TEHRAN, Iran — With democracy tremors rocking the Arab world, Iran’s opposition has challenged its hard-line leaders to allow a peaceful demonstration — ostensibly in support of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
The request to hold a rally on Monday falls short of an open call for supporters of Iran’s “green” movement to return to the streets after more than a year, but it is the closest that Iran’s opposition has come so far to trying to join in the historic events elsewhere.
“In order to declare support for the popular movements in the region, in particular, the freedom-seeking movements of the people of Egypt and Tunisia, we request a permit to invite the people for a rally,” read the open letter from Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, two of the presidential candidates who were defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in what they said were rigged elections in 2009. The letter, dated Saturday, was addressed to Iran’s Interior Ministry and published Sunday on websites affiliated with Iran’s opposition.
While similar requests have recently been met with flat refusals or utter disregard, the letter puts Iran’s hard-liners in a quandary. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and many other conservative figures have offered clear and ringing support for the movements in Egypt and Tunisia. Their refusal to grant permission for such a rally would be seen by opposition supporters and perhaps others as hypocritical.
With just under a week to go before the proposed demonstration, the call has provoked a large online response centering around the “25 Bahman” Facebook page, a reference to the rally’s date in the Persian calendar. In less than 24 hours, the page has attracted a slew of comments, promotional posters, video clips and more than 12,000 “likes” from online activists hoping to revitalize a protest movement that has been subdued after an effective campaign of state violence, threats, imprisonment of key figures and a blanket ban on access to the mainstream government news media.