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Tehran vows to crush rally supporting Tunis, Cairo

Says only approved gathering permitted

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After praising the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Iranian authorities Wednesday threatened to crush a domestic rally proposed to show support for the demonstrators who took to the streets in Tunis and Cairo in massive anti-government protests.

The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards called opposition leaders "spies," while another official said Iranians can show their solidarity for Tunisians and Egyptians on Friday at a government-sanctioned rally on the 32nd anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley needled the theocratic regime on Twitter.

"There is a certain irony about Iran's reaction to Egypt. What is good for Tahrir Square should be good for Tehran," he wrote, referring to the plaza in Cairo where massive demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak are in their third week.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs challenged the Iranian government to allow the protests.

"We'll see if the government of Iran is confident enough in its meeting the demands of its people to let its people show the demands that they have of their government," he said.

Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, both former presidential candidates, had submitted a request to the Interior Ministry to hold a solidarity rally on Monday.

They were the two most high-profile leaders of the opposition "Green Movement," which blossomed in June 2009, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed a second term in an election seen as fraudulent by most analysts. Millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the election results, until authorities cracked down on the demonstrations and arrested thousands.

Mr. Mousavi, the former Iranian prime minister believed to won more votes than Mr. Ahmadinejad, said, "Whatever we are witnessing in the streets of Tunis, Sanaa, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, [they] take their origins from the millions-strong protests in Tehran in June 2009."

Hossein Hamedani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday that he considered the opposition leaders "anti-revolutionary and spies" and that the Guards would "strongly confront any of their movements."

Iranian Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie invited Iranians to come to the Friday commemoration to show their support for the Tunisian and Egyptian demonstrators.

"If anybody wants to side with the wishes of the peoples of Egypt and Tunisia, they should come along with the establishment and people on [Friday] and take part in the rally," he said, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency.

"On the other hand, choosing another day [to hold a rally] means these individuals wish to be in a separate front and will create divisions. This is a political act but the people have to be aware, and if required, they will respond to them."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the protests against pro-Western autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia "an irreversible defeat for the United States" and part of a "Islamic awakening" in the region.

Andrew Apostolou, a Middle East expert and senior program manager at Freedom House in Washington, said the latest events had to be seen "as part of a psychological battle" between the Iranian regime and the opposition.

"The trick that the opposition needs to pull off is to put the regime in a position where its options are bad or worse," he said.

"'Bad' is the regime turns the opposition down, then it looks repressive and hypocritical. 'Worse' is the regime decides to let the opposition rally and is confronted with street protests. The regime has taken the bad option."

Mr. Apostolou believes opposition to the regime in Iran is as strong as it is in Egypt, but Mr. Mubarak is more restrained in his reaction because of his dependence on U.S. aid.

"In Egypt, for all the disgusting faults of the regime, the United States is supplying the kit, and the United States has made it abundantly clear to Mubarak that it does not want Egyptians crushed under American tanks," he noted.

"The people supplying the kit in Iran are the Chinese. They regard shooting protesters as a form of product-testing."

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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