The opposition group Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope issued a defiant call for protests to commemorate the 7th day of the martyrdom of two students killed during the 25th Bahman (Feb.14) demonstrations. For the first time the reformist group's call to protest was asking for "an end to religious dictatorship."
1st Esfand (Feb.20) was the test to see if the Iranian opposition movement could, now that it had been resurrected, maintain enough momentum to bring about the fall of the formidable Islamist Regime. A regime that is independent, oil-rich, and brutal is much more difficult to topple than a puppet dictatorship like Egypt or Tunisia's that depends entirely on the good will of the super power that pulls its strings.
The regime used all her propaganda tools to try to belittle and dismiss the 25thBahman and 1st Esfand protests. Both days were painted as a small disturbance by a group of foreign-funded seditionist, by the state run media and regime pundits. Members of Parliament took to the podium of the Majlis and chanted "death to Mousavi and death to Karoubi." Even the two deaths of the students were blamed on the 'terrorist' group MKO (this is group is hated by most people in Iran on all sides of the political spectrum because it sided with Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran). One of the dead students, the government claimed, had been a Bassij militia member and not a member of the opposition. His funeral was high jacked by the regime and his brother was made to repent after denying on VOA (Voice of America Persian TV) that his brother, a Sunni Kurd and theatrical arts student, had ever been a Bassij. The shenanigans of the regime regarding a dead protester angered the opposition. Some of the majority of youth, who make up the movement, made calls on Persian language and social networking sites for taking steps to defend themselves and not going to protest 'empty handed.'
Leading up to 1st Esfand the regime increased its choke on Mousavi and Karoubi cutting off all visits, access to telephone, computers, and contact with the outside world. On Friday, the prayer leader, senior hard-line cleric, Ayatollah Jannati declared Mousavi and Karoubi as already dead. He accused them of treason and sedition but he said that the best way to deal with them was to lock them up inside their homes and forget them. The regime, so well-versed in the politicization of the Shiite cult of martyrs, is careful not to do anything that would turn the opposition leaders into instant heroes.
By Sunday an Iron wall was erected at the entrance of the Mousavis residence, their personal guards were replaced with security forces loyal to the regime suggesting that this was going to be a long detention. With that wall the regime displayed its determination to clamp down on the opposition, oblivious to the historic symbolism of another 'iron curtain' that not too long ago fell.
The evening before 1st Esfand cries of Allah Akbar filled the skies of Tehran and did not die down till dawn. According to contacts in Iran it was one of the loudest and longest sessions of Allah Akbar chanting that have become a form of nocturnal protest since the 2009 Election Uprising.
The news of the defection of a diplomat at the IRI Consulate in Milan on Sunday morning could not have come at a better time for the opposition or Green movement.
According to opposition websites and eye witness accounts,on Sunday morning there was a massive deployment of security forces and Bassij militia throughout Tehran. But despite the intimidations of the past days and the tense security atmosphere in Tehran, large number of protesters showed up in the streets of Tehran and some other cities like, Shiraz (where one person was allegedly killed and fifty were arrested according to human rights groups), Isfahan, and Rasht.
The numbers are difficult to ascertain in Iran where all but state-approved reporters are banned, but most agree that in Tehran the protesters were in the thousands spread out in different spots of the city. The clamp down was brutal, with the use of motorcycle forces with clubs, security forces shooting tear gas canisters and vans ready to take away the many arrested. There was one reported death at 7th Tir Sq. and many injured and arrested in Tehran. The arrest, for a brief period, of Faezeh Hashemi, the former president Rafsanjani's daughter, according to state run media for leading crowds with 'provocative' chants, gave the day an added stature showing that the protest may be as broad in scope as it had been in 2009 when Faezeh Hashemi was first harassed for her vocal criticism of 'vote rigging' by the government. On days when going out on the street bear terrible risk anyone who joins the protest aquires revolutionary stature. If Mousavi and Karoubi were loyal reformist opposition before 25th Bahman, there is no doubt that their call for protest and subsquent house arrest has turned them into revolutionaries. Others like Rafsanjani himself and Mohsen Rezai, the conservative candidate who showed showed some fleeting signs of dissent after the 2009 elections, once again showed their colors by voicing their allegiance to the regime.
1st Esfand (Feb.20) was big enough to show that 25th Bahman (Feb.14) was not a single outburst inspired by the events in Tunis and Egypt but rather the revival of an opposition movement that continues to show signs of resilience. Iranians are pragmatists and unlike their Arab neighbors have recent experience with revolution. They will not risk life and limb unless they are sure that they are on the winning side. 1st Esfand was a step in the winning direction for the opposition in Iran.