Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Expression of Dirt and Dust

by Elizabeth Flock
June 24, 2009 7:05pm

On the streets of central Tehran, 1000 protestors continue to demonstrate, ignoring teargas, batons, and government warnings. Throughout the world, a graphic video of the murder of a girl named Neda, the face of the protests, goes viral. And from the highest legislative power in Iran, the Guardian Council, any annulment of the presidential election is ruled out.

Today, the most widespread street protests in Iran since the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution, sparked by the results of the presidential election between Ahmadinebad and Mousavi, rage on.

It started on the evening of June 12, after Ahmadinebad was announced the resounding winner, with 70 percent of the vote. Thousands of Iranians who had voted for Mousavi smelled fraud and took to the streets.

Kourosh Adib, a 32-year-old living in Tehran who supports Mousavi, writes to me from the city that night: “I just came back home. There is marshal law in Tehran, everyone in the streets, burning flames and riot police and plain cloth militia beating people up. We saw millions of people honking their car horns, waving flags, and shouting ‘Down with the dictator!’ And they have arrested most of the reformist political figures, and Mousavi, the righteous winner of the election, is under house arrest.”

While Ahmadinebad is known to be supported by members of the militia and government, part of the rural population, and the elderly, thousands of Iranian demonstrators are saying a 70 percent majority vote is just not possible. The Guardian Council admitted today that 3 million votes were ineligible, but maintains the overall election was valid.

It’s difficult to get facts straight because much of the communication has been cut off. On the night Adib first emails, cell phone and SMS are down and most Internet sites including Facebook and youtube are not available.

Maryam Aghdami, who is Iranian but now lives in the Netherlands, has cousins in Iran who have sent updates. But she says it is difficult to get information or know the truth because of the severe news censorship. “The society has been polarized, and this is exactly what the government wants. People cannot trust each other anymore to speak about political issues and even ask for help.”

As of today, email and messenger services were working only on and off. Some Iranians were able to get through to the outside world using anti-filter software. Others twittered to gather numbers for continuing demonstrations. (For example,

Today marks 11 days since the election results, the longest protests in the memory of the younger generations. “The streets are calm but heavy”, Adib writes today.

The streets are heavy with many things. Heavy with the death of Neda, the most publicly gruesome death of the number-not-known that have been killed. Heavy with the presence of militia and guards, many who are not Persian but were brought in from Lebanon or Palestine, “since it's never easy for an Iranian police to open fire on his fellow countrymen and women like that,” a cabdriver tells Adib. Heavy with a seemingly-fraudulent election that no one can really be sure of.

And heavy with the last word of the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, who said that Ahmadinejad’s victory was legitimate, and that the protests would now be stifled. The Iranian people do not question the Ayatollah.

At least not before. But on Saturday, the protesters turned their wrath from Ahmadinejad to the Supreme Leader himself. “These days the people are shouting ‘Down with Khamenai’,” says Adib.

Yet neither Adib nor a 27-year-old Iranian engineer living in Mumbai, who wishes not to be named for safety reasons, thinks the leadership will change. “They will NEVER back down from their initial statement, especially now that the big dictator has put his signature and support,” says Adib.

The engineer, who is moving back to Iran from India today because a work transfer, talks to me about going back to Tehran over the phone last night. Just listening to the lack of energy in his voice convinces me real change is impossible.

“It’s going nowhere. I’m not scared to go back there. I’m just sorry. This is my hometown, my home country. In the election, we were just choosing between bad and worse, and that won’t change. I won’t go to the street and fight with police. There is no point,” he says.

Last week, Ahmadinejad called those who did go to the street and fight police an “expression of dirt and dust”. Now, they have taken up the slogan: “You are the real dust, you are the enemy of this land.”

Enemy or not, Ahamdinejad looks set to remain their president. The Ayatollah and the Guardian Council have uttered the last word. And the demonstrations are already lessening.

It was a powerful step toward Iran’s democracy, but was there never any hope for the demonstrators?

The engineer pauses and thinks for a long moment, then says, “No, there wasn’t. Because they won’t stop until they control everything, even if they have to kill a lot people.”

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