This article was originally published by James Miller on Dissected News.
On March 1st (10 Esfand), an eyewitness for the Tehran Bureau described the scene in Tehran:
It seems like the regime is creating a “Green Zone” — my sarcastic reference to the green zone in Baghdad — in central Tehran. To the north is Motahari Boulevard (formerly Takht-e Tavous) and Fatemi Avenue (Aryamehr); to the east, Imam Hossein Square (Fouzieh); to the south, Imam Khomeini Avenue (ex Sepah), around the presidential palace as well as Mr. Mousavi’s home; and finally, to the west, Azadi Square (formerly Shahyad). This is the area where the Green Movement took over for a while with their chants of “Death to the dictator,” and the new joint slogan, “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein; Ya Mahdi, Sheik Mahdi,” which infuse the names of the modern leaders of the Green Movement with Shia symbolism.
In fact, for the last 20+ months, the Green Zone has shifted, grown, shrank, and grown again. The Green Zone has existed in the streets, the sidewalks, the internet, the houses and offices of the opposition movement, and even in the mouths of clerics, some of whom preside over the Assembly of Experts. The Green Zone has been bold, a clear sign of defiance against the regime, and sometimes meek, cancelling protests when permits were not given, or bowing to the supremacy of the mullahs. One thing is now clear, however, that the Green Zone is trying to expand while the government is trying to force it to shrink down to nothing.
Tuesday was the latest chapter in this struggle. First-hand accounts describe large protests, perhaps larger in some areas of Tehran than 25 Bahman. But they also recount a worrying sign, that the security forces may have even outnumbered the protesters. The protests were confined to sidewalks, for the most part. Communications were shut off in areas of the city where protests were taking place. Protesters were arrested, the opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi were arrested… the Green Zone is being squeezed, hard, and the consequences are as severe as ever for crossing the regime.
It is always hard to know what is going on in the Green Zone. Information comes in small bits, a picture here, an unconfirmed video there, an SMS message, a Tweet, or an email. It is easy to look at reports of deaths, or numbers of security, or the masses that were arrested. It is easy to look at the defiance of the regime. Those things are like the outside of a hand squeezing a lime. The lime is harder to see.
Experts and journalists are correct in analyzing what they can see, the complicated political situation in Iran. Especially important is the relationship between Rafsanjani and the regime, as the election of the head of the Assembly of Experts is early next week. Will Rafsanjani speak out against the regime if he is ousted from his position? Will former president Khatami be arrested like the other two reformists? Will Mousavi or Karrubi be formerly arrested or tried? Any of these events could cause a major increase in anti-government sentiment. Equally important could be possible schisms inside the regime. Will Sadeq Larijani, head of Iran’s judiciary, who opposed the arrest of the reformists, become frustrated with Khamenei’s willful disrespect for the rule of law? Will more clerics express their weariness with the brutal tactics of the regime? Will the Revolutionary Guard Corp turn on their commanders if asked to attack their own people? After all, it was these kinds of events that, catalyzed by the peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square, eventually led to the ouster of Egypt’s President Mubarak.
But for all of the data that I’ve analyzed, it is hard to ignore the message coming from inside the Green Zone itself. For at least a year, some have come out to protest, in smaller numbers, in doubt, and in fear. Hope has always been present, but high expectations of success have been lacking. Now, the doubt is gone, and the fear has turned to defiance. The opposition on the ground, made up of fathers and sons, students and teachers, has become bold once again. There is an enthusiasm and a “buzz” that has been lacking for many months. In fact, the enthusiasm may be greater now than it was at the end of June 2009.
This is an important data point, at least as important as the grander political situation I mentioned above, because at the end of the day it will be the Iranians on the street that force the hands of the politicians. It will be a rising opposition movement on the ground that will become the catalyst for change in the political system. So far, observations about political infighting have been inconclusive, though perhaps this will change soon. Right now, the energy is almost pouring out of the emails, the Tweets, the blogs posts. The opposition is fired up, the Green Zone is refusing to go gently into that good night. Like a lime being squeezed, the Green Movement is slipping its bonds. Just as the iron fist of the regime is trying to tighten its grip, the Green Zone will expand and slip through its fingers. Iran is not quite at the breaking point, not yet, but the Green Zone is expanding, and the stage is set for a revolution.