PROTEST AND SURVIVE IN IRAN
My page about the Iran crisis and its coverage on Twitter, following the way the election was hijacked by the losing party has gained some attention of late, and I’d like to follow it up with my own personal advice on how pro-democracy demonstrators should behave to make their case effectively, while keeping as safe as possible under fire. There are no guarantees under such terrible and genuinely frightening conditions, but hopefully, some of these observations will help. I have taken part in re-enactments of real historic battles, role playing games of strategy and several peaceful demonstrations, which have helped me to piece this document together.
Know your enemy, know what you are fighting for, move quickly, try to avoid being predictable, use decoy tactics and manovers, don’t set rigid timetables, code your instructions, learn how to use the tactics of a ‘flashmob’ and how to care for the wounded, and when necessary, the deceased. Also, communicate with the outside World as much as possible. I've broken these advice areas into ten chapter headings.
2/. LEARN FROM WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE
3/. PREPARE AND PLAN
4/. DON’T BE PREDICTABLE
5/. DECOY TACTICS
6/. CODED INSTRUCTIONS
7/. FLASHMOB TACTICS.
8/. SURVIVE - DON'T BE MARTYRS BY CHOICE
9/. CARE FOR AND REMEMBER FALLEN COMRADES
10/. COMMUNICATE YOUR NEEDS TO OUTSIDERS
“Knowledge is power.” Francis Bacon – 16th Century English philosopher.
First of all, know what you are protesting about. Be sure of what you want to gain from events, for yourself, your community and your country.
For many protesters, the June 2009 general national election promised choice, and an opportunity to elect a liberal minded, experienced, though elderly candidate. Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Who campaigned tirelessly, promising reform and moderation, with among other election manifesto promises, greater freedom for women, and a TV network that would have some independence so that it would not simply peddle State propaganda.
The election was, regrettably, a gigantic conspirational sham. The established government rigged the results to the point at which no ballot need have taken place at all. They treated their people like fools and dashed the hopes and dreams of millions. In many Iranian cities, the government won by more votes than there were voters. If a 1,000 people are entitled to vote and the winning party wins by a comfortable 1,200 vote majority then something is clearly amiss, and this happened time and time again in this election. There is only one way that can happen – blatant electoral fraud. Had Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won his election honestly, the people who supported Mousavi would be perfectly willing to accept the fact, and concede defeat. The election was obviously rigged, and the people duped are understandably very angry. There is no possible way to trust or respect a any governing body that maintains and secures power in such a way. The reforms the people dreamed of, and the freedoms offered the women of Iran, and the independence of the television stations, can never materialize under a hard-line ultra-conservative dictatorial regime that protects itself at the expense of its own population. Such a regime has to be removed from power before any kind of political reform becomes possible and the protests initiated by the brave people of Iran have proved to be the difficult first steps towards making that happen.
Know also who is on which side. This may not be as easy as it initially sounds, as the government will have spies among the pro-democrats. Many involved for both sides are un-uniformed. The government are making strong use of digital cameras, mobile phones and CCTV and internet footage to see who the protesters are. Rewards are being offered for information about the whereabouts of pro-democrats, and those captured may be coerced or even tortured into revealing plans and whereabouts of their colleagues.
While you must not resort to torture or coercion, you could make use of video and camera footage to identify plain clothed right wingers as they turn on protesters, and observe patterns of behaviour by the main police and army units.
THE PROTESTS SO FAR
Though the State claims that the protests about the election and the calls for the overthrow of their regime are orchestrated by Mousavi and by the CIA, the protests are largely a spontaneous, grass roots stance by the Iranian people. Many in the West were largely unaware of the events until the story became too big to be ignored by our own media machine, though people on Twitter and other social networking web sites were among the first to notice and draw attention to the tragic events unfolding in Iran. Even there, much focus is on events in the capital, Tehran, with little news breaking of events across the rest of Iran.
Initial protests ended in some angry clashes between supporters of the state, and the pro-democracy demonstrators. There was some violence and some damage to property. To his credit, Mousavi personally called on the pro-democrasy protesters to refrain from violence, and on the whole they have done so since.
Sadly, the more peaceful the democratic factions became, the more aggressive the pro-State supporters became. In mid-June mass rallies tthat went peacefully in the day ended in indiscrimanate brutality as protesters were beaten and attacked as their numbers reduced when they dispersed to head for their homes. Any violence that could not be denied by the state was blamed directly on the protesters (the victims of each assault). The government now made it clear that it regarded any and all demonstrations, even peaceful ones, as illegal, and made it clear that all suspected demonstrators would be met with hostility and force.
Demonstrators, knowing full well what to expect by way of dangers, bravely went out in sizable numbers to protest anyway. They had been denied a vote and now the State was denying them freedom of speech too.
Sure enough, protests over the next few days were met with intense and clearly exessive force. Protesters faced water cannons, tear gas, live rounds of ammunition were fired at them, wounding many and killing some, though exact numbers are not clear. Reports were issued of more disturbing tactics by the right wing government too; many protesters reported seeing tanks blocking key streets, and acidic chemicals were sprayed on the protesters from helicopters. Worse, the Basij, an unofficial paramilitary police force, were released against the people. A favourite tactic for them is riding on powerful motorbikes into a cluster of protesters to hit them with batons and cables.
Despite the terror-tactics and many arrests, (from the protest sites and from people’s homes) the protesters continued their campaigns. If anything, the attempts to strike fear into their hearts galvanized them into further action.
When cell-phone footage of the death of a girl called Neda was released around Twitter, Youtube, and other social networking sites, the pro-democratic demonstrators suddenly had a very potent human face and an iconic symbol. Neda was not the first to die, or the last. She is the only victim to date to become a household name throughout the World. She had been shot while not directly involved in the protests, and left bleeding to death surrounded by grieving family and friends. The democrats now had a new rallying cry, ‘Remember Neda’, a woman who’s very name means ‘Voice’ and her picture was given mass circulation as was the video of her terrible fate. It took several days, but the rest of the World media was now waking up to the truth of what was happening in Iran. Even President Obama in the US could not remain totally silent.
SO WHAT TO DO NOW?
3/. PREPARE AND PLAN
The more organized you are, the better and safer your protests will become. There are no guarenttees of safety and it is extremely important that you realistically understand the enormous risks you are taking, for yourself, other protesters, and all your / their family and friends. Simply heading to the city centre streets and roaming around yelling ‘ Down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,’ and other slogans will have limited success, and merely draws the attention of the authorities your way.
Work out, together with other protesters, where and when you wish to campaign. All congregating together at a given street or building, or even your homes, will draw unwanted State attention, so be discret. Where possible, talk by internet chat rooms, and plan things by electronic media. Keep in mind that the government are monitoring and trying to block such devises though.
You want to know what to do, where, and how many people might be involved on both sides. Realistically, think of what the enemy will try to do to stop you. If you congregate in large numbers carrying placards denouncing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad you may well be heading for direct confrontation with riot police, baton weilding bikers, water cannons of possibly even gun-fire. You should make sure you know the terrain you are covering well, by having been there many times and by use of maps and Google Earth internet searches.
Your next question would be what time to meet to start a march, and what time to end it, if unchallenged. (the latter is unlikely as the point of such a march is to attract public and media attention, so the authorities will also se what you are doing, and from their point of view, they will feel obliged to stop you by any means at their disposal).
Your next question is therefore whether you wish to engage in confrontation, or retreat when the authorities approach you. Do you hope to win a pitched confrontation, or do you plan to disperse and take cover? Direct fighting against trained, armed millitia by unarmed peaceful protesters can only end badly for the protesters, unless the armed forces can be made to see that they are fighting their own people – Study works on passive resistance by Gandhi and Martin Luther King among others. Tell the soldiers repeatedly that they kill their own brothers and sisters. Repeat it loudy – accuse them of civil war, for that is what they are doing. Call on them to lay down their arms and embrace your cause. Many have already.
If bullets are being fired, prepare to disperse as quickly as you can. Think in advance what routes to take. Judge tactics used by the authorities before – which kind of streets will they set up blockades at? Will they fire from the rooftops? Will there be rooftops suitable for such action? Under fire, try to generate smoke, as a screen and fog to aid your escape, but don’t set fire to houses and cars if possible. Have flamable materials on you to achieve the task. Do not take petrol bombs or Molotov Cocktails. Do not carry firearms or knives and swords.
Damaging millitary vehicles and weapons that could be used against you is perfectly legitimate use of your resources. Broken glass will lacerate the tyres of army jeeps, etc. Taking Basij bike-riders off their bikes by having thin cables and ropes stretched across roads intheir path (below neck height, please) will hopefully take them off their bikes. If youcan capture the opponants without hurtingthem, strip them naked or daub them in paint to make them look foolish and let hem go.
Don’t deliberately try to get yourself kllled or captured. While a passion for martyrdom may drive you, I believe you are of more use to your country alive than dead or incarcerated. Few of the many who have died so far will be remembered, and the most remembered of the falen, Neda, was not a martyr – she wanted to live. She was a murder victim, plain and simple, and not a willing sacrifice.
People will get hurt, and possibly killed. Be prepared for that stark reality. As much as the lust for vengeance may drive you, do not kill your enemies.
The dead may have to be left where they fall, while the wounded may need treatment quickly. Protesters should know who has some first aid or medical know hw, and that should be taught to others in relation to how to deal with bleeding, gunshot injuries, acid burns, tear gas effects, and shock symptoms in particular. Be sure also to carry fresh water, and some food for the campaign. Viegar is apparently better for some chemical burns than water. Be sure to establish what skills your protesters have that can be used in the cause.
The injured may need hospitalization, and some embassies are opening their gates and dors to take in the injured, while hospitals are being guarded by the authorities who hope to intercept and punish protesters being taken to the hospitals, and presumably the allied people trying to help them as well. Be prepared for taking casualties, and know in advance how to treat hem, and the best places to take them, as well as how you hope to make the journey to and from the places concerned.
The greater your numbers, the more and rapid planning you need. Try not to leave anyone behind. Establish front markers and rear markers – the people who no one should over-take, or fall behind. Ask each person to account for at least a set number of other protesters in the group you have on any assignment, ie, ten other protesters. If anyone is missing at some point in the day, you should be able to work it out – Do not write down the names or addresses of those involved. If any documentation of that kind falls into the hands of the authorities the ways they may use it should seem obvious.
What equiptment do you have? Computers? Cameras? Phones/ First aid equioptment like bandages? Placards? Loud halers? Sort out who is to carry what. Spread the equiptment among your ranks. Don’t have a few people carrying all the weight as that will slow them down– and if anyone is captured, you only lose some material, not everythiog.
You should also establish some safe houses and other hiding places. As a protester, you are effectively a fugitive from the auhorities. If they have you on film or identified through a third party, they may well come looking for you, so you may need to get away from your home for some period of time. Establish where it may be safe for you to go. You could end up staying there for some time. Ensurethat food and water are within reach from any such safe house.
4/. DON’T BE PREDICTABLE
Try not to do the same thing at the same time every day. If your march was at 9 am one day, start at 8.30 or 10 am the next and take a different route, as well as when possible, a different destination. Don't let the authorities set their clocks by what you do. Run them ragged – it’s a guerrilla fighting tactic that can work very well in domestic engagements as effectively as it did in Vietnam in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Vietcong defeatedthe Americans who had far more fire-power, man-power and money than the Vietcong ever had. Superior foirces can be defeated.
Leave your houses at varying times, travel to the rallying points by varied routes, when roadblocks and security checks allow it – try to keep protester groups seperated until right before the planed main rally is due to commence to throw the authorities off as far as numbers are concerned. Move quickly, and keep a rally short – disperse and regroup at a fresh location, rally again, disperse and move – occassionally, double back on yourselves, but not predictably.
If the authorities fire on you, make lots of noise to draw witness attention, and cameras may capture the injustice – spread out as much as possible – and move in irratic paterns, ie, run in zig-zags and spirals rather than straight lines. Shout to the enemy to remind them that you are fellow countrymen. Accuse them of civil war, for that is what it is.
Your dispersal and escape should be well co-ordinated and as planned as possible, but no plan goes smoothly. Try to have some protesters keep quiet away from the main party ready to initiate a loud, smoke-sending protest several streets away to detract the attention of the militia. That will aid your escape, and seves as one kind of diversion and decoy tactic.
5/. DECOY TACTICS
These are ways of fooling the enemy into making the wrong move. If they the protesters are going to congregate in one town square they may put the bulk of their forces there so if you all suddenly turn up somewhere else, they will be fooled and they will struggle to move to where you are. Ideally, move again before they arrive. Misinform them. Release loud claims and rumours of doing something and then do something else. Establish changing codes to exchange real information. Don’t just broadcast your real intentions or the wrong people will be waiting for you. Confuse and confound the enemy – Divide and conquer. Spit them up at every opportunity.
6/. CODED INSTRUCTIONS
Establish changing codes to exchange real information Make sure the people you need to tell the truth understand the codes and passwords though. Encryption software is available for e-mails.
7/. FLASHMOB TACTICS.
FLASHMOB TACTICS This is something practiced in the West mainly as a mischievous entertainment, but which can be used as a strategic way of mobilizing protesters at short notice too large scale activity in the streets of Iran. Basically, a flashmob is a group of people who communicate by e-mail, mobile phone message, Facebook page, etc, and plan to do something, set a last minute time and place to do it, which is flashed around by the same electronic media, - they turn up at the place selected, do stuff, and then melt away again quickly. Flashmobs may agree to do stuff like having a water pistol fight in a city centre, or simply all turn up wearing identical tee-shirts, etc, but the method can be used to mobilize people for an act of protest in a way that might fool the authorities, as the protesters would not come together in a set place until the last possible minute. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_mob
8/. SURVIVE - DON'T BE MARTYRS BY CHOICE
People will get hurt, captured and killed – try to minimise it – do not seek death and glory – live to see the spoils of victory. Suicide bombers are especially stupid – at present you have the respect and support of the people of the free World – Be cunning but not ruthless – be honest and be humane. You are fighting for freedom, not for death.
9/. CARE FOR AND REMEMBER FALLEN COMRADES
Do all you can to help the injured and be angry about the friends who die. Vow to maintain the struggle in their memory and put their photo on display throughout Iran. Never forget them. Tell the World their story so the World can get angry on their behalf alongside you.
10/. COMMUNICATE YOUR NEEDS TO OUTSIDERS –
Talk to the World, try to gain the support of journalists, many of who have already been arrested themselves. Relay your story by the Internet, but be honest – the World will back you, guide you, and applaud you. The World mourns for Nena – The World looks forward to the new, free, democratic Iran – The World salutes you.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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