A demonstrator putting together pieces of a torn U.S.
flag in front of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, November 4, 1980. Photo
by J. Javid
19 years later
Rally in front of former U.S. embassy shows shift toward
November 4, 1998
Posted on Columbia University's Gulf2000 academic listserve by an
observer in Tehran:
Today (November 2, 1998), there was a demonstration and rally in Tehran,
organized by the leftist Islamist student group called Unity Consolidation
Office [Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat], commemorating the 19th anniversary of
the U.S. Embassy takeover. The event was announced in the Salam newspaper
a couple days ago and also in the posters on the walls in the universities
and streets en route.
The demonstration by some 700 young and middle-aged people (600 male
and 100 female) started in the Tehran University campus around 1 pm. It
marched inside the TU campus for about 45 minutes, and then went out the
main gate and marched toward the former U.S. Embassy via the Enqelab Street
[fornerly Shahreza]. A little after 3 pm, the marchers reached the site
and the rally was held there from 3:10 to 4:20 pm. During the rally, there
were more than 1,000 people there, including those who showed up to express
their opposition. The rally concluded with no fist fight and the crowd
disbanded itself promptly.
Several interesting points:
1- The organizers were the leftist activists. The group's origin goes
back to the so-called Students in the Imam's Line [Daneshjouyan-e Peyro
Khat-e Imam], i.e. those who took over the U.S. Embassy 19 years ago. Judging
from the slogans they shouted, however, many of the participants were more
enthusiastic in expressing their support for President Khatami, than their
opposition to the U.S. In other words, the event was significant mainly
in terms of domestic politics here, i.e. as a demonstration and rally in
support of the Khatami administration.
2- The police force very much cooperated with the organizers. The demonstration
outside the campus was accompanied by the police vehicles in its front
and at its end. During the rally in front of the former U.S. Embassy, the
police force completely blocked the members of the right wing pressure
group called Ansar-e Hezbollah so that the latter may not physically obstruct
the rally, which happened the last year's rally.
3- A conservative cleric, Mohammad Araqi -- head of the Islamic Propagation
Organization which, among others, hosts a number of political rallies for
the conservatives including the one scheduled for the day after tomorrow
commemorating the same thing -- marched with the leftist students inside
the Tehran University campus. He did so as the capacity of the Leader's
representative to the Tehran University. Still, it showed that the demonstration
was sanctioned by the authorities, or even approved to some extent by the
conservative power brokers.
4- A leftist cleric, Hadi Khamenei, a younger brother of the Leader
and the main speaker of the rally organized by the same organization outside
the Tehran University one month ago, marched with the students outside
the campus till the site of the rally. The main speaker of today's rally
was Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, allegedly one of the three core persons (along
with Abbas Abdi) who planned and executed the Embassy takeover 19 years
ago. He was a member of the Majles from 1988 to 1992, but his candidacy
has been denied for the last 6 years.
He spoke passionately and eloquently and apparently was received well.
Had he not been disqualified for the Majles by-elections earlier this year,
he would probably been elected as a Khatami supporter. The rally protesting
his disqualification in March ended with bloody fights and arrests. At
that time, the police force were criticized for first not intervening when
the Ansar-e Hezbollah rightists were beating the leftist students, and
second for arresting only the leftist students.
5- Today's event was the second one hosted by the leftists after Musavi
Lari became Interior Minister. The behavior of the police force today showed
a marked difference. They were swift in preventing the rightists from coming
toward the platform and breaking the rally. Toward the end of the rally,
the organizers urged the crowd to thank the police, which they did by shouting
6- Still, the rightist pressure group were there to voice their opposition.
Several of them were following the demonstrators from the beginning. More
were there waiting at the site of the rally. Seconds before the rally started,
they burned two large U.S. flags, at the great annoyance of the leftist
organizers who had announced that they would not do it as a show of respect
to the American people. The Ansar-e Hezbollahs kept shouting slogans during
Asgharzadeh's speech to disturb it, slogans such as "Allah is Great"
and "Death on Hypocrites."
7- Last year, there were two rallies on November 4 in front of the former
U.S. Embassy. The morning rally was organized by the conservative semi-
governmental organization and its main speaker was Nateq-Nuri. The leftists
had their own separate rally in the afternoon on the same spot and its
speaker was a leftist cleric and former Interior Minister, Mohtashami.
Toward the end of the speech, the rightists physically broke the rally.
This year, the leftists chose (voluntarily or not) to hold their rally
on a different day from the conservatives, and succeeded in concluding
it without disturbance.
My take is that it shows some progress made during the last year. There
have been some setbacks, such as the ban of the Jame'eh-then-Tous newspaper.
But, the fact that the leftist Khatami supporters could successfully hold
a demonstration and rally with the great cooperation of the police force
and openly voice their political views seems to constitute a significant
step forward for what President Khatami has promised to realize, i.e. the
rule of law, freedom of expression, and tolerance of different views.