Tens of thousands of Iranian students are staging protests at universities across Iran today, calling for an end to the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The coordinated demonstrations at dozens of universities are expected to stretch thin the capabilities of the Revolutionary Guards and their anti-riot squads to maintain order.
“We expect the regime will only be able to stage a show of force against a handful of these demonstrations,” Revolutionary Guards founder Mohsen Sazegara told Newsmax on Sunday.
These days, Sazegara is calling for an end to the regime and is a commentator for Voice of America.
During the previous wave of anti-regime demonstrations in November, the anti-riot squads, known as Basijis, virtually deserted, leading Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to send them to barracks without arms.
“They had to hire 3,500 people, paying them $400 each per day, in order to crack down on the November demonstrations,” Sazegara told Newsmax. “We have succeeded in destroying the Basij force as it has been known until now. Today, it is only a name.”
A senior Revolutionary Guards commander for Tehran announced on Saturday that he had ordered his troops to give flowers to student demonstrators on Monday.
“We are ready for that,” Sazegara told Newsmax. “We are happy to show that IRGC troops are refusing to fire on demonstrators. One of our strategies is to call on them and the regular Army to join the nation against the regime.”
In previous years, the Islamic regime has staged mass demonstrations on Dec. 7 to commemorate student protests against Vice President Richard Nixon's visit to Iran in 1953.
But in the wake of the disputed June election that returned Ahmadinejad to power, his opponents have performed political jui-jitsu and used pro-regime slogans and commemorations against the regime, a tactic U.S. political strategist Gene Sharp first described in 1973.
“This is the first time that all opposition groups, from the green movement to the monarchists, from the religious to the secular, have called for joint demonstrations,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, a leader of the 1999 student revolt who supports the movement against the regime.
The regime has been fighting back on several fronts. In recent weeks, it has restricted Internet access to users inside Iran to opposition sites hosted outside the country, stepped up the monitoring of e-mail and text messages, and detained student leaders inside Iran.
During the weekend, the regime shut down many Internet service providers inside Iran, Newsmax has learned. The regime also has launched a massive campaign of harassment and intimidation aimed at Iranian exiles.
This latest campaign “involves tracking the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity of Iranians around the world, and identifying them at opposition protests abroad,” then threatening their relatives inside Iran, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
“Dozens of individuals in the U.S. and Europe who criticized Iran on Facebook or Twitter said their relatives back in Iran were questioned or temporarily detained because of their postings,” the Journal reported.
Opposition Web sites reported that several prominent leaders of the student movement inside Iran have been arrested in recent days, apparently in an attempt to prevent them from playing a role in Monday’s protests.
“They are going to be very surprised,” said Ardeshir Zarezadeh, a former student leader now living in the United States. “They think they have arrested the leadership of Monday’s demonstrations. But the demonstrations will take place even bigger than planned.”
Zarezadeh told Newsmax he had just spoken to Heshmatollah Tabarzadeh, one of the leaders of Solidarity for Democracy in Iran, a coalition movement inside Iran that has brought together leaders of the green movement, student groups, and more tradition secular parties such as the Iran Nation’s Party.
“Tabarzadeh was told that he had been sentenced to a new prison term by a religious court, although he was unaware of the charges and was never summoned to court,” Zarezadeh said.
In the past, Tabarzadeh and other members of the green movement have said that they favored reforming the Islamic regime from within. But the violent crackdown on all forms of protest since June has changed the nature of the movement.
“Today, the goal is overthrowing the regime,” Zarezadeh said.
Ali Afshari, another former student leader who fled to the United States after he was released from jail a few years ago, has infuriated hard-core opposition activists for years.
An adviser to former President Mohammad Khatami, Afshari has long argued that the regime can be reformed from within. But recent events have changed his mind, he told Newsmax at a rally at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
“The Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] must go,” he said. “The key today is to change the constitution of the Islamic Republic through a massive non-violent movement of civil disobedience.”
That means getting rid of the supreme leader and the clerics' absolute rule, Afshari said. The constitution Ayatollah Khomeini dictated in 1980 defines the clerics' role.
Regime agents overseas have been working overtime to create confusion and dissension among anti-regime activists.
On Saturday, for example, Iranian students at the University of Toronto staged a rally to commemorate Iranian Students Day, but they insisted they were not protesting against the regime and did not want to change it.
“It is difficult to understand how anyone can claim to support the Iranian students and yet organize an event that is not anti-regime,” said Sayeh Hassan, a Canadian-Iranian lawyer and prominent blogger.
“If an event is not anti-regime, then what can it be? Pro regime? There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground,” she wrote on her blog, shiro-khorshid-forever.
About 70 percent of the Iranian expat students studying in Canada have come on Iranian government scholarships, she told Newsmax. “They don’t want to create any sort of conflict” that might cause problems for themselves or their families back in Iran.
Former Revolutionary Guards founder and reformist publisher Mohsen Sazegara was upbeat about the prospects for regime change in the coming months.
“For the first time we have succeeded in working with each other and tolerating each other [in the opposition] by concentrating on a single goal – bringing down the government of [president] Ahmadinejad,” he told Newsmax on Sunday.
Because Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has tied his political horse to Ahmadinejad’s spurs, this means he inevitably will suffer the same fate as the unpopular president.
“Our immediate goal is to allow the president-elect to come to power,” he told Newsmax, referring to defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, the titular head of the green movement and a former prime minister in the 1980s.
“But we have made it very clear to Mousavi that we intend to solve our problems with the regime at the ballot box soon after that,” Sazegara said. “Mousavi — he will only come to power to head a provisional government while we organize a referendum on the constitution to determine the fate of the Islamic Republic.”
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