The Economist describes the massive protests last week in Iran. Protestors now do not cover their faces, strike back against the riot police and Basij militia, and are chanting as many anti-Khamenei slogans as anti-Ahmadinejad.
The regime has miscalculated. Their crackdown since the summer — arresting opposition figures, convicting them in sham trials, and blocking the press from covering events — hasn’t dampened the opposition movement. Rather, it’s enflamed it, and made it society-wide. The crackdown has revealed the government to be even worse than what the opposition said: tyrannical, cut-throat, thugs only interested in retaining power.
This crackdown has made significant change in the government necessary. During the summer, the opposition only wanted Ahmadinejad removed; they didn’t question the legitimacy of the system itself. Now, however, because Khamenei has permanently set himself in Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard’s camp, the opposition (and others throughout the society) believe the system to be corrupt. Merely removing Ahmadinejad will no longer be sufficient. Change to the entire system is.
This is reflected in the ongoing protests. What started as entirely peaceful protests has, with attacks from the government, turned into near rebellion.
And that was before Mousavi’s nephew was murdered by the government. During the December 26th and 27th protests, Mousavi’s nephew was killed along with seven other people in Tehran. The Economist writes,
The violence was particularly shocking because the protests coincided with Ashura, a solemn day in the Shia calendar that commemorates the martyrdom of Hosein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Reflecting Iran’s stark polarisation, government supporters and opponents accused each other of desecrating Hosein’s memory. Reflecting a fear of generating new “martyrs” to fuel further protests, security forces took over Tehran’s cemeteries and nabbed the bodies of those killed, preventing their immediate burial in accordance with Muslim rites.
It is particularly brazen to murder citizens during the commemoration of Husayn’s death. Husayn, Muhammad’s grandson, challenged the Yazid caliphate as illegitimate. Husayn led a rebellion against Yazid, and in the Battle of Karbala in 680, was killed. His death cemented the break between Shia, which believe Husayn to be the legitimate heir to Muhammad, and Sunnis.
So the commemoration of his death is very important in Shia Islam. Killing people near this date only enflames hatred of the government even more, but killing the nephew of the opposition’s leader, Mousavi, creates undeniable parallels with Husayn’s own death. The government has created something for the opposition to rally around.
Which is why the government took the body of Mousavi’s nephew. They don’t want them to be able to hold a funeral, which would be incredibly emotional and would turn into a protest all its own.
But this is a terrible move by the government. It shows monumental disrespect for the dead and their family, and prevents them from burying the dead immediately, as is required for Muslims.
To prevent their funeral from turning into a protest and rallying point, they have angered them even more, and shown the government to be religiously corrupt. And without the tie to religion, this government will lose all sense of legitimacy. All it has left is bare force, and when that is all a government has left, it will fall.