Iran's opposition Green Movement protested in force during the
Shiite holiday Ashura a year ago. This year, they're nowhere to be
seen. Is the movement finished?
Iranians today marked the most powerful event on the Shiite
religious calendar, Ashura, which has come to symbolize resistance
against tyranny and oppression.
Crowds of black-clad devotees pounded their chests, flailed
themselves with chains, and watched tearful reenactments of the 7th
century killing of Imam Hussein, who is immortalized by Shiites for
choosing death instead of subjugation to a tyrant.
The legend of Hussein (which is typically transliterated as
"Hossein" in Persian contexts) was used to mobilize Iranians in the
1979 Islamic Revolution against a pro-West dictator, just as it has
been used by Iran's embattled opposition Green Movement against
Iran's hard-line leadership since the controversial June 2009
Yet for the opposition, this day also marks one year since they
last showed any significant presence on the streets - a final moment
when the hope of millions of Iranians for democratic reform was
Now forced underground and facing severe restrictions, where is
the Green Movement today?
"The opposition that exists now has turned into an ideology,"
says one young Iranian professional, who last year witnessed
security forces shooting and killing demonstrators, and asked not to
be named. "It will be less expressive but more dangerous [for the
regime]. It will breed in people's homes; children will be fed with
In the last year the Green Movement has "had time to think about
things," says the young man from Tehran, contacted outside Iran.
"This means if they were against the regime with their 'heart'
because they had seen the election being stolen and people being
killed, now they believe it with their 'head.'"
Ashura last year marked a watershed for the regime, which saw its
annual commemoration of Imam Hussein's "resistance" hijacked by an
opposition certain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been
reelected by fraud.
For months in numerous demonstrations, millions of Iranians
demanded: "Where is my vote?" Confident in their numbers and in
standing up to tyranny on Ashura, protesters last December threw off
their facemasks and openly beat police and pro-government
militiamen, sending shockwaves throughout the regime.
Eight protesters were killed, among the scores - if not hundreds -
who lost their lives in all the post-election unrest. Bouyed by
their apparent success, many Green Movement activists predicted
"victory," perhaps even the end of the regime, in the next showdown,
set for the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Feb. 11, 2010.
Those high expectations were reflected in the reporting of the US
State Department's "Iran watcher" in neighboring Baku, Azerbaijan,
whose dozen Iranian contacts predicted "massive" protests, according
to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
One Tehran student told the US diplomat that the Ashura
confrontation had revitalized the opposition and that "almost all"
his friends would take to the streets again in February. Another
source said Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei
is "not as powerful as you guys think," and that "Iran simply cannot
go on like this."
But Iran's security forces and myriad intelligence agencies
pulled out the stops. And the much-hyped February protests fizzled.
"I think the [Green] movement is dead," one dispirited activist
in Tehran told the Monitor, as that day drew to a close. "The regime
pushed too hard."
Indeed, the regime declared "victory" over the leaders of