IRAN

Is the writing on the wall for the Iranian regime?

In Iran, depending on who you talk to, the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt mean very different things. While the regime claims the popular uprisings are a natural extension of the 1979 Islamic revolution, opposition activists are calling for Iranian leaders to follow in Tunisia’s Ben Ali’s footsteps – via graffiti in Tehran.

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In Iran, depending on who you talk to, the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt mean very different things. While the regime claims the popular uprisings are a natural extension of the 1979 Islamic revolution, opposition activists are calling for Iranian leaders to follow in Tunisia’s Ben Ali’s footsteps – via graffiti sprinkled around Tehran.

 

On February 11, supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marched to mark the 32nd anniversary of the events that led to the overthrow of the former Shah.

 

“Egyptians, Tunisians, your uprisings are just and we are with you”, the crowds were heard chanting in protests in central Tehran. Earlier, the president had declared on state television that "the message of the Islamic republic in past 32 years has been heard by the world and its mind has awakened."

 

Members of the Iranian opposition, however, see the wave of unrest sweeping across the Middle-East in an entirely different light. A Facebook page with over 30,000 members is calling for Iranians to go out in the street on Monday (February 14) to challenge the government like Tunisians and Egyptians challenged theirs.

 

Meanwhile, numerous anti-government graffiti have appeared  on the walls of Tehran likening Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Al.

 

The following video shows the graffiti, large and small, that have appeared on Tehran walls, benches, and public phones in recent weeks. They read “After Ben Ali, Saied Ali [in reference to the first name of Ali Khamenei] or “Saied Ali should go with Ben Ali!”. The longer graffiti at 0’49 minutes reads: “Subsidy cuts: the price of bread rises in southern villages [the poorer part of Iran], but not in northern Tehran! [the wealthy part of the capital].”

 

Video posted on Facebook by freedommessenger20.

“Despite the calls to protest, I don’t think many people will be out in the street. It’s too dangerous.”

Ali (not his real name) is one of our Observers in Tehran. He prefers to remain anonymous.

 

I have seen more and more of this graffiti in Tehran in recent weeks. Usually, they are quite small, hastily scribbled on a bench corner or a discreet wall – the people writing them do not want to be seen.

 

What is interesting is that, in addition to political messages, there are now economic messages too. The government cut subsidies on many basic goods like fuel, benzene and electricity in December, leading to a sharp rise in the prices for many goods. Prices of everything from meat to a loaf of bread have risen by about 30%. That, more than the political situation, is fuelling popular discontent.

 

However, although Iranians are unhappy, I don’t think many people will be out in the street on Monday. It’s just too dangerous. Our leaders and military are like animals, they don’t care how much blood they spill (unlike the army in Tunisia and Egypt).

 

Nevertheless, you can tell authorities are nervous. BBC Persian’s coverage of the protests in Egypt was censored on Thursday, and police, Bassiji [Islamist militias], and military presence in Tehran have all been reinforced ahead of the possible demonstrations on Monday 14. Even if there is a tiny protest, it will be quashed immediately.

 

Yesterday, police arrested several dozen known opposition supporters, including Taghi Rahmani, a close adviser to opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi. Karroubi himself has been placed under house arrest, not even his sons were allowed to visit him. For all their self-congratulatory rhetoric on the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the Iranian regime will take no chances letting its own population go out in the street.”

Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.