diplomats posted in the British Embassy in Tehran have been declared persona-non-grata on charges of indulging in activities incompatible with their duties as diplomats. The British Government has retaliated by expelling two Iranian diplomats on similar charges.

7. The Iranian authorities have been telling their people that the plans for the protest movement had been masterminded by the British long before the elections. The virulent campaign against the British is surprising because the BBC was exercising considerable restraint in reporting on the events in Iran. It gave prominence to the views of the protesters as well as the Government. It did not play up the Tweets unlike the CNN, which has been disseminating the protesters' version of the events----almost blacking out the Government version.

8. For example, when the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards opened fire on the protesters on June 20 there were conflicting versions of the fatalities. The Government said that only 10 protesters were killed, but the protesters kept insisting in their Tweets that at least 20 were killed. Whereas the CNN accepted the version of the Tweeters, the BBC disseminated the Govt. claim.

9. The focussed attack on the British seems at least partly to reflect the discomfiture of the Iranian authorities over the large listenership of the Farsi language broadcasts of the BBC radio and their credibility in Iran. Of all the foreign broadcasts directed to the Iranian people, the BBC's Farsi service has the maximum listenership and credibility followed by those of the Voice of America. The CNN hardly has any credibility in Iran.
10. In their efforts to jam all foreign Farsi language broadcasts, the Iranian authorities are paying the maximum attention to the BBC and then to the VOA. Both these radio stations have already taken measures to circumvent the jamming by strengthening the power of their transmitters and by setting up new transmitters to supplement those which were already in place. The BBC has started using two extra satellites to broadcast its Farsi-language service. The U.S. Govt-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, based in central Europe, is also increasing the power and reach of its programmes meant for the Iranian people.

11. Iran's Guardian Council has already rejected the protesters' demand for a fresh Presidential poll. Khamenei has given a free hand to the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards to suppress the protest movement through lethal force. The Basij and the RG have been carrying out his orders without any reservations. Under these circumstances, it will be difficult for the dissenters to maintain the momentum of their street protests. They are hoping that the protests could be kept up through other actions such as strikes, shop closures etc. Till now, the maximum number of participants in the protests have been young students----boys and girls--- who have no livelihood to lose. The Bazaris, the entrepreneurs and the labour force may lose their livelihood if they respond to the strike call. If they don't, that could be the beginning of the end of the protest movement and Khamenei would have had the last laugh.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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