Thursday, June 25, 2009

A frightening Clear Message

His message was frighteningly clear, stop the protests, or face serious repercussions. The leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led the Friday prayers and made sure everyone knew where he and the government stood on the matters regarding the presidential elections.
Ayatollah Khamenei had had enough. For a week people were pouring into the streets to demonstrate against the results of the elections. The protest rallies were massive, as millions had come out in support of Mir Hossein Moussavi. But now if anyone wanted to come out and demonstrate peacefully, they were going to suffer consequences; going out now would be going against the word of the leader.
Friday’s speech was as hard-line as you could get. We all wondered what would happen next, would people still come out in defiance of the leader? What would Moussavi say? The optimism from past rallies was drowned out by the words of Ayatollah Khamenei. Many thought this was the final nail in the coffin of the presidential elections.
The following day, a rally was scheduled for 16h in downtown Tehran. I ate a big lunch with my friends, and by 15h we got in a cab headed towards Enqelab Square, where the demonstrations were going to take place. The air was as tense as ever in Tehran. Our collective hearts were racing while sitting in the cab. None of us knew what to expect downtown, and whether people were going to show up or not.
The driver let us out a few blocks before the square as traffic was heavily backed up. As my friends and I walked towards Enqelab, we noticed that security had been heavily beefed up. Every street corner had more than a handful of riot police and Basij forces. We walked through a park, and many more Basiji members were sitting around, observing the public. Fear began to penetrate my body as I walked by, since these security forces had been given the green light to quell the protests, as ruthlessly and violently, as they wanted to.
As we approached Enqelab, we saw scores of people walking in the same direction. Thousands had come out to demonstrate and show support, and more importantly, they had come out against the word of the leader. While walking, my friend stopped us,
“We gotta get out of here, this is a death trap,” he said.
Security was on everywhere you looked. Perhaps ten thousand or more security forces were out, ready to pounce on protesters. We decided to leave the area and take haven in a nearby hotel café.
As it turns out, if we did not leave Enqelab Square when we did, we would have been in for a very rude awakening. Police had blocked off the square after a few minutes, and the people inside the square could not get out, while the people trying to get inside the square could not get in. Forces then moved in and attacked the trapped demonstrators in Enqelab Square. Luckily we had already left to go get a cup of tea at a café.
While sitting and drinking tea, we heard gunshots fired, and loud screams from outside. People were running into the hotel lobby to seek refuge from security forces. Those who came into the hotel were escaping the painful tear gas that was fired, and begged others in the lobby to blow cigarette smoke in their eyes, as smoke dispels the effects of tear gas to a degree.
For hours we sat in the café, waiting until things in the streets settled down so we could get home. The traffic was very heavy as we tried to leave; Tehran seemed as if it was on fire, smoke and flames filled the air around the city. Bricks, and stones were littered in the streets, as protesters had hurled them at police earlier.
Driving down the street in a taxi, little groups of people had gathered on the side of the road, and held up their middle and index finger to put up the peace/victory sign, symbolic of the Moussavi campaign. Cars were honking, and people clapping as we drove by. Our hearts were filling up with hope and optimism yet again.
By the time we got home, and watched the news coverage, the hope and optimism began to escape our bodies. The news had shown brutal images and footage of security attacking protesters. As time went by, more deaths were being confirmed; they showed a video clip of young women, getting fatally shot in the chest, while she stood and watched the demonstrations with her father. Our hearts sank in our stomachs. Ayatollah Khamenei had warned people of the consequences they faced if they dared come out on the streets; the footage we were watching was proof of how serious he was.
The crowd was substantial today in Enqelab, but so was security, and they were well prepared. A week of protests that were generally peaceful had now turned into bloody battles between demonstrators and security forces. Tehran was slowly turning into a large battlefield, and the government showed no sympathy to those coming out in defiance of the leader.

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