May 3, 2010

May Day in Tehran: The protest you may have missed

Though most Iran watchers this weekend focused on the impromptu protest which followed Ahmadinejad’s surprise speech at Tehran University, another tense gathering occurred outside the Labor Ministry.
Approximately five thousand people were walking outside of the Labor Ministry on Saturday, May 1st around 5:30 pm in honor of International Labour Day. Factory workers have been increasingly laid off due to Ahmadinejad’s short sighted policies to fix Iran’s severely weakened economy.
One participant who found out about the event through a text message told NIAC, “There was a guy videotaping us from the beginning and he followed us everywhere, it was very nerve racking. There were also undercover cops everywhere so you didn’t know who to trust.” Our contact suspected he was being followed because he was accompanied by two other young men.
According to Iran News Agency (INA), an opposition site, three people were arrested. INA also confirms our contact’s description of a “very tense atmosphere.”
The gathering followed Mir Hossein Mousavi’s message on Thursday, April 29. As IGV reported, he, “cited inflation, decline in production, corruption, the spread of deceit and mismanagement, unpaid wages of workers, the continuing shut down of plants and their operating at low capacity, as some of the current problems in the country.”
In comparison to protests last year, it would seem that this one was a failure. If people stood in groups of more than ten, motorcycle cops would run up to them and break them apart and only about fifty daring people started to chant anti-government slogans, but were quickly silenced.
But the failure of this protest is only on the surface, by taking a deeper look, it shows the paranoia of the Iranian government. The opposition did little to spread the word about the event as nothing was written on Mousavi’s Facebook page and only a few websites had mentioned the possibility of a gathering. Unlike the little preparatory work by the opposition, the Iranian police were out in full force with hundreds of motorcycle and undercover cops videotaping and methodically breaking up groups—once again displaying their fear and paranoia.
What the government has is force and perhaps it can successfully stop people from protesting, but it is not sustainable. Rather than creating new ways to improve Iran’s weakened economy, the government is using its resources to monitor and control their own citizens. As our contact told us, “I don’t think we’ll be able to have the same level of protests as last summer, but this does not mean that our fight is over.”

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