Football fans chant anti-Basij slogans on May 12 in the Azadi Stadium in Tehran. Screenshot of this video.
In an astonishing turn of events, Iranian police forcefully evicted members of the hardline Basij militia from a Tehran stadium during a football match earlier this month. Even more surprising is the fact that the stadium’s audience booed the militiamen, at the risk of angering one of the most feared and brutal armed groups in the country.
The scene took place during an Asian Champion’s League football match opposing Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad and Tehran’s Persepolis on May 3. A group of several hundred Basiji stormed the stands to chant anti-Saudi slogans. This line is nothing new in Iran, whose official branch of Shiite Islam has long been at loggerheads with the Sunni form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.
Unexpectedly, however, police in the stadium intervened to stop the Basij demonstration and evict the protesters. When the militiamen resisted, a struggle broke out
, and several Basiji were badly beaten by police.
A week later, some two hundred Basiji again went on the offensive during a match between Riyadh's Al Nassr FC team and Tehran's Esteghlal. Although the police did not intervene, this time the whole stadium erupted in chants of "Basij, shame on you, get out of this stadium."
Basij supporters chant slogans against the Saudi regime in Arabic to ensure their message will be understood by everyone in the Arab world. In this footage, the Bahraini flag is being waved.
"Iranians are sick and tired of hearing the same anti-West and anti-Saudi slogans that have been chanted for the past 30 years."
Ali X is a former journalist who lives in Tehran.
I do not recall police ever attacking the Basij militia before. This militia is paid by the state to defend the Islamic regime. It is even more surprising that the police used force against them and that some Basiji were actually beaten.
This may be explained by the exceptionally tense relationship
between Iran and other Gulf countries at present, and the fact that [Iranian president Mahmud] Ahmadinejad is trying to tone things down. Before the football match, the president specifically ordered that politics should stay out of the stadium. The government is very worried that the international media, who are covering the championship, may focus on this kind of incident to discuss Iranian politics in a bad light.
The day after this incident, the Iranian parliament officially condemned the treatment of the Basiji at the hands of the police. As a result, when the Basiji launched a new tirade during a match the following week, the police did not dare intervene. But this time, the Iranian Estaghlal supporters booed, and the whole stadium began to chant anti-Basij and anti-government slogans. [In the video, the chant "Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran" can be clearly heard. This slogan is a condemnation of Tehrans’ support for Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon].
For just a few seconds, everyone could watch, live, as the whole stadium chanted anti-Basij slogans.
It’s the first time that Esteghlal supporters have reacted like this. Even the team’s coach publicly condemned the Basiji’s actions. This demonstrates that the Islamist militia is absolutely not supported by the population. I also think that Iranians are sick and tired of hearing the same anti-West or anti-Saudi slogans that have been chanted for the past 30 years, instead of seeing the government tackle the very real economic problems our country is facing.
Fans chants "Basij, shame on you! Get out of this stadium!" Video posted on YouTube by enemywhipe.
The crazy thing is that this match was broadcast live, whereas normally on Iranian television there is a one minute delay for important matches in case anything needs to be cut. The result was that, for just a few seconds, everyone could watch, live, as the whole stadium chanted anti-Basij slogans.
"This incident has to be put into the context of the battle of wills between the leaders in Iran"
Iran has two parallel power structures; that of Ahmadinejad and that of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the revolution. These two have had a very tense relationship
recently. The Basij militia obey the supreme leader. Even if they did not explicitly mention Ahmadinejad, their action could be taken as a provocation against the president in the context of this power struggle. Indeed, the fact that the parliament condemned the police violence against the Basij was not by chance, parliament is one of Khamenei’s main supporters."
Protesters chant "Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran" a slogan which condemns the authorites' support for Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Posted on YouTube by UNITY4IRAN.
On leaving the stadium, supporters continue
Post written in collaboration with Ségolène Malterre, journalist at France 24.