Death in the Dorms: Saeed Kamali Dehghan

From Guardian Online

They came in the small hours, just as the dormitories were settling down for the night. Outside, Tehran was still in ferment, a city gripped by fury two days after a “stolen election”. Inside the dorms on Amirabad Street, students were trying to sleep, though nerves were jangling; just hours earlier several had been beaten in front of the main gate to the university.

What happened next developed into one of the seminal events of Iran‘s post-election unrest: police broke locks and then bones as they rampaged through the dormitories, attacked dozens of students, carted off more than 100 and killed five. The authorities still deny the incursion took place. But the account pieced together from interviews with five of those present tells a different story.

“We were getting ready to go to sleep when we suddenly heard them breaking the locks to enter our rooms,” said one of the 133 students arrested that night. “I’d seen them earlier beating students but I didn’t imagine that they would come inside. It’s even against Iranian law.”

Forty-six students from one dorm were arrested and taken to the basement of the interior ministry on nearby Fatemi Street. It was there, on the building’s upper floors, that the vote-counting and – claim opposition supporters – the rigging, was going on. Another 87 were taken to a security police building on Hafez Street. Students spoke of torture and mistreatment.

Five died: they were Fatemeh Barati, Kasra Sharafi, Mobina Ehterami, Kambiz Shoaee and Mohsen Imani – buried the following day in Tehran’s famous Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, reportedly without their families being informed. Their names were confirmed by Tahkim Vahdat, a student organisation.

Witnesses said the two women and three men were repeatedly beaten on the head with electric batons. Their families were warned not to talk about their children or hold funerals – like the parents of Neda Soltan, whose face became synonymous with the protest movement after she was filmed being shot dead in the street.

Under Iranian law, police, revolutionary guards and other militia are not allowed to enter universities – a legacy of the 1999 student riots. Until last month those riots were the most serious unrest the country had seen since the Islamic revolution.

But with the country convulsed by protests at the 12 June elections, there was no holding back that Sunday night. “The police threw teargas into the dorms, beat us, broke the windows and forced us to lie on the ground,” one student recalled. “I had not even been protesting but one of them jumped on me, sat on my back and beat me. And then, while pretending to search me for guns or knives, he abused me sexually. They were threatening to hang us and rape us.”

Another described the scene: “The riot police stood in two lines, formed a tunnel with their shields as its roof, and made us run through it again and again while beating us and banging on their shields. “One of my roommates had a broken leg but they still made him run.”

Others spoke of similar experiences at the hands of the Basij (paramilitary militia). “The Basiji was on my back and told me: ‘I have not fucked anyone for the past seven years, you cute boy! I’ll show you what I can do to you when we arrive.’ They were harassing us and claiming we insulted them or the supreme leader.”

Before being taken away on a bus the students were made to stand in front of a dormitory block with plastic bags over their heads, their hands bound with plastic ties – known there as “Israeli handcuffs”.

“I had a second to recognise that it was the main building of the interior ministry in Fatemi Street,” said another student, weeping. “I just couldn’t believe it, there were senior politicians, members of parliament and investigators on the upper floors and we were in the basement. I have no doubt that they were busy rigging the votes upstairs.”

One detainee was abused by guards after he lost control of his bladder. Hours later they were given bread and cheese that had been placed on a dirty floor and warned they would be punished if they refused to eat. A Basiji called Ali filmed them with his mobile phone, ordering the captives to say “I am a donkey”.

Injuries were ignored. One student who had lost an eye after being hit by a plastic bullet was not given medical attention. “We were begging them to transfer these two who were suffering more than others to the hospital but they just said ‘let them die’,” a witness said.

Later, gas was pumped into the cells when all the students were being held in the security police building. Their ordeal ended 24 hours later when the president of Tehran University, Farhad Rahbar, and Alireza Zakani, a Tehran MP, spoke to the detainees. Rahbar told them that he had given the police permission to enter the dormitories to control the situation – but denied it a few days later.

Before being released the students were ordered to put on fresh clothes supplied by the police. “They didn’t want there to be any evidence of what had happened,” one of them said. “But what’s stronger than 133 students who were there, who saw everything, and suffered?”

Leaflet for the June 26 'Justice for Iranian Workers' Demonstration

This is the leaflet that Hopi activists gave out at today’s demonstration called by the the International Trade Union Confederation, International Transport Workers Federation, Education International, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.

june26protests

june26protests

Iran: first round to Ahmadinejad?

Workers must lead
Workers must lead

Permanent Revolution and HOPI Steering Committee member Stuart King on the largest period of social unrest in Iran since 1979.

Following the announcement of “an overwhelming victory” for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 12 June Presidential election and the defeat of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, up to a million people poured onto the streets in a series of protest demonstrations. For almost a week the capital and the regime was paralysed as masses of people marched against what they saw as a stolen election.

The demonstrations, which centred on Tehran but also took place in some other major cities, united the many opposition forces in Iran. Students and women played a prominent role but they were joined by workers, the unemployed, small traders and even some clerics. The demonstrations continued for several days and were subject to increasing repression.

On Monday 15 June seven people were killed by the Basij militia, an auxiliary of the Revolutionary Guards and a power base of President Ahmadinejad. Student dormitories and universities were attacked and students beaten without mercy. Hundreds of leading oppositionists and academics were arrested, often in the middle of the night, and held for short periods.

Despite this repression the mass movement developed its own means of organisation and defence. The use of SMS, blogging and twitter helped to organise the demonstrations against a powerful dictatorship. Indeed, so scared was the regime that the night of the election announcement the government had the entire mobile phone system in Iran closed down in an attempt to prevent mobilizations against the regime.

Continue reading Iran: first round to Ahmadinejad?

A Different Regime

Through his election coup Ahmadinejad has initiated a military-style government, argues Mehdi Kia

The Islamic regime in Iran has entered an irreversible turning point. In the first instance, on the morning of June 13 2009 it was fundamentally different from what existed before. At the same time the events of the last two weeks have freed the opposition from much of its illusions in the possibility of reform within the regime. The way is now open for moving toward new horizons. Let me explain.

The regime that rose out of the revolution of 1979, after the bloody suppression of any democratic content, was essentially a government by a particular section of the Shia clergy who believed in the concept of velayate faghih – put simply, the absolute rule of a supreme leader as a “just and knowledgeable religious jurist”. The mullahs who refused to accept this interpretation of Islam were marginalised and excluded from the corridors of power. The constitution of the Islamic regime gave the faghih supreme and absolute power over every decision-making apparatus of the state. The mantle of this all-powerful supreme leader was naturally taken up by ayatollah Khomeini.

It must be remembered, however, that this regime rose out of a revolution which indisputably incorporated virtually the entire population of the country. Hence a parallel structure was created where the executive president, the majles (parliament) and later the municipal councils were chosen by elections.

But the elected organs could not make any decisions that were not acceptable to the leadership. The council of guardians, a body appointed by the supreme leader, was set above them to vet all candidates for elective office, and all the laws passed by the majles. The prime role of elections was to provide legitimacy for the non-elected power structures. Hence the frantic efforts at every election to get the people out to vote.

Thus elections in Iran are not free in any accepted sense of the word, since no candidate, nor any legislation, can pass the hurdle of the unelected council of guardians that is not acceptable to the leader. But elections for such organs as the majles and the presidency had an important subsidiary role. An understanding of this role is important if we are to understand the meaning of the coup d’etat orchestrated by Ahmadinejad, in alliance with a handful of clergy.

The Shia clergy is by its very essence a fragmented entity. This arises from the concept of taqlid (emulation) – which, simply put, means that any Shia believer can follow whichever mullah that takes his or her fancy. In essence the Shia clerical establishment is not hierarchical, but multifocal. It has multiple, and potentially infinite, centres of taqlid, each with its own unique collection of followers. Add to this the complexity of adapting the laws of a religion laid down over a millennium ago to a modern industrial state, and you can see the setting for the constant splitting of the ruling ayatollahs into factions, at almost every major decision-making juncture.

Elections allowed the different factions of the clergy believing in the rule of the faqih to test out the legitimacy of their solutions, and by inference their position in the ruling hierarchy, by reverting to the popular vote. Thus the factions would fight over the popular vote and would use this to manoeuvre in the corridors of power. Hence the regime that Khomeini bestowed on the country was in no way democratic for the population of Iran, but allowed a large amount of freedom, indeed a form of internal democracy, within the ruling clergy.

Interestingly the people of Iran, deprived of any real voice in government, have used the rivalry between the factions to manoeuvre and obtain some breathing space. They did this alternatively by their vote or the boycott of that vote. One can only understand the massive turnout to elect Khatami in 1997, and the massive boycott of the majles elections in 2004 in this light.1 The same can be said of the massive turnout in the present elections. They also very astutely used the fight between various factions as a defensive shield behind which they fought for their own democratic goals.
Ahmadinejad’s coup

That it was a well planned coup and not something concocted at the spur of the moment can be seen from two observations. Firstly the chorus of Revolutionary Guard commanders who congratulated Ahmadinejad on his certain victory and gave their support for it in the weeks before the election. And, second, by the fact that the official Fars News website declared victory for Ahmadinejad two hours before the polls closed, with a percentage of votes which remained unchanged until the final count.

Ahmadinejad orchestrated his previous victory four years ago like a military operation.2 This time he announced it like a victorious Caesar, even before the results of the battle could possibly be known. That was no coincidence. He was declaring to the world, and to the Iranian people, that the rule of the ayatollahs is over. The rule of the military-security machinery has begun.

What Ahmadinejad engineered, in alliance with a large section of the security apparatus and a handful of mullahs, was to essentially deprive the clergy of their ability to use elections to increase the power base of their particular factions inside the regime. This was not a flash in the pan. The election coup had been systematically organised over the last 12-15 years. It began with mobilising and the methodical winning of all electable and non-electable organs – starting with the mayorships of major cities (Ahmadinejad is an ex-mayor of Tehran), the municipal council elections, the majles and the presidency of Ahmadinejad in 2005.

In parallel the military-security apparatus became a major economic force in the country.3 The coup on June 12 was the logical next, and last, step in a long process by which those that called themselves the osulgaran (‘principled’) have been catapulted into undisputed power. The mass protest by the clergy4 can be explained by the fact that they have been unceremoniously thrown out of the power structure of Iran.

The regime that took power last week showed its fangs early. Not only did the thugs it unleashed beat up protestors, but they smashed their way into the homes of people who had given them sanctuary. They forced their way into university dormitories across the country to wreck everything in sight and indiscriminately beat the students. The arrest of politicians, journalists, students and demonstrators is taking place daily.

The overall aim of the osulgaran faction, to which Ahmadinejad belongs, is to do away with the factional nature of the Iranian regime and have a top-down, unified, military-style government with a population which supports it unequivocally and by acclamation without being allowed to organise in any form. This is to be a united country, under an undivided, single and monolithic regime, preparing for war, with an economy that reflects those aims. The unorganised ‘people’ are to be mobilised when and if necessary to act as fodder for that war.

You can glimpse this structure in the victory speech made by Ahmadinejad a few days after the election. There he dismissed and derided political parties and appealed to the people to stay on the scene to defend the country.

A capitalist regime, using extreme nationalist populist slogans, ruling the country through thugs and being acclaimed by a public not permitted to organise in any form other than what is dictated from above, and with militaristic, adventurist ambitions! Have we not seen this before?
The people

The second consequence of the election coup is to free the Iranian people once and for all of any illusions as to the ability of the regime to reform. The final explosive demise of the election escape valve releases the people of Iran from the grip of, or hopes for, a reformist option.

They showed that understanding when they defied calls by the front runner in the election, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, to stay at home. Indeed, not for the first time we saw the spectacle of the reformists running after the people so as not to be thrown aside. Both Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi had to make an appearance in that and subsequent demonstrations, clearly desperate to regain the initiative. And at each step they have struggled to keep up with the popular anger.

The strident call of supreme leader Ali Khamenei for suppression of the demonstrations, the warning that any bloodshed would be laid at the door of the reformists and the subsequent savage attacks on street protests will further push the reformist leaders into the margins. The road is now open for the entire structure to be challenged from below.

This will be a difficult road. The reasons are not hard to discern. The regime has shown that it has no difficulty in mounting savage repression. This is an ideological regime, organised on fascist lines and fighting for its life. It has a well organised and financed body of Revolutionary Guards, as well as the voluntary bassij to do its deeds. While both of these will undoubtedly have within them large sections who are sympathetic to the popular movement, it is unwise to underestimate the power of ideology and even more the hierarchical structure of these organisations making the bassij foot-soldier far more likely to obey the orders to shoot than the conscript army of the shah.

Moreover the leaders of the regime are children of a revolution, an eight-year war with Iraq and a 30-year suppression of any popular protest. They did this efficiently in 1997, when several cities erupted; they did it again when they bloodily put down the student movement four years ago. They have been organised on a national scale with the sole purpose of keeping the population in order. They are used to repression and have had a lot of practice at imposing it.

On the other side the people are leaderless. They have been denied the right to organise in any meaningful way for over half a century, with only brief interludes of real freedom. The systematic, bloody repression of the left and all progressive forces has left its mark. Many of the exiled organisations are atrophied and are totally divorced from the country. Within Iran a new left has undoubtedly emerged, but it has yet to organise in any effective form, or even to polish its ideological understanding of the dynamics of Iranian society and the world. The working class has been in a life and death struggle with daily survival in an economy that has been in a spiral of decline.

This setting does not favour the development of working class organisations that can politically challenge the regime. Yet there are tactics that the opposition to the regime can adapt which will allow it to overcome its weakness.
Tactics

In the face of certain savage oppression, and in the process of producing organisation, the struggle has to utilise tactics that take its weaknesses into account and play on its strengths. Any tactic that paralyses the regime yet puts the people out of reach of the security apparatus is more likely to succeed. Already youth on motorcycles have been using these tactics to get news of street battles to different parts, drawing the security forces into side alleys, where they become fragmented, disappearing into people’s homes when under attack, chanting “Death to the dictator” from rooftops at night, and making intelligent use of SMS, email, twitter, Facebook, etc to communicate with each other and get their message abroad.

Among other tactics that can be used are mass strikes – or, to be more accurate, stay-at-homes: ie, unofficial strikes. This keeps protestors away from the forces of repression, but paralyses the regime by depriving it of its workforce. As we go to press, there has indeed been a call for a stayaway on June 23 and for three days of mourning between June 23-25. Despite all that has been written about the Iranian revolution, it was this tactic, and not massive street demonstrations, that broke the back of the shah’s regime. Moreover, any such act of mass civil disobedience is difficult to suppress.

The organisational deficit of the protestors can be turned into an advantage by concentrating on local neighbourhood networks that will be much less easy to destroy than a central leadership. This form of organisation has the added advantage of being excellent teaching grounds for the experience of direct democracy. The highly creative use by the youth in Iran of modern means of communication allows for coordination of protest – the aim being to paralyse the state. Finally we have the age-old Iranian tactic of sanctuary – in an avowedly Islamic regime it is very difficult to attack people taking sanctuary in a mosque or shrine. Thus one can use the weakness of the regime to strengthen the opposition.

The battle will be long and bloody. Yassamine Mather has already highlighted some of the difficulties that lie ahead.5 However, we are on the slow but upward spiral to an Iran where different groups can gather and organise around their specific needs. And where we can have the kind of democracy that allows the working people of the country, those not owning the means of production, to organise towards a truly democratic socialism.
Notes

1. See Middle East Left Forum: www.iran-bulletin.org/IBMEF_1_word%206%20files/Election%20to%207th%20majles_with%20pict.htm
2. See A Mehrdad and M Kia, ‘Regime crisis and the new conservatives’ Weekly Worker September 8 2005; and Middle East Left Forum: www.iran-bulletin.org/IB-MEF-3/presidentialelections_edited.htm
3. See A Mehrdad and M Kia op cit for a detailed discussion of the rise of the neo-conservatives.
4. The majma johaniune mobarez (Association of Combatant Clerics) was one of the first organs to protest at the coup. On June 22 it published an announcement that challenged the supreme leader outright – a totally unprecedented phenomenon.
5. Yassamine Mather, ‘Death to the Islamic republic’ Weekly Worker June 18; and also on www.iran-bulletin.org

New Rally planned in Iran

We reprint this article from Al-Jazeera English as it provides good information on unfolding developments within the opposition…

Middle East Iran protesters plan new rally

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated main opposition candidate in Iran’s presidential election, have called for a protest outside parliament in Tehran in defiance of a government ban. The rally was scheduled for 4pm (13:30 GMT) on Wednesday in one of the capital’s main squares after the Guardian Council, Iran’s highest legislative body, said that the results of the disputed poll would not be annulled. The planned gathering will be a key test of whether a government crackdown, which has left at least 19 people dead, has quelled the angry demonstrations that followed the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president.

basiijnewAlthough streets protests have diminished since police and pro-government militias used tear gas, batons and water cannon against protesters on Saturday, calls for further protests among supporters of Ahmadinejad’s opponents have continued. Cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) were again heard across Tehran overnight, a symbolic gesture echoing a tactic used during the Islamic revolution in 1979. Nazenin Ansari, the diplomatic editor of the Kahylan newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the fall in numbers gathering to protest was understandable given the “degree of repression on the streets”. “Without a doubt, although there are not millions gathering on the streets because of the indiscrimante fire and repression, this is going to transform,” she said. “In provinces, where people were before gathering in universities, in recent days were are seeing people gathering in main squares.”

Complaints withdrawn

Mousavi, a former prime minister, and the two other candidates in the election have all filed complaints to the Guardian Council about alleged problems with the June 12 vote. But on Wednesday, Mohsen Rezaie, the conservative candidate who finished third in the election, withdrew his objections. “I see it as my responsibility to encourage myself and others to control the current situation,” the official IRNA news agency reported Rezaie as saying in a letter to the Guardian Council. “Therefore I announce that I’m withdrawing my submitted complaints,” the former head of the Revolutionary Guard said. Rezai had originally complained that he had won more votes than he had been credited with when the interior ministry declared the results. “I think he wants to remain in the framework of the Islamic republic – the framework that conservative newspapers are trying to push Mousavi and Karroubi out of,” Al Jazeera’s Alireza Ronaghi, reporting from Tehran, said. “Mohsen Rezaie intends to stay close to the core of the Islamic republic and shwo his allegiance to the supreme leader by obeying his call that the elections are over.”

‘No major fraud’

Despite Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, agreeing to extend the deadline for filing election complaints by five days, a spokesman for the Guardian Council has said that there will not be a fresh vote. Iran unrest online Social media is playing a crucial role in Iran’s crisis. “If a major breach occurs in an election, the Guardian Council may annul the votes that come out of a particular affected ballot box, polling station, district or city,” Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei was quoted as saying by Press TV, an Iranian government-funded station. “Fortunately, in the recent presidential election we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election. Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place,” he said.

Mehdi Karroubi, who came in fourth in the poll, according to official results, has called for Iranians to hold ceremonies on Thursday to mourn those killed in the protests. His call came after Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a dissident religious leader who is under effective house arrest, announced three days of national mourning from Wednesday. Montazeri was once named successor to Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, but fell out with the founder of the Islamic Republic shortly before his death in 1989. Barack Obama, the US president, on Tuesday repeated his remarks that the world was watching events in Iran and said that how Tehran handles dissent from its own people “will help shape the tone, not only for Iran’s future, but also its relationship to other countries”.

Mass protests in Iran: Death to the Islamic Republic! Victory to the Iranian people!

Yassamine Mather, Hopi chair, looks at the social upheaval englufing Iran and the tasks of internationalists

The election campaign of the four presidential candidates was largely ignored by the majority of the population until early June, when a series of televised debates triggered street demonstrations and public meetings. Ironically it was Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s fear of losing that prompted him to make allegations of endemic corruption against some of the leading figures of the religious state, including former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, former interior minister and adviser to supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei.

In doing so he crossed one of the red lines of the Islamic regime. Once that was done, the floodgates were open. The language used by all three of his opponents – Moussavi, Karroubi and Rezaii – became more colourful. As Ahmadinejad continued to rail against 20 years of corruption and political and economic interference by the “economic mafia” associated with important figures, including Rafsanjani (currently chairman of the ‘assembly of experts’ charged with electing the supreme leader), his opponents wasted no time in using equally strong language to condemn his own presidency, pointing out the worsening economic situation, mass unemployment and 25% inflation, as well as Iran’s “embarrassing international profile”.

28th Khordad-June 18th-08In response to these accusations, Ahmadinejad’s election campaign made some historic claims. Apparently he is the man who brought Islam to Venezuela and Latin America! He has secured a written apology from Blair (prompting a denial by the foreign office). And he is the only president who is so feared by the US that it has been forced to drop regime-change plans for Iran. At times Iranians must have thought their president and his supporters lived in a parallel universe.

In just 10 days the two opposed factions between them managed to expose every unflattering aspect of the 30-year-old Islamic regime. No-one in opposition could have done a better job – no-one else had such in-depth knowledge of the levels of corruption and incompetence prevalent among the inner circles of power.

It was unprecedented for the authorities, including Ahmadinejad’s government, to tolerate the various election gatherings and slogans. But the eyes of the world were now on Iran and the regime put on a show: Bassij militia and Islamic guards turned a blind eye to women who failed to adhere to Islamic dress code for the duration of the campaign. Comrades and relatives inside Iran were telling us the atmosphere was like the pre-revolution days of 1979. Political discussions were held at every street corner, political songs of the late 70s became fashionable amongst a generation born long after the February uprising.

Those who had advocated a boycott of the elections were constantly reminded that it was the mass boycott of the 2005 presidential elections that had allowed Ahmadinejad to come to power. Consequently many life-long opponents of the regime reluctantly decided to vote, if only to stop the re-election of the incumbent. On polling day the regime’s unelected leaders basked in the euphoria of a large turnout, yet they were already facing a dilemma: how to keep control in the post-election era.

If Mir-Hossein Moussavi did become president, those who voted for him would expect serious change and the supreme leader was well aware that neither he nor the new president would be able to meet expectations. That is why he and the senior religious figures around him decided to do what most dictators do: rig the elections and declare Ahmadinejad the winner. Nothing new in such measures; but the supreme leader and his inner circle made two major miscalculations: they underestimated the anger and frustration of the majority of the population; and they failed to realise that the high turnout could only mean a massive ‘no’ to Ahmadinejad and, by proxy, to the entire Islamic order.

Added to this was the sheer incompetence of the vote-rigging. In previous presidential elections, the vote had been announced province by province. This time the results came in blocks of millions of votes. Throughout the night the percentage of votes going to all four candidates changed very little. It seemed obvious that the interior ministry was playing with the figures to make sure the overall percentages remained constant.

Early on Saturday morning, the supreme leader congratulated Ahmadinejad, which was seen as official endorsement of the results. But by Sunday afternoon, under the pressure of impromptu demonstrations, he was forced to reverse this decision, and called on the council of guardians to investigate the other candidates’ complaints. By the afternoon of Monday June 15, with a massive show of force by the opposition – over a million demonstrators on the streets – he was instructing the council of guardians to call for a recount. By Tuesday there was talk of new elections.

Had our supreme leader studied the fate of that other Iranian dictator, the shah, he would have known that at a time of great upheavals, as in 1979, once the dictator hesitates and dithers he loses momentum, and the thousands on the street become more confident.

The slogans and militancy of demonstrators in Tehran and other Iranian cities is today the driving force in Iran – and not only for the supreme leader and his entourage. These slogans also dictate the actions of the so-called ‘official opposition’. The meek, scared Moussavi, whose initial response to the vote-rigging was to seek a reversal of the results by the “centres of Shia religious guidance”, suddenly gained courage and appeared at Monday’s protests. After promising that he would protect people’s votes, he could not ignore the tens of thousands who on Saturday and Sunday were shouting, “Moussavi, return my vote”, “What have you done with our vote?” and even one of the students’ slogans, “Death to those who compromise”.

28th Khordad-June 18th-06There can be no doubt that Ahmadinejad’s press conference and victory rally on Sunday played a crucial role in increasing the size of the anti-government demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday. As riots were taking place all over the capital, the reference to Iran as a “very stable country” reminded many of the shah’s claims that Iran was an island of tranquillity, less than a year before he was overthrown. In response to a reporter’s question about protests in Tehran, the president referred to his opponents as “dust and tiny thorns”. A comment that he will regret forever, as the huge crowds on Monday and Tuesday kept taunting him.

Demonstrators in Tehran are also shouting slogans adapted from those of 1979, often prompted by leftists and students: “Tanks, guns, Bassij are not effective any more”, “Death to the dictator”, “Death to this regime that brings nothing but death”. Clearly the supreme leader’s standard response of bussing in supporters from the countryside to put up a well-orchestrated show of force (as they did for Sunday’s and Tuesday’s pro-Ahmadinejad rallies) does not work any more. Sunday’s event failed miserably, with reporters claiming that many of those arriving by bus could only speak Arabic. By Tuesday some of Ahmadinejad’s non-Iranian supporters arrived at the rally with yellow Hezbollah flags. As Mr Ahmadinejad has no supporters amongst Sunni Arabs in the Khouzestan province of Iran, if these reports are correct one could guess that participants at the state-organised rallies included the thousands of Shias invited in June every year from Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan to participate in the events commemorating the anniversary of the death of Khomeini.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the next few days. However, one can be certain that nothing will be the same again. No-one will forget the fact that both factions crossed many ‘red lines’, exposing each other’s corruption, deceit and failure. No-one will forget the obvious vote-rigging that makes a mockery of ‘Islamic democracy’ – when Moussavi called it a “charade” he was only echoing the sentiments of the masses.

On Tuesday another presidential contender, Mehdi Karroubi, said: “This week ‘the republic’ was taken out of the Islamic regime”. No-one will forget that the immediate response of the regime to peaceful protests was to arrest, beat up and shoot opponents. No-one will forget that at least seven people have been killed in these protests.

There is little doubt that Moussavi /Karoubi/Khatami and Mohsen Rezaii will look for compromises and will ultimately sell out. However, these protests have gained such momentum that already in Tehran people compare the plight of Moussavi (if he does become president) with that of Shapour Bakhtiar – the last prime minister appointed by the shah, whose government lasted a few short weeks before the revolution overthrew the entire regime.

However, before the British left gets too excited and starts sending its blueprints for revolution to Iran, let us be clear about some facts: working class organisation remains very weak during this crucial period; most of the Iranian left is as confused and divided as it was in 1979, but now, of course, it is much smaller. Repression against labour activists and leftist students is harsher than ever.

Yet students’ and workers’ organisations have been very active in the anti-government demonstrations and they have managed to change some of the slogans of the protests, turning anti-Ahmadinejad slogans into slogans challenging the entire Islamic ‘order’. There was talk of a one-day general strike. However the organisations discussing this decided to try to improve the left’s intervention in current events before contemplating such ambitious calls. We should not expect miracles, but one can see that unlike the Iranian exile left (some of whom have benefited from the largesse of organisations offering regime-change funds, while others have tailed rightwing-controlled international trade unions) the left inside Iran has been conscious of the revolutionary potential of this period and, given its relative weakness, is doing what it can to make an independent, principled, but systematic intervention. That is precisely why the authorities’ attacks on university campuses, where the left is strongest, have been so severe; and why we must do all in our power to support comrades in Iran.

When it comes to predicting Iranian politics, no one can claim to have a crystal ball. However, it is reassuring to see that the unique position Hands Off the People of Iran took – against imperialism, against the threat of war and for the overthrow of Iran’s Islamic regime – has been vindicated by the events of the last two weeks. Imagine what would have happened if during the last year we had witnessed a military strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear industry, or various US plans for regime change from above had materialised. Political Islam in Iran and the region would have been the undisputed winner of such a scenario. We were right to argue that positive change can only happen from below and from inside Iran and we will continue to maintain this position.

28th Khordad-June 18th-04At the same time, these events have exposed the ignorance of groups such as the Socialist Workers Party, whose leaders kept informing us about the virtues of Islamic democracy in Iran. We have seen the selection of candidates by an unrepresentative nominated council of guardians; the role of the supreme leader in inventing the results of an election; and the brutal repression of legal and official opponents. If that is what the regime can do to its own, one can imagine the kind of treatment reserved for its opponents.

But even under the threat of beatings and executions, an overwhelming majority of the Iranian people have shown that they do not believe SWP-type apologia. No-one in their right mind should ever make such claims again. Hopi’s judgement was correct and we did not compromise our principles; that is why, now that the Iranian working class is in need of international solidarity more than ever, we are in a good position to help deliver it.