Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi have asked the Interior Ministry for permission to hold a rally on February 14
at Tehran's Azadi Square in support of the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
"In order to show solidarity with the popular movements in the region, particularly the freedom-seeking movement of the Tunisian and Egyptian people against their autocratic governments, we hereby request permit to call for a rally –- as Article 27 of the constitution authorizes – on Monday, 25 Bahman (February 14) at 3 p.m. from Imam Hossein to Azadi Square."
The authorities are not likely to approve the rally. Only state-sponsored demonstrations are allowed in the Islamic Republic, and past requests by the opposition to hold rallies have either been ignored or denied.
Yet the request puts Iranian leaders in a difficult position. They have been very vocal in their support of the popular uprisings in the Arab countries, which they see as an "Islamic awakening.”
If authorities do decide to allow the rally, then it is likely members of the Green opposition movement will turn it into an antiregime demonstration, especially at a time when many in Iran have been watching events in the region with interest and envy.
Should they decide not to issue a permit for the rally, then the decision would be in contrast with their official statements and expression of support and encouragement for the Tunisian and Egyptian people.
An Iranian opposition member who is close to the reformist camp told Persian Letters that the opposition leaders are aware that officials are likely to refuse them permission to hold the rally. He added, however, that they hope that the request will enliven an opposition movement that has come under great pressure since the 2009 antigovernment mass street protests.
"I don't think there will be a demonstration because there won't be a permit. [Musavi and Karrubi] took the step knowing that,” the opposition member said. “But I think they want to blow a fresh breath into the movement. Otherwise all the key members of the Green movement are either in jail, in exile, or out of jail on heavy bail, and are not likely to come to the streets."
Despite that, shortly after Musavi and Karrubi's request was made public, opposition websites, blogs and social networking sites were flooded with messages of support, pictures, and posters calling on Iranians to take to the streets on February 14.A February 14 page
created on Facebook is gaining members, both among Iranian expats and Iranians inside the country.
Many Iranians have changed their Facebook profile pictures to a Green picture with the date February 14 written on it.
Slogans are also circulating for what is being described by some as Iran's “Day of Rage," including: "Down with Dictators, Be it In Cairo or Tehran" and "Marg bar Dictatori, Che Shotori, Che Motori" (which translates as “death to dictatorships that are being enforced with camels or motorcycles.”) The former refers to Egypt, the latter to Basij forces in Iran that often use motorbikes.
It remains to be seen whether the online activism will translate into action. Many observers express doubt because of the repression and ongoing crackdown. Yet Iranians have shown in the past that they can be unpredictable when it comes to political decisions.
An adviser to Musavi, Amir Arjomand, told the opposition "Jaras" website that he won't make any pre-judgment on whether authorities will allow the February 14 rally, while expressing hope that the regime
will allow Iranians to show their support for the people of Tunisia and Egypt.
"Asking for permission to hold a rally is in fact a test for those who have been claiming for a long time that the Green movement is dead and doesn't exist," he said.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari