Written by Amir Taheri
First Published in FamilySecurityMatters.org
Serving notice that the fight for the future of Iran was far from over, multitudes throughout the country yesterday defied a government ban to attend ceremonies marking the 40th day since the death of pro-democracy protesters in Tehran.
The ceremonies, known as "Chelleh" (quarantine), are part of a tradition with pre-Islamic roots sanctioned by the Shiite version of Islam. But a show of force by the authorities prevented the formation of massive crowds.
Police also prevented Mir Hussein Mousavi, the officially defeated candidate in June's presidential election, and other prominent opposition leaders from reaching the Behesht-Zahra graveyard in Tehran.
There, he was scheduled to pray at the tomb of Neda Agha Soltan - the 27-year-old student whose death at the hands of a paramilitary gunman last month has turned her into the mascot of pro-democracy forces in Iran.
Despite a massive military crackdown, pictures of Neda, whose name means "Heavenly message" in Persian, are on display throughout Iran. The most popular slogan chanted by the crowds throughout Iran yesterday was: "It's your regime that is dead. Our Neda is not dead!"
Others honored as "the fallen heroes of democracy" yesterday were: Amir Javadi-Far, 21; Hussein Akbari, 20; Mohsen Ruhalamini, 21; Sohrab Aaarabi, 22; Massoud Hashemzadeh, 21; and Alireza Eftekhari, 29, who died at the hands of the regime's security forces around the same time as Neda was gunned down.
Thousands managed to hold protest prayers in Shiraz, Tabriz and Tehran. Demonstrations also took place in Mashhad, Rasht, Kermanshah and Ahvaz, among other provincial centers.
Unconfirmed reports suggest more than 1,000 arrests during the demonstrations - including, in Tehran, two prominent filmmakers, Jaafar Panahy and Mahnaz Muhammadi, who are making a documentary about the anti-regime insurrection.
The regime had focused its energies on preventing the crowds from seizing virtual control of Tehran, as they did last month. On Wednesday, Gen. Abdullah Araqi, the Revolutionary Guard commander in charge of the state of emergency in the capital, put Tehran under "red alert," banning all "unauthorized" public gatherings.
By dawn yesterday, units of the elite Muhammad Prophet of God Division were in control of the capital's "sensitive nerve centers" with the help of some 20,000 members of the paramilitary Basij. Addressing a group of guard officers, Gen. Araqi described the situation as "extremely dangerous."
Yet the regime appears divided over methods of dealing with the crisis.
Earlier this week, "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei ordered the release of 140 of those arrested in the demonstrations, and the closure of a detention center at Kahrizak, where at least six recently arrested demonstrators have died under torture.
His laconic edict said the center was being closed because it was "substandard." Former President Muhammad Khatami has dismissed that announcement as "scandalous."
"What does substandard mean?" Khatami asked during a meeting with the families of some of those murdered in the detention center. "The real issue is that of crimes committed in that place, crimes that must be investigated and their perpetrators brought to justice."
Seemingly meant to calm things down, Khamenei's move seems to have had the opposite effect.
Anti-regime activists see it as a sign that the beleaguered regime may be in retreat. This is leading to increased pressure on Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi (the other dissident presidential candidate) to go beyond calls for the nullification of the presidential election results and move closer to a platform for regime change.
And pro-regime elements see Khamenei's edicts as a sign of weakness that would encourage fence-sitters to switch to the opposition.
* Some already have. Massoud Pezeshkian, a member of Iran's ersatz parliament and an outspoken supporter of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for "a public inquiry into allegations of systematic torture" of political prisoners. Chief Justice Mahmoud Shahroudi, an ayatollah and notorious fence-sitter, also has tried to distance himself from Ahmadinejad, by calling for the immediate release of "all those against whom no serious charge has been made."
Although increasingly isolated, Ahmadinejad appears determined to fight it out. He has dismissed his minister for security and intelligence (also believed to be a "fence-sitter") and appears poised to form a new Cabinet of radicals determined to crush the opposition and purge the establishment of "wet" elements.