Iranians, in a rebellious mood, look to Israel

TEHRAN, Iran — It’s 8 p.m., news time on Iranian TV, and Mustafa Qaderi is sticking his ear to the speakers because the house is full of guests and a loud, vibrant conversation is reverberating.

“He listens as if he’s going to take an exam on the news tomorrow morning,” his wife Zahra said.

Mustafa and his wife are school teachers living in the Sadeghiye district in the southern part of the capital Tehran. Since the Iranian election in June, Zahra said, Mustafa has changed.

“I remember Mustafa from just a year ago,” she said, “when he fervently supported [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and even called friends and family before the election to ask them to vote for him.”

But this year, Mustafa took to the streets after the election and even received a bruise or two from the Basij, which is a volunteer militia founded by the order of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

“I’m still healing from the bruises, but what won’t be healed anytime soon is my dignity and my heart,” he said in a sad, low voice. Elsewhere in Iran, Ali Kazemi works as a researcher at a dairy production facility in Golpayegan, a small town near Isfahan. He doesn’t look you in the eye (an act of piety), and his wife wears the chador — a loose, usually black robe worn by Muslim women that covers the body from head to toe. He recounted the last few weeks at work where “everybody does nothing except find ways to get around blocked websites and read the day’s news.”

“Since Ahmadinejad became Iran’s president, not a single rial [equivalent of a penny] has been devoted to research here at the facility,” he said. “Instead, just go to them and say that you might be doing something about nuclear energy, and they don’t even ask what it is, they will give you good funding.”

Mohsen Naji, owner of a factory near Isfahan that produces spare parts for cars, said that if it weren’t for his wife’s salary, his family of four would have starved to death over the past three months.

Under a new law, passed last year, factory owners rather than the government are responsible for paying workers insurance. And the amount they have to pay is double what the government used to pay. This comes as a rude shock for the owners, and most are facing a huge budget deficit.

Government mismanagement, a high unemployment rate and an unclear future have made many everyday Iranians weary. They yearn for a chance to protest against the status quo.

The government crackdown has put a lid on the protests, but it seems that the opposition has found a way around this in a novel way: they plan to use the occasion of Quds Day, the last Friday of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting — a day usually reserved for expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment.

(A video posted on YouTube that purportedly shows thousands of opposition supporters on Karim Khan Street in Tehran Friday.)

Quds means holy in Arabic and is also the name used for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Symbolically, the temple represents the struggle of Palestinians against the Israelis.

In August 1979, right after the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini the leader at the time suggested the last Friday of Ramadan be used as a day for expressing sympathy for the Palestinian people.

In a sermon, he said: “I invite Muslims all over the globe to consecrate the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan as [Quds Day] and to proclaim the international solidarity of Muslims in support of the legitimate rights of the Muslim people of Palestine.”

This year however, flyers and posters have been circulating in cities such as Tehran and Isfahan, and on the web, about the Green Movement (which opposes Ahmadinejad) coming together once more to show hatred not toward Israel, but toward the Iranian government.

The opposition has been waiting for just such an occasion. Leaders of the Green Movement — among them Mir-Hussein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karoubi — have vowed to be present in the demonstrations.

Officials have warned they will suppress any “actions on the sidelines,” meaning any form of protest. A government spokesman said Wednesday that “the elite must be vigilant about the plots against their country.” The government has declared Saturday a holiday, in a move that seems to be more security-driven than celebratory. Normally on long weekends, Tehranis head out of town for the weekend and the capital becomes almost deserted, meaning — in the present circumstances — a worry-free Quds Day for the officials. 

In another surprising move, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has delivered a Quds Day prayer for the past 30 years, has been replaced this year by the hard-liner Ahmad Khatami. Rafsanjani, a senior cleric and former president, is a reformist who has been a vocal critic of the hard-line regime and challenged the result of the June election that handed Ahmadinejad the presidency.

Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to give a public address on Friday, according to ILNA the Iranian Labor News Agency.

Nasrolah Torabi, a reformist member of parliament, said Wednesday that “any suppression of the protesters on Quds day will have negative results for the government,” according to Parliament News.

In a reference to the fact that most foreigners — and all foreign media — had been removed from the country in the wake of violent post-election protests, he said: “These are real people from inside the country, not foreigners, and the demonstration is authorized by the government.”