There is a new popular power sweeping Iran. In one of the biggest mass demonstrations since the toppling of the US-backed Shah in 1979, some one million people descended onto the streets of the capital Tehran to protest at an election widely seen as rigged.
The mass demonstration grew out of an unprecedented protest that took place on Friday night – the day of a key presidential election. Many believed that a popular reformer, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, would win the vote.
They were shocked when the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner just hours after the polls closed.
Fearing that the election had been rigged, Mousavi’s supporters staged a series of public protests. In a mass show of defiance Iranians took to the roofs of their buildings to chant “Marg bar diktator!”, which means “death to the dictator”.
This was the slogan of the 1979 revolution.
On Saturday Ahmadinejad held a “victory rally” in Tehran. But across the city, and in other parts of the country, spontaneous demonstrations erupted where people chanted, “Our votes were stolen.” In the southern city of Isfahan riot police were driven out of popular neighbourhoods.
Police and regime militias attacked the protests. Demonstrators responded by setting buses alight and building barricades.
That night, amid growing fear of a massive crackdown, students held secret rallies and called for more demonstrations. The government-backed militia attacked Tehran university campus killing five students.
But the protests did not subside. On Monday a mass demonstration was called in defiance of a government ban. This time many ordinary people joined the throng of students and activists who form the bedrock of the reform movement.
Government thugs opened fire on the crowd and killed seven protesters. Their deaths bring back the memories of the mass repression unleashed by the Shah in the dying days of his regime.
On Tuesday, Mousavi called off further demonstrations after the government caved in to demands for a recount. As Socialist Worker went to press, reports were emerging of mass arrests. Former vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtah is thought to be among those detained.
Yet whatever happens over the next few days, the people of Iran have shown their power – and their thirst for change.
The following should be read alongside these articles:
» Iran’s rulers divided as anger bursts onto the streets
» Lies, treachery and bribes at the heart of the Iranian system
» State was born in revolution