Socialist Worker

Iran’s reformist leaders retreat from protests

Repression and fear among opposition leaders has forced the movement off the streets but, says Simon Assaf, the issues driving it have not gone away

Issue No. 2158

The Iranian authorities have used heavy repression to help them weather two weeks of mass demonstrations that have rocked the country. But the contradictions inside Iran, and the discontent among ordinary people, remain unresolved.

According to the latest reports, police and state security officials have been rounding up reformists loyal to defeated presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi as well as others opposed to the regime.

There have been mass arrests of demonstrators, academics, journalists and bloggers. Many have been herded into the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Some have died while being tortured.

The women’s section of the prison is said to be overflowing – an indication of the number of women who were central to organising the movement.

The protests were sparked by allegations of fraud in the presidential elections that saw the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the winner.

The scale of the victory, and the fact that the declaration was made as votes were being counted, add weight to the feeling of wide-scale ballot rigging.

Evidence is coming to light to support this. In 50 electoral districts over 100 percent of voters were said to have cast their votes. One of the reformist candidates, who polled 17 percent in the 2005 elections, saw his vote dive to under 2 percent.

Reformers are also demanding to know why many polling stations in their strongholds ran out of ballot papers, despite the authorities printing an extra

14.5 million voting forms.


The elections sparked more than ten days of protests on a scale not seen since the 1979 revolution. Millions took to the streets.

Despite the bravery of protesters, the Basij militia loyal to Ahmadinejad got the upper hand. The paramilitary forces beat, teargassed and gunned down demonstrators.

Meanwhile many of those inside the regime who opposed Ahmadinejad began to fear that the protests could become a popular uprising.

Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mousavi’s conservative ally, has moved to distance himself from the movement.

He declared the mass demonstrations “incidents that were the results of complicated plots by obscure sources with the aim of creating separation and differences between the people and the system”.

Mousavi called off the protests. He declared that from now on he would only call “licensed” rallies, which must be cleared with the authorities with one week’s notice.

This effectively demobilises his supporters. But the anger remains.

There have been unconfirmed reports of strikes, the latest said to be among the shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar in south Tehran.

These small traders, who were once considered the bedrock of the regime, have found themselves increasingly marginalised in a system they see as having betrayed the principles of the 1979 revolution.


Meanwhile small demonstrations, spontaneous protests and public acts of mourning for those who have died continue.

The reformers and oppositionists have also found unlikely allies in the holy city of Qom.

Senior Ayatollahs, the highest authority among Shia Muslims, have condemned the crackdown.

Many inside the regime are now concerned that Ahmedinejad’s actions have seriously com-promised the notion that its power rests on popular will.

The regime has blamed “foreign forces” for the protests. But the low wage economy, mass unemployment, rampant corruption, ballot rigging and social repression that really lay at their root remain unresolved.

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Tue 30 Jun 2009, 18:25 BST
Issue No. 2158
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