In Iran, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Tehran once again last Friday. They called on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to resign and were met by police and militiamen who fired tear gas.
At Friday prayers, one of the country’s top religious leaders — Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, himself a former president — voiced new doubts about the results of the recent presidential election, which returned Ahmadinejad to power. He said those doubts “are now consuming us.”
Watch the interview: Protesters return to Iran’s streets following Friday prayers
Worldfocus contributing blogger Juan Cole shares comments from an associate who witnessed last Friday’s prayers.
The past couple of days everyone I met debated back and forth whether to attend Friday Prayers today or not. Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and one of the “founding fathers” of the Islamic Republic, was to give the sermon this week. This was the first time he would speak out since the elections.
Around 11:00am I left the house with my companions and we headed to Valiasr Street. The streets were packed, both with pedestrians and cars. We hailed down a taxi and asked the driver to get us as close to Enghelab (Revolution Square) as she could. Every road she took was blocked off by the police. We finally made it to the intersection of Hafez and Taleqani and decided to walk the rest of the way to the University of Tehran. All along Enghelab Street special forces lined the streets as people calmly walked towards the university. As we approached the main gates of the university, Ansari’s voice (who was giving the first talk of the Friday Prayers) was heard throughout the area from the loudspeakers positioned in Enghelab (there were also loudspeakers lining the east, west, and north of the campus virtually all the way towards Valiasr Square). It was impossible to get to the main gates of the university as the crowd was already too large and the Basij and special forces directed people into side streets. We turned into Qods Street. By this time it was already 12:30 and the crowd kept growing.
Everytime Ansari mentioned the Supreme Leader, the crowd booed. Everytime he referred to the opposition as traitors, chants of “liar, liar” started. When he mentioned that everyone should listen to the advice and dictates of the Supreme Leader, chants of “Death to the dictator” were loudly shouted. When he derailed America and Britian for muddling in Iran’s affairs, the crowd erupted in chants of “Down with Russia” (because Russia immediately recognized the re-election of Ahmadinejad and congratulated him). As he spoke of the recent killings of Muslims in China, the crowd chided him and the system for its hyprocrisy. Though there was a visible show of force by the Basij and supporters of Ahmadinejad, almost all the women were decked in green ribbons or scarfs, and many men had on green shirts or hats. The women had all gathered on one side of Qods and wouldn’t let the crowd remain silent during Ansari’s speech. Many had climbed onto large trash bins or light posts and led the entire streets in chants–all were decked in green and in the face of the Basij, people put their arms in the air, with the peace/victory sign.
The crowd was composed of people of all ages and backgrounds. Women brought their children with them, many of whom they had dressed from head to toe in green. A few middle-aged women entered the street carrying a framed photo with a black ribbon of Sohrab Aarabi, the 19 year-old boy who was killed during the demonstrations last month and who’s body was only released earlier this week. Women gathered around and started chanting: “My martyred brother, I will reclaim your vote” (baradar-e shahidam, rayet ra pas migiram). Shouts of Allah-u Akbar were routinely started and as Ansari finished his speech, the crowd erupted in “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein.”
Shortly after Rafsanjani began his sermon and the crowd grew into a silence. The first part of his sermon was dedicated to the leadership of the Prophet, while the second and third parts were directed to the post-election situation in Iran. As he started his second part, he called for the release of all those imprisoned during this past month (the crowd erupted into appaulse); he spoke of how the people had broke the back of the Shah’s regime and that one should never forget the power of the people (chants of “Allah-u Akbar” rang loud from all streets surrounding the university); he talked of the need to keep the “Republic” part of the Islamic Republic in place by respecting people’s vote; he berated Seda-va-Sima (the state media) for its coverage (elated, everyone again broke out in applause). In short, he spoke out against the election results and the subsequent crack-down of the past month, indirectly criticising Khameini. As he wound down his speech and made his recommendations (essentially, to regain the confidence of the people), people shouted their support for him.
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