Today, after a week of massive protests by hundreds of thousands in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, the 'Supreme Leader' of Iran's government, the Ayatollah Khameni, gave a 'sermon' at Friday prayers at Tehran University. The opposition protesters had demanded a new election for the country's President; if Khomeni was going to offer an olive branch to them, this is where it would happen.
Khameni made a not-so-veiled threat instead: There was no election fraud, and so nothing to demonstrate about. The protests have been created by the intelligence services of vicious foreign governments (read: The USA and Great Britain), and they will cease.
If they continue, then the opposition leaders -- meaning former Iranian President Hassan Rafsanjani, opposition leader Hossein Mousavi, their friends and families -- would bear the responsibility for any bloodshed that followed. He was saying, If you come out in the streets now, you are challenging not the illegitimacy of an election, but the legitimacy of the government and the Islamic Republic. That is treason, and we will use the full strength of our private army to squelch your 'movement' and end it. If we want, we can kill you.
Khameni and his crew don't feel they can take any other position. They remember 1979 -- how, in the face of massive public protest, the Shah tried to placate revolutionaries (including Khameni) by offering minimal reforms. The revolutionaries sensed his weakness, rejected compromise and moved to seize power.
The lesson of those days is imprinted on the people who planned and lived through them, and who still constitute the Iranian government -- and who now face a similar situation... only, they're in the Shah's place.
The leaders of the opposition, Rafsanjani and Moussavi, had effectively been commanded to attend Khameni's speech. They didn't, which was both a public rebuke, and an answer to what they had to know he was going to say. As part of the present government, Rafsanjani was in a position to have some advance warning that Khameni would level a threat.
Rafsanjani is a powerful moderate figure, and one of the original revolutionary generation which overthrew the Shah. Some years ago, when he was President of Iran, he had supported students striking for greater autonomy and freedom of expression; the same players -- the Supreme Leader Khameni and his cohorts -- brutally repressed the students with violence and arrests. Rafsanjani did not openly oppose them; to have done so would've meant opposing their legitimacy, and effectively considered treason. Now, he is in exactly the same situation, again.
The BBC reported that several days ago, Rafsanjani had applied for a rally and march permit for tomorrow, noting that it had been approved by the government and not rescinded. It's expected that march will occur tomorrow, and there may be a showdown in the streets, as the protest movement does not appear to be flagging.
The BBC also reported that their sources out in the population (foreign journalists are virtual prisoners in their Tehran hotel rooms, and all reporting is being done almost exclusively by telephone) are all very frightened over a confrontation which seems almost inevitable. They're afraid of being attacked in the streets by the official private armies of the government, even being killed; and of the repression that will follow as Khameni and the rest of his crew hold on to their power with a deathgrip.
We know that some 32 people have been killed since the 'results' of Iran's Presidential 'election' were released last week. No one knows where it will end. Have a good thought -- or more than one -- for people willing to put their bodies on the line for the right to live more freely.
UPDATE: From the New York Times, reported as of 1:50 PM PDST:
TEHRAN — Police officers used sticks and tear gas to force back thousands of demonstrators under plumes of black smoke in the capital on Saturday, a day after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there would be “bloodshed” if street protests continued over the disputed presidential election.
The violence unfolded on a day of extraordinary tension across Iran. The opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, appeared at a demonstration in southern Tehran and called for a general strike if he were to be arrested. “I am ready for martyrdom,” he told supporters.
Mr. Moussavi again called for nullifying the election’s results, and opposition protesters swore to continue pressing their claims of a stolen election against Iran’s embattled and increasingly impatient clerical leadership in Iran’s worst crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s divisions played out on the streets. Regular security forces stood back and urged protesters to go home to avoid bloodshed, while the feared pro-government militia, the Basij, beat protesters with clubs and, witnesses said, electric prods.
In some places, the protesters pushed back, rushing the militia in teams of hundreds: At least three Basijis were pitched from their motorcycles, which were then set on fire. The protesters included many women, some of whom berated as “cowards” men who fled the Basijis. There appeared to be tens of thousands of protesters in Tehran, far fewer than the mass demonstrations early last week, likely because of intimidation.
“If they open fire on people and if there is bloodshed, people will get angrier,” said a protester, Ali, 40. “They are out of their minds if they think with bloodshed they can crush the movement.”