The Iranian regime’s crackdown on opposition demonstrators was supposed to silence dissent, impressing on the masses in Iran’s streets that its will was not to be questioned. Instead, the state-sponsored escalation in violence and brutality has united the Iranian people, divided and differing in their objectives before the election, in a way that they have not been throughout the mullahs’ 30-year reign of terror.
In response to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s sermon a week after the election, warning protesters of bloody and tragic repercussions if they should continue to demonstrate against the election results, Iranians flooded the streets of Iranian cities and villages. Their message was loud and clear: they would not be deterred by the regime’s cowardly threats.
For its part, the regime stepped up its attacks on demonstrators. Thus did the world come to know Neda Agha-Soltan, the striking 26-year-old student who was shot dead by a government militiaman. Again the regime’s intimidation did not have its intended effect.
They wanted to make an example of her. Instead, she became a democratic icon and a symbol of resistance. The international community took note of the injustices committed by the clerics, and the people’s struggle now had a face. As Neda became the symbol of Iran’s collective suffering, the momentum of the opposition only intensified.
Since then, the regime has done everything in its power to snuff out the cries of the people. The media was first limited, then banned from covering any aspects of the democratic upheaval. News organizations that want to maintain a relationship with the government know that any negative coverage will guarantee a ban. It is reported that about four dozen journalists have been captured, although anyone who has ever dealt with this regime knows that number is significantly greater. Internet-savvy Iranians say their online connections are at 10 percent of the normal speed, and most websites have been blocked or taken down. Phone lines, both land and cellular, have been tapped, and the regime has declared that no one is allowed to speak about developments inside Iran to people outside the country.
Nonetheless, the regime has inadvertently amplified its people’s awareness and power. When the websites were shut down, Iranians became avid Tweeters, bloggers and Facebook junkies. The regime banned the media and captured reporters, and in turn created a nation of journalists and photographers. They threatened to kill protesters and succeeded only encouraging a million courageous Iranians to protest against the regime’s oppression.
In first days of the protests, there was a clear distinction between green-clad supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, calling for regime change, and the smaller yet visible groups of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supporters. Such exact distinctions can no longer be made. There is now a united movement for freedom, even if the word means different things to different Iranians. Initially, the charismatic chants sung out on the streets were mainly about Ahmadinejad and the presidency. But now, protesters are crying, “Death to the dictator,” and referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Rhymes calling the regime illegitimate, incompetent and unjust have become popular. The protests early were over election fraud and “taking back the vote.” Now Iranians from all sides and factions have united to tell the government, “Keep our votes; Just give back our country.”
A vibrant generation of secular, technologically confident youth has emerged to show their government and the world that a staunch theocracy is unfit to lead them into the future. The most important statistic about Iran’s population is that two-thirds of its 70 million people are under the age of 35.
Never has this vital statistic been so visible. Whether it is terrorism versus Twitterism, Basijis versus bloggers or fundamentalists versus freedom fighters, the last 16 days have emphasized the divergence between the regime’s antiquated and extremist ideas and the swarming sea of modern, secular, liberty-seeking Iranians. After two weeks of vicious and merciless bloodshed, one thing seems certain. The Iranian regime may still survive, but it will have to do so without the support of the Iranian people.