It’s still very early to be drawing conclusions from today’s events, as people are still out in the streets. But one thing I’m struck by is just how much the government has been in control today. Sure, they chartered busses and lured tens of thousands to the official government rally with free food, but they have also managed to keep the opposition activities largely on their terms today.
The government’s strategy is to depict the protesters as a small group of rioting thugs, burning trash cans and disrupting order for their own radical, “foreign-backed” agenda. Toward that end, they have been very effective at keeping the demonstrations today dispersed and nervous less of the “million man march” and more like Seattle WTO protesters. Above all else, the ruling elites know the danger of big crowds: strength in numbers takes over and individuals no longer feel like they will be held accountable for their actions, thus their demands get more radical and their tactics more extreme; this forces a harsher backlash from security forces, possibly including using lethal force. And then that’s the ball-game. That’s exactly what happened in 1979, and Khamenei learned that lesson well enough that he’ll do his utmost not to repeat it.
So today’s events (like previous ones) have seen security forces disrupt crowds before they can coalesce into a large group, arresting numerous individuals as a way of controlling the crowds before they get out of the police’s hands.
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