The Guardian: With bone-cracking brutality, the waves of
baton-wielding police seemed to confirm what the already demoralised Iranian reform movement had been dreading:
the dawn of a new era of political repression.
Police attack peaceful protesters as hardline president prepares to take power
Robert Tait in Tehran
With bone-cracking brutality, the waves of baton-wielding police seemed to confirm what the already demoralised Iranian reform movement had been dreading: the dawn of a new era of political repression.
Several hundred pro-reformists had gathered outside Tehran University to demand the release of a jailed dissident journalist, Akbar Ganji, who is in the fifth week of a hunger strike, when they were confronted by massed ranks of officers.
In the melee, large numbers of demonstrators, including several women, were hurt. Among the injured were a former reformist MP, Mousavi Khoeini, who had a broken rib after being hit with an electric cattle prod, and Hashem Aghajari, a university lecturer and disabled veteran of the Iran-Iraq war.
Attacks on reformists by hardline pro-regime elements have been commonplace during the past few years. But as the ultra-Islamist president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, prepares to take power next month, protesters have noticed a significant development.
“In the past it was plainclothes vigilantes who were beating us, but now it was uniformed law enforcement officers,” said Abdullah Momeni, a prominent student leader. “Before, we were attacked by a hidden government, with no one taking responsibility. Now it’s all out in the open.
“They [the police”> were calling us ‘royalist pro-shah agents’ and saying we were supported by America and Iranians living in the US.”
The attack on the demonstrators has increased the nervousness of reformists, who see it as an ominous harbinger of things to come under Mr Ahmadinejad.
Amid fears of a crackdown on women’s clothing, fashion stores are offering panic sales on open-toed sandals and short, tight manteaus, the overcoats that Iranian women must wear outdoors under the country’s Islamic dress code.
Shorter, more revealing manteaus became a symbol of increasing liberalisation under the outgoing reformist president, Mohammed Khatami.
“I believe the situation for political activity will become very difficult,” said the twice-jailed Mr Momeni, who admitted being concerned about his safety. “My worst fear is that they will impose a complete political blockage and repress critical forces.
“In this way the doors to a foreign attack could be opened, because it would give the Bush administration licence to press for regime change. We appreciate the international pressure for human rights and freedom in Iran, but foreign invasion and imported democracy isn’t the answer.”
Mr Momeni’s fears are mirrored by other liberal-minded Iranians, who are not convinced by Mr Ahmadinejad’s assurances that he will tolerate criticism and refrain from rolling back the limited social freedoms introduced during Mr Khatami’s presidency.
Worried by Mr Ahmadinejad’s staunch Islamist credentials, many saw the public mourning festivals commemorating the death in the seventh century of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima – an event previously unmarked – as heralding an authoritarian religious atmosphere.
Among the better off, there are fears that the president-elect’s redistributive economic policies, which he says are necessary to combat widespread poverty, will scare off foreign investors and reduce living standards.
Reports abound of businessmen and academics preparing to flee abroad, raising concerns of a capital flight and exacerbating a brain drain of educated Iranians which reformist candidates in last month’s presidential election pledged to reverse.
“Middle-class people are very concerned,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a senior figure in the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front. “There definitely will be crackdowns, although the severity depends on the degree of resistance in society. Ahmadinejad’s most serious supporters are calling for restrictions and a blocking of the atmosphere. We won’t be able to open a new newspaper and holding free and fair elections will be difficult.
“They are announcing that they want an Islamic regime. That means they think religious regulations should be put into practice whether people like it or not. These people believe lashing young people in order to punish them is necessary. They think if they keep pushing, after a year or two, society will get used to it.
“If they are going to loosen their extremist supporters, we are going to have a very bad atmosphere, comparable to the Taliban in Afghanistan, though maybe not as bad.”
In Jam-e Jam, a western-style food mall in north Tehran frequented by young secular Iranians, two sisters, Ghazal, 29, and Naghmeh, 32, said they were unhappy about the future.
“I would be happy if they tried to close a place like this because that would provoke people to demonstrate in the streets,” said Naghmeh, wearing a short green manteau and loose hijab that revealed her fashionable hairstyle. “The Khatami years gave this system a heart bypass operation and kept people silent. But with Ahmadinejad, they might react. It’s time this country made up its mind – are we eastern or western?”
But Ghazal was unsure. “Coming to places like this is one of my biggest hobbies and entertainments,” she said. “I’m really worried that they will shut it. Then what should I do? Stay at home and become mentally ill and depressed?”