The “Twitter Revolution” Meets the Tanks – Is Tehran facing a ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’ – or an Iranian glasnost?

by on June 19, 2009 · 4 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, History, Media, World News

The next 24 to 48 hours in Iran are critical. Why should we care?

The next day in Iran is very critical. The country is at the breaking point. This morning in his prayer-speech,  the chief cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came out swinging at the opposition movement that has been in the streets for the last week in massive numbers – all in support of their reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mousavi’s people, the “Green Wave”, plan to be in the streets again tomorrow – directly disobeying the Supreme Iman.

Tomorrow – Saturday, June 20th, there will be a showdown and it may be very bloody.

The “Twitter Revolution” meets the tanks. This could happen within hours. This could be very ugly, very terrible for many, many Iranians, and very tragic.

Tehran, the capital, is most probably on the brink of an Iranian-type Tiananmen Square – named for the massacre of hundreds and even thousands of Chinese students and workers almost exactly twenty years ago.  It was the absolute public destruction of the pro-democracy movement led by Chinese students, who had staged massive demonstrations during early June, 1989.

The massacre in Mexico City just before the Olympics in 1968 also comes to mind.

Will the government and para-military forces of President Mahmoud Ahmahadinejad crack down on unarmed demonstrators with lethal weapons and kill scores, hundreds or even thousands of those faces that we have been watching in the seas of humanity in images brought to us via the internet, Twitter or Facebook?

A lone woman protester blocks the president's motorcade.

The demonstrators have been demanding that last Friday’s election be thrown-out and a new presidential election be held – claiming that there was blatant electoral fraud, which denied the candidate that they have rallied around, Mousavi, his electoral seat. The government has up until just a few days ago, responded with brutal displays of militia and police actions, resulting in as many as 32 deaths from around the nation. They have been since arresting scores, including well-known politicians, journalists and academics.

In todays speech Khamenei pushed a showdown with Mousavi and his supporters, basically ordering the protest movement to go home or he will unleash his dogs of war if they continue their demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the protest movement is calling for a peaceful and massive protest march in Tehran Saturday, against the explicit directives of the top cleric in this Islamic nation. The demonstrators are at very serious risk at that moment when they face the punishment of more batons, tear gas and even guns and tanks.

Yet, there is the possibility that Mousavi’s Gandhi-like movement will eventually split the ruling clique and cause the government of  Ahmadinejad to stall out in any attempts to physically shut-down the demonstrations with military might. There are some signs of fissures within the cleric-military-state apparatus now. This could eventually lead into some type of Iranian glasnost period, a political and cultural opening that occurred in the old Soviet Union. Ghandi’s nonviolent movement, of course, eventually forced the British out of India.

I have been watching the internet mostly over this past week as the intense Iranian crisis has unfolded day by day. Go here and here and here for live blogging on the Iranian situation.

Don't try to click on this. This is a copy of Mousavi's webpage. In it he calls for a green protest tomorrow - Saturday, June 20 - at 4pm Iranian time.

I have seen just about every video and every photo published and posted, have read a week’s worth of the blogosphere, have followed many of the live blogging, the twitters- some of it cutting edge exemplary displays of citizen journalism.

Yet as I have been glued to the monitor so I wouldn’t miss a single update or new video, I have been frustrated as I know intuitively that this is extremely important for not only for Iran, the Middle East – but for the rest of the world, even for us Americans, but haven’t been able to articulate why.

And let me quickly add, I don’t want our American government to do anything.  With two wars going on, how can we preach to anyone about human rights?  Obama can say a few universal truths. But our history with Iran is way too sordid for us – as a foreign nation – to do anything.  Before we can lecture we need to do some apologizing. Start with the Shah.

What our government should do – nothing – is very different than what we are feeling, understanding and learning as a people thousands of miles away from that ancient land of Persia, yet as close as Twitter, facebook and our keyboard.

We can be freedom loving and support and stand with the people of Iran without any American intervention. We can love freedom-fighting peoples everywhere, whether in Burma, Thailand, Peru, or in Tehran. And we can understand and learn from their forms of resistance to autocracy.

There is a form of resistance going on right now in Tehran, a city enveloped with the darkness of night. Directly disobeying the supreme Imam, people are shouting out “God is great!” and other chants in a sign of defiance and solidarity with the Green Wave. The chants are reportedly louder than ever. Listening to this video of the chants with the low voice of the woman moderator was very emotional for me. I couldn’t see anything, and I couldn’t understand the narrator, and all I can hear are these chants, male and female, close and far – and then the woman narrator starts crying …  The sheer bravery. There are gun shots in the distance. … see if you can keep a dry eye.

Things, events, arrests are happening by the hour, by the minute. There’s a report that everyone close to Mousavi has been arrested.

Nothing is as important in the whole world as what happens in the next 24 hours in Iran.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar lane tobias June 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm

i agree, this is an important moment for the global community. I think it is notable how big a part of this movement has taken place on the internet – it is a whole lot easier to organize underground on Twitter than it is by meeting in secret, passing out flyers, etc. That is one of the wonderful things about the internet.

Thanks Frank for following this so closely. I caught the Ayatollah’s speech early this morning, and it was frightening. But the fact of the matter is that this Green Wave is much bigger than he led on in the speech, and tomorrow’s event will prove that.


avatar Trago Duro June 19, 2009 at 6:58 pm

This is not a plea for Iran’s religious government but we should be critical of the string of “velvet revolutions” that have strategically come our way to form our opinions. Mousavi is not a populist leader by any measure and his ties to the Iranian elites speaks clearly of whom he represents. The photos that are circulating describe a sector of the population that do not seem to reflect the many poor who also represent the Iranian population. The assertion in Gormlie’s demand for our support of this “Green Revolution” that “I don’t want our American government to do anything.” assumes that the U.S. Government has not already had its hand in the sponsorship in this event. We need to search for all sides of what is happening before us in the international news theatrics we continually succumb to and accept as the truth of a situation. Let us never forget our manufactured histories of what is acceptable and desirable in a modern world and whose interests are really served when we consent to what is recognizable and comfortable to our eyes.


avatar Dave Sparling June 19, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Iran is facing the same thing that Chile faced when they lost Allende. The western powers unhappy with their choice of a leader


avatar Ali SeyyedJavadi June 20, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Rumors are at this very moment (1:54 AM Tehran Local time) Tanks are rolling to Azadi Square (Azadi means Freedom in Persian) After a day of bloodshed and hundreds shot dead in tehran central streets tanks are coming to start another masacre or maybe aiding peoples movement (as it happened in 1979 when Army come to aid people and kick Shah out)


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