Iran Snap Analysis: Non-Events, Non-Millions, and Non-Victory on Ashura


In more than 18 months of covering the post-election crisis in Iran, it may have been the strangest experience.

It was just after 9 a.m. in Iran when I set up the computer, turned on Iran’s Press TV, opened up the websites of Iran’s state media, and prepared to write about the „millions“ who would turn out in mourning for Imam Hossein, the third Imam of Shi’a who had been killed in 680 AD by the evil Caliph Yazid. 

I knew there would be „millions“ because ranian press and broadcasters had told me there would be millions. 

By 10 a.m. in Iran, Press TV had shown me thousands in Bam in southern Iran. By 11 a.m., I could see thousands in Yazd in central Iran. But Press TV, which I believe is based in Tehran, had shown me a total of 0 live shots of the view outside their window. The anchorman and correspondents spent many effusive minutes turning into hours about Istanbul and Beirut but Iran’s capital city had disappeared

Maybe the pictures from Tehran were on the Iranian websites. No. Press TV’s preview of „millions“ had no follow-up; instead, the page was taken over by the regime’s drumbeat that the West and Israel were responsible for a suicide bomb, killing more than 30, in southeastern Iran on Wednesday. The Islamic Republic News Agency made a brief attempt to promote the President, noting in two paragraphs that he had appeared at a Tehran shrine, but those two paragraphs quickly slipped down IRNA’s front page. Mehr, which usually has a selection of dramatic photographs, had nothing to light up our LiveBlog.

So I made lunch. And I ate that lunch as Press TV broadcast a documentary about Israel’s attacks on olive tree in Palestine. I saw the repeated footage of the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrullah, as he assailed the Israelis in his speech in Lebanon. I saw the Supreme Leader’s representative on foreign policy as he made a speech in Istanbul.

But I saw no Supreme Leader or any other prominent Iranian official or any millions in Tehran. All I had — not from Iranian media but from YouTube — were discreetly-taken videos of walls of security forces and one clip of a rather sparse procession.

So I went Christmas shopping.

This morning, I have seen one analysis of Ashura — not from Iranian media but from the Christian Science Monitor — and it completely misses the point: „Iran’s opposition Green Movement protested in force during the Shiite holiday Ashura a year ago. This year, they’re nowhere to be seen. Is the movement finished?“

Well, no. But anyone who was expecting the opposition to mount a massive turnout, in the face of months of repressions and of yesterday’s security presence, was either the most Pollyanna-ish of optimists or the most secluded of observers. The Monitor, in a moment of clarity, recognises this, thanks to an Iranian source:

The opposition that exists now has turned into an ideology. It will be less expressive but more dangerous [for the regime]. It will breed in people’s homes; children will be fed with this resentment.

But the analysis then skips back to the theme of the Green Movement’s immediate demise, summarising with an analyst’s comment, „The streets have now been won by the regime.“

Well, no. Because if there is any conclusion to be drawn from those hours I stared at television and computer screens before going shopping, it is that the no-shows in Tehran were a possible sign of trouble. Not for the opposition, but for those now in charge in Iran.

The regime may control streets with those walls of security forces. But it does not „win“ them that way. It does not „win“ through the snatched footage of coercion rather than the freely-taken images of a spontaneous show of support.

Now, I reserve the right to re-write this analysis today. I may find on Press TV — currently talking about an attack on the US Embassy in Yemen — that the „millions“ have materialised for today’s Friday Prayers. I may see the photographs across the Iranian websites of a Supreme Leader or a President greeting masses swept away by euphoria.

Possibly. Three days after the post-election shock of Ashura 2009, when the opposition did turn out on the streets — to the point of pushing back security forces in places — the regime was able to mobilise its own show, blunting the immediate message of the ascendancy of protest.

In the following 12 months, the regime has not faced another shock, and it certainly did not do so yesterday. But I continue to wonder, given Ashura’s message of „victory against oppressors“, where exactly that notion of „victory“ was yesterday.

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