Saturday, December 26, 2009
Iran's Regime 'Has Every Reason to Be Worried'Source: Spiegel Online
The World from Berlin
Iran's Regime 'Has Every Reason to Be Worried'
Monday saw tens of thousands of regime critics marching in Iran for the funeral of a senior dissident cleric. Mourning turned to chants of "death to the dictator," and German commentators believe there is more to come.
Tens of thousands of anti-regime protestors marched through the streets of Iran's holy city of Qom on Monday. They had gathered for the funeral procession of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the most senior of the regime's critics, who had died in his sleep Sunday at the age of 87.
The event reportedly turned into the largest civil protest since those that followed the contested re-election in June of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which left an unknown number of protestors dead. In Monday's demonstration, protestors chanted "death to the dictator" and carried slogans voicing their support for the opposition leaders to whom Montazeri had given his support. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the head of the opposition Green Movement, and Mahdi Karroubi, a prominent protest leader, also took part in the demonstration.
Montazeri was one of the leaders of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and had been the heir apparent for a time to Ayatollah Khomeini. However, he fell out of favor with the regime in the 1980s because he thought that the clerics who later came to rule the country should have served in an advisory role to political leaders rather than holding on to the reins of power themselves. After serving five years under house arrest, he was released in 2003 and kept a low profile until he publically expressed his outrage over June's disputed elections.
Foreign media were blocked from the site, but footage posted online shows massive crowds. There are also reports of clashes between protestors and security forces as well as hundreds of arrests, but the situation doesn't appear to be as tense as it was in June. Still, the Associated Press is reported that some private news sources were shut down, prominent critics were arrested on the way to the protest, Internet service was slowed and mobile phone service was unreliable.
In Tuesday's newspapers, German commentators see the protests as a signal of a reinvigorated opposition movement. Likewise, they predict that next Sunday will tell whether the protest movement can keep its steam or will be suppressed with greater might.
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"The regime-controlled Iranian media only gave passing mention to Montazeri's death and did not even refer to him as a grand ayatollah."
"Montazeri was the spiritual father of the reform movement. He lent both inspiration and spiritual legitimacy to the 'green' opposition movement as well as a political face to Mir Hossein Mousavi. Montazeri embodied the notion of an enlightened Islam."
"But the opposition needn't die with him. In fact, as the mass protests at Montazeri's funeral have shown … the opposite could actually be the case. Shiites traditionally hold memorial ceremonies seven days after one's death. In the case of Montazeri, it will fall right on the Day of Ashura, one of the most important religious holidays for Shiites. It commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who died in the Battle of Karbala in AD 680 and is reverred as a martyr. It is a day of mourning that could change into one of rage against the hated religious dictatorship. Montazeri's death will serve as a catalyst. The regime has every reason to be worried."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The 'green' opposition movement in Iran won't allow itself to be intimidated by either threats or brutal violence. … The death and burial of 87-year-old Grand Ayatollah Montazeri … are bringing thousands into the streets. … And, once again, Mousavi and Karroubi, the underdog candidates in the presidential elections held six months ago, are marching with them. At that time, Montazeri had already voiced his support for them and criticized the 'falsifications' of the incumbent president. Despite the supression, the opposition has had a certain effect precisely because both this and the earlier protest were articulated within the system of the Islamic Republic. But can such actions really alter the circumstances?"
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Montazeri clearly expressed what many other critical clerics would only hint at. He recognized the doubts that many Iranians had about the president's re-election, their longing for freedom and that the goals of the reform movement were warranted. His morally based stance made the official suspicions that the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi were foreign agents seem even more ridiculous."
"Montazeri didn't consider either himself or the Ayatollah Khomeini … to be infallible. He was willing to face up to his mistakes, which is something that the powerful in the current regime have never done. In November, when Iran was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran, Montazeri said: 'At the time, I supported it, but not today. It was a mistake.' Iranians have appreciated this kind of frankness much more than the regime's hot-air choir."
Left-wing Die Tagezeitung writes:
"In 1979, Montazeri only wanted a religious authority to make sure that the state didn't violate fundamental Islamic principles. But things turned out differently. Today, Ali Khamenei rules like a dictator. Montazeri was what we in the West hope for in a public intellectual. He constantly got into the thick of things and did not shy away from criticizing the government in harsh terms."
"In historical terms, he played the role that the Shia clergy traditionally played before it came into power in Iran. For many, he represented both restraint and a refuge. And losing his critical voice will weigh heavily on all of those in Iran who are currently mobilizing for reform."
"On the other hand, Montazeri's death could open up new opportunities for protest. Shiites traditionally commemorate their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after their deaths, so it's fairly easy to figure out when the next demonstrations against the regime will be held. On top of that, it is currently Muharram, the month of mourning for Muslims, and the seventh day after Montazeri's death will fall on Ashura, which is next Sunday. For practicing Shiites, this is the most important holiday of the year. And the regime cannot outlaw commemorative marches on this day."
-- Josh Ward