Iran General NewsIn Iran, protests gaining a radical tinge

In Iran, protests gaining a radical tinge


ImageNew York Times: In the video, one of hundreds filmed during Iran’s nationwide demonstrations on Monday, an enraged woman’s voice can be heard as a paramilitary truck runs a motorbike off the road amid a crowd of fleeing protesters. The New York Times


ImageBEIRUT, Lebanon — In the video, one of hundreds filmed during Iran’s nationwide demonstrations on Monday, an enraged woman’s voice can be heard as a paramilitary truck runs a motorbike off the road amid a crowd of fleeing protesters.

“This is the Islamic Republic!” she shouts, gesturing at the vehicle.

That message has grown increasingly common in recent protests, as demonstrators have made it clear that their target is not just President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or the disputed election that returned him to power in June, but the entire foundation of Iran’s theocracy.

During Monday’s demonstrations, the civil tone of many earlier rallies was noticeably absent. There was no sign of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, a moderate figure who supports change within the system, and few were wearing the signature bright green of his campaign.

Instead, the protesters, most of them young people, took direct aim at Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chanting, “Khamenei knows his time is up!” They held up flags from which the “Allah” symbol — added after Iran’s 1979 revolution — had been removed. Most shocking of all, some burned an image of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the revolution.

That creeping radicalization has underscored the rift within Iran’s opposition movement, analysts say, and poses a problem for its leaders, including Mr. Moussavi and the reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi.

“The longer this goes on, the more difficult will it be for the likes of Moussavi and Karroubi to sustain their current position,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who has worked for the State Department. “They have to at some point opt for regime survival or become the leaders of an opposition movement calling for more than reform.”

Some in Iran have even speculated that Mr. Moussavi and Mr. Karroubi were uncomfortable with the most recent round of protests, which were timed to coincide with a holiday commemorating the killing of three students by the shah’s forces in 1953. While they were involved with earlier protests, the opposition leaders did not organize the most recent ones. They do not appear to have attended any of them and have been silent since. It is not clear how much influence they have over the movement, which often seems to be built more around semi-spontaneous mobilizations over Facebook and Web networks than with the aid of any clear leadership.

The aggressive tone of Monday’s protests may partly reflect the fact that they took place on and around university campuses, where radical sentiment is more common.

But students have long been central to social movements in Iran, where the population is now overwhelmingly young; as Mr. Moussavi himself pointed out last weekend, 1 in 20 Iranians is a student. And this week’s protests, in at least a dozen cities and towns across Iran, were much broader than the ones that shook Iran in 1999, said Rasool Nafisi, an academic and Iran expert at Strayer University in Virginia.

Even before the latest round of protests, a number of high-ranking figures in Iran had taken note of the opposition’s trend toward radicalism. Over the weekend, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential former president, warned in a speech that “the young and the elite have been estranged from the regime” and criticized the government for using the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia against protesters.

Mr. Rafsanjani, a founder of the Islamic Republic who has provided crucial support for the opposition since the election, added pointedly that “there are some conservatives who think the people’s vote is just a decoration.” He admonished this group, saying, “If they want us to rule, we will; if they don’t, we will go.”

Other leaders have also called for a greater spirit of compromise from the government. Among them is a prominent conservative cleric, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, who noted last week in remarks to I.S.N.A., a semiofficial news agency, that a “large number” of people had voted against Mr. Ahmadinejad and that “we should sit together and negotiate.”

But the government’s response to Monday’s demonstrations was anything but conciliatory. Many witnesses said the police and Basij militia members were more aggressive than at any time since last summer, beating protesters with chains and truncheons and arresting hundreds of them in cities across Iran.

In the days after the protests, hard-liners stepped up their warnings. On Thursday, the intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, lashed out at Mr. Rafsanjani and accused him of siding with those who oppose the Islamic system, in comments reported by Fars, another semiofficial news agency.

“Shockingly, Rafsanjani expresses the same ideas as the leaders of the conspiracy,” Mr. Moslehi said.

The intelligence minister also seemed to throw down the gauntlet to moderates, accusing them of joining the assault on Ayatollah Khamenei.

“A lot of forces that were expected to support the supreme leader instead went with those who rose against the supreme leader,” he said.

One prominent conservative who has been critical of Mr. Ahmadinejad, Habibollah Asgaroladi, said the opposition had grown more “antirevolutionary,” the Khabar Online Web site reported.

Many in the opposition have echoed those warnings, from the other side.

“The regime is on a path which threatens its own survival,” declared the Iranian Writers’ Society, in a statement released Tuesday and posted on opposition Web sites. “Those who sow the wind will harvest a typhoon.”

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