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Tehran Letter: Inside An Iranian Protest


Iranian protesters run from tear gas at an opposition rally in Tehran on July 9

Iranian protesters run from tear gas at an opposition rally in Tehran on July 9

For 10 years, July 9 has been a symbol of student resistance and defiance, the anniversary of a student uprising that shook Iran. Following the events of the last couple of weeks, everyone knew that there would be demonstrations and the most likely a ruthless crackdown.

I had been contacted by several friends and each person recommended gathering in a different part of Tehran.

Overall nearly 10 different squares had been designated as places to protest and from 4 p.m. people started gathering in groups. The aim was to disperse the guards, police, plainclothes militias, and Basijis so that they wouldn't have the numbers to attack people in full force.

I went to Vanak Square around 4:30 p.m. and met with a few friends. The presence of the heavily armed militia was putting everyone on edge.

Eventually they attacked, pushing people into traps (the militia from the side and the police and guards from the front). As soon as the first tear-gas canisters were shot into the crowds, the chants turned more bitter, from "Allah Akbar" ("God is great") to “Death to the dictator.”

As we ran into the alleys around Vanak Square a person screamed at the militia: “Why don’t you understand? Why do you attack? Do you really want confrontation with the people?”

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi weren't there, but that didn't stop people from chanting “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein." The phones were still working so I contacted other friends and they confirmed that things were the same in different parts of the city: protesters and police. The biggest crowd was supposedly in Revolution Square so we took a car and headed south.

Honking Horns And Victory Signs

As soon as we reached North Karegar Avenue we saw groups of 200-300 people marching. Drivers were honking their horns in a sign of support while others leaned out of their windows to make victory signs.

A young woman was leading the first group of demonstrators, but there were people of all ages: conservative-looking women in Islamic dress hand-in-hand with their bearded husbands walking alongside fashionably dressed young people.

An old man waved his cane in the air and yelled “death to the dictator." He looked at us and called us cowards, asking us to join the group that was moving towards the Tehran University dormitory in North Karegar Avenue, where the whole thing started in 1999.

Around 6 p.m. the mobile phones in the area went dead and as we reached Keshavarz Boulevard, the group swelled to thousands.

In the 20 minutes that followed, between the time we joined the march and until we all got beaten up, tear- and pepper-gassed, I learned more about humanity, passion, and camaraderie than I had my whole life.

People from all walks of life came together: young women threw flowers at the police; the religious and nonreligious shielded each other from the blows; people set up fires to prevent choking on tear gas; elderly ladies stood firm in front of guards twice their size.

'Hidden Imam's Reappearance'

With my eyes burning, I took refuge in a small shop. I was given a piece of paper, a copy of a page of a book that is being taught to the Basij and Revolutionary Guards. The book contained information on how to recognize the reappearance of the "Hidden Imam," who Shi'a believe to have gone into hiding as a child 1,300 years ago.

The book was published by Hojatieh, an extremist messianic Shi'a group founded in the 1950s and closely connected with Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi.

Among the detailed description of the signs that would accompany the return of the "Hidden Imam," one paragraph jumped out.

According to the book, Mahmud Ahmadinejad has all the signs and personality traits associated with the Shi'a messiah. It was then that I realized why some of the guards and plainclothes militia were prepared to so viscously attack their own countrymen without mercy.

They have been brainwashed by such books and see the demonstrators as mere obstacles blocking the return of the messiah.

As Ayatollah Yazdi has said: “We don’t care if from 70 million people only 1 million believe in our ideology. One million people are enough; we can do without the rest.”

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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