One of the Green Movement’s biggest problems is the Western media’s expectations game. Since the Green Movement put together crowds of millions in 2009, the media now uses that as the standard for determining whether the Greens are succeeding or not and whether their actions deserve coverage. Such is the case with the Student Day protests on December 7 and the acts of defiance on and around the Ashura holiday.
Last week, the Iranian regime worked hard to avoid repeating the threat to its existence it faced last year. The holiday, which is in honor of Imam Hossein, was used by Ayatollah Khamenei to link fighting the shah’s oppression with the imam’s martyrdom. Today, the Greens are doing the same to the ruling regime.
Dozens of people were arrested and anyone gathering in groups in Tehran was forcibly dispersed. It was reported that in the morning, many cell phones in Tehran were unable to operate. Trash bins were taken away to prevent them from being set on fire and no cars were allowed to be parked on streets that have been the scene of major gatherings. Security personnel confiscated cameras to stop images of protests from spreading. The family members of those visiting the graves of their loved ones lost at the regime’s hands last year were only allowed to visit the graves of their relatives and could not express solidarity with the families of others.
These measures did not stop scattered acts of protests that were quickly put down. In one incident, protestors in Tehran chanted “Iran has turned into Palestine” and were attacked by Basij members on motorcycles. In another, 100-150 people chanted in a train station and security pushed them outside and had to lock the doors to stop them from entering. In some cases, the people fiercely struck back. Various clashes erupted between mourners and demonstrators and security personnel before, during, and after Ashura.
One Basij member riding a motorcycle crashed in Tehran after being pelted with sticks. The Revolutionary Guards arrested three young women for not wearing their veils. As they put them into a van to be taken away, the locals surrounded the vehicle and freed them. There are reports of the Basij’s motorcycles being wrecked and security cars having their windows smashed. One security forces station was attacked so ferociously in Tehran that all of its windows were shattered and the personnel fled.
These acts of protests are inspiring but they won’t inspire confidence in the Western media or leadership that the Greens are the winning side. Unfortunately, the opposition is stuck in a demoralizing catch-22: To get the attention of the world, they need to put together crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands. But to build such momentum, they need media coverage to spread the word and motivate their supporters. In a strange way, the Greens have become a victim of their own success by setting the bar so high last year.