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Looking For Signs And Prophets In Tehran

A woman adjusts her head scarf as haze settles over Tehran on July 7.

A woman adjusts her head scarf as haze settles over Tehran on July 7.

Everyone is looking for signs these days, or falling back on old wisdom.

My old sociology teacher recently told me: "In times of trouble, Iran turns into a turbulent river flowing into unknown valleys of decision making.

"When the river is flowing quickly, the decisions are made instantly.... If you are on a small boat as a person, or a bigger boat as a political leader, you just have to keep up with the river, but you certainly cannot change its course."

So that explains why the leaders of the opposition are just trying to keep up with the momentum and stay ahead of each other.

That explains why you see Mir Hossein Musavi announcing that he wants to form a political party, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani visiting the families of the detainees, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom issuing a letter in support of people's rights (the first time that they have deviated from the supreme leader's path), and even the mild-mannered ex-president, Mohammad Khatami, turning up the heat.

Everything here is still topsy-turvy. I never imagined I would watch and listen to the Friday Prayer sermon by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, call Rafsanjani the "last hope," listen and enjoy speeches by Hadi Ghaffari, who was one of the most radical clerics during the revolution and now has turned his attacks on the supreme leader.

Islamic Strike

Nor did I expect to learn and practice Islamic practices such as "etekaaf," wait for the next fatwa from a grand ayatollah, or seriously think about joining a political party.

In the last few days, the whole country has been practically on strike and will likely stay that way until the end of the week, when on July 9 there are rallies planned to commemorate the 1999 student uprising.

You may wonder how we can have strikes in Iran under a complete government crackdown. Let me quote a colleague of mine who is well versed in Islamic matters and who has seen his revolutionary visions hijacked by today's ruling elite:

"Etekaaf means to stay in a mosque, praying while fasting, praying for a particular purpose, and staying away from all belongings and work," he said.

According to my learned friend, the person performing etekaaf must stay away for a minimum of three days and must not attend to any issue, even family matters, except for emergency concerns.

"Although this practice was devised by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Imam Khomeini prescribed etekaaf for these times. He foresaw many things."

Now we can see the amalgam coming together. An Islamic practice that for many people my age and from my background was completely unknown until last week is being used as a form of "civil disobedience" to keep the momentum going.

Ominous Signs

It just gets harder and harder to sort through the facts and to predict what's going to happen next. Let me give you two examples:

About one hour ago, I received a phone call from a friend who was excited about the weather.

"Ahmad, have you noticed the bad smell in the air? Ever since yesterday afternoon when the Internet crackdown began, we have had a sandstorm in Tehran and the skies have been blanketed with brown dust. Do you think this has anything to do with recent events? Why and how did we have cloudy skies and rain during the days of demonstration in June? Are these signs? Is God telling us something?"

Or another friend, Ali, who told me his theory that, since the election, the official "Kayhan" newspaper has become a "dark prophet." What you read in "Kayhan," he said, would likely happen within a few days. "They are no longer a mouthpiece of the government but a trend setter," he said.

I decided to read the newspapers every day to see if I could find any prophecies. In small letters on page 2 of "Vatan Emrooz," an affiliate of "Kayhan," a "Brigadier Mir Feisal Bagherzadeh, the head of the foundation of the protection of the values of the sacred defense, announced that the Qol-hak Park [part of the British Embassy complex in northern Tehran] would be returned to the government of Iran soon."

A Visual Aid

Both sides are gearing up for more confrontation. Last night the nightly shouts from the rooftops of "Allah Akbar" were louder and I heard a new slogan: "Death to the oppressor shah and the supreme leader."

The government and the supreme leader want to drag foreigners and foreign countries (especially Britain and the United States) into the game and prosecute all opponents as agents of foreign powers. I am worried because the regime is turning the whole country into a prison.

A friend of mine was jailed for one week and released yesterday morning. He is a movie director so his takes on things are more visual.

"Ahmad have you seen the movie 'The Matrix'? Well, think of the Internet, satellite news channels, newspapers, telephone calls, your friends, and people in the street as feeding tubes. When you are in there [in prison] your feeding tubes are cut.

"Not only that, but misinformation, threats, physical and mental abuse, and the sheer fear of the unknown turns you into an inhuman lump of being that is more like the creature in Kafka's 'Metamorphosis.' Is that enough visual aid for you?"

That is what Iran is turning into and I am floating in the river.

Ahmad is a pseudonym for a journalist in the Iranian capital, Tehran, who contributed this piece to RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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