June 21st, 2009
11:31 AM ET

The Twitter Tiananmen of Tehran

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/21/iran.election/art.iran.hose.jpg caption="Demonstrators are sprayed with a water hose Saturday by Iranian security forces."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/21/iran.election/art.gas.afp.gi.jpg caption="Protesters try to protect themselves from tear gas fired by police Saturday in Tehran. "]

Arsalan Iftikhar | BIO
AC360° Contributor
Founder, TheMuslimGuy.com

Watching the events in Tehran unfold over the past week has conjured up tragic memories of what took place in Tiananmen Square more than 20 years ago.

In 1989, China's largest pro-democracy protests in history ended when military tanks rolled onto Tiananmen Square (translated literally as ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’) and armed Chinese troops opened fire on crowds of more 1 million people.

The tragedy sadly resulted in the deaths of between 180 to 500 people, according to a 1989 U.S. State Department briefing on the matter.

Following the violence, the government conducted widespread arrests to suppress protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, banned the foreign press from the country and strictly controlled coverage of the events.

That sounds eerily familiar to what we are seeing transpire on the streets of Tehran, Iran today.

In the aftermath of the hotly-contested presidential election between hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformist candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, we have seen hundreds of thousands of average Iranians take to the streets of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and other Iranian cities. Iranians are demanding their votes to be accurately counted - and certified. It is the closest thing that Iran has seen to a ‘velvet revolution’ in recent historical memory.

Through the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, average Iranians are putting their own lives on the line serving as ‘citizen journalists’ to report on events in their country. The Iranian government has cracked down on international news organizations, creating an essential media blackout.

According to BBC World News, the BBC Persian television service into Iran has been blocked with "heavy electronic jamming" that has become "progressively worse" and is originating from within Iran’s own borders.

"Any attempt to block BBC Persian television is wrong and against international treaties on satellite communication. Whoever is attempting the blocking should stop it now," said BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks in a recent interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP).

During a highly anticipated recent Friday khutba (prayer sermon) at Tehran University, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defiantly defended the elections by pointing out that the 11-million vote difference between Ahmadinejad and his principal opponent, Mir Hossein Moussavi, was too large to have been manipulated by vote-rigging.

However, with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Iranian men, women and children taking to the streets, the only thing that seems quite clear is that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has over-estimated his own waning political influence within Iran today.

In clear - and brave - defiance of the Ayatollah’s mandate, reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi has stated that he is preparing himself for "martyrdom" and is quoted as telling supporters to "protest" and "not go to work”, according to a recent CNN article.

Like the Chinese military crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square more than 20 years ago, today’s Basij (literally translated as ‘mobilization’) militia volunteer force in Iran is comprised of brutish government loyalists. The Basij is often called out onto the streets at times of crisis to dispel dissent. A 2005 study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimates that there are 90,000 full-time, uniformed, active-duty Basij members and 300,000 reservists.

Using batons and water cannons, they are trying to quash the voices of millions of peaceful Iranians who are only using text-messages, Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to share their stories with the rest of the world. CNN reported over the weekend that that “unconfirmed reports put the death toll as high as 150,” mainly due to Basiij violence against peaceful protesters.

In terms of certifying the actual election results between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that any election certification by Iran’s own election officials will not be seen as legitimate by the nation as a whole.

Since the United Nations no longer officially provides election monitoring for its 192-member nation states, it becomes the collective moral imperative of our international community to call for the UN Security Council to immediately pass a binding resolution calling for outside international election monitors from either the European Union (EU) or Organization for Security and Co-Operations in Europe (OSCE). These bodies could help certify the election results to help bring about some political closure to the bedlam taking place on the streets of Iran.

Until there are international observers on the ground in Tehran to certify the election results within the parameters of international law, we are sadly going to continue to see Facebook and Twitter images showing a continuation of the Middle Eastern version of Tiananmen Square for the foreseeable near future.

In the meantime, let us all pray for the safety and security for every person in Iran and hope that it does not take an unknown ‘Tank Man’ with grocery bags defiantly standing in front of a tank for the world to realize that Iran is sadly witnessing it’s own millennial version of Tiananmen Square.

Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of http://www.TheMuslimGuy.com and is a contributing editor for Islamica magazine in Washington.

Website: www.TheMuslimGuy.com

YouTube Channel: www.YouTube.com/ArsalanTV

A.I. on Facebook at: www.Facebook.com/TheMuslimGuy

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. len

    young iranians will not sit by and allow themselves to be shut out of the global village,there will come a time when a young iranian will seek office,he\she will appeal to the masses as an idealistic,and possibly might be as popular as jfk or obama,when that happens(and it will)iran will usher in a new era.no more will the religious right factor into the countries march to freedom and democracy.the wrting is on the proverbial wall.dont kid yourselves.the young people of iran see western counterparts,as priviliged, and they want nothing less for thier own lot.70% of the population is under the age of 30,and the long train of democracy has departed the station,destination,,,,,freedom.

    June 22, 2009 at 11:26 am |
  2. rolan

    stop dictatorships i have family in iran and they are getting the news from us the goverment is not showing any news in iran they are showing soccer games .............america iran needs your help.....

    June 22, 2009 at 10:04 am |
  3. Richard N

    It's clear the people of Iran seek a democracy, not a dictatorship. I wonder how close Komeini is to Osama bin Laden. All the killers in the world will not stop free speech. Who thought that Kruschev's USSR would turn into the open society we see today.

    June 22, 2009 at 9:18 am |
  4. ronvan

    This is going to be a bloodly mess before it ends. Many will loose their lives in an attempt to change their countries future. And what are we & others to do? Nothing! We have to let them decide the outcome.

    June 22, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  5. journalistnumber9

    As the world is quickly grasping the gravity of the situation in Iran, what with twitter a-buzz about Neda, the Iranian young woman being shot on tape, I can only hope people do not get caught in a sensationalized frenzy and lose perspective on the seriousness of events.

    I am disheartened to see the image of Neda's bloody face being used as twitter icons, and sick to realize that she is very quickly being dehumanized and becoming a "brand."

    I am glad to see people enraged at the heinous lack of liberty currently in Iran, but we should keep Neda's family first in our minds, and support the cause with a sense of decency befitting a victim of a brutal situation.

    June 22, 2009 at 8:47 am |
  6. patricia lewis

    This is so sad and so hard to watch, I Prey they resolve it without anymore blood shed. I don't understand how people can kill in the first place, I'll never understand how they can kill their own. I realize many have been killed but I can't get that beautiful young lady (Neda) out of my mine. How can we as Americans watch this and still complain, complain, complain. This young lady was shot down in the street like an animal and what do we do complain about how President Obama killed a fly.

    June 22, 2009 at 8:06 am |
  7. Als

    The images in Iran also brings up the treatment of blacks in history trying to fight for their freedom over here in America. These people are fighting for their freedom and the right to choose. Pres Obama is doing the right thing by staying out of their figh that was 30 or more years in the making. John Mccain and others responses is putting journalists lives in danger. America should have one voice coming out of this country on CNN stay out of it Iran is going to do what they want to do. When we have a election we dont want other countries meddling because of the outcome .America its their fight stay out of it .

    June 22, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  8. DBOY

    I sympathize with the Iranian protesters and I hope that the government shows restraint and allows them to express their displeasure.

    The idea, however, of inviting international observers to certify the election results is, I think, missing the mark.

    Iran is not a democracy and has never claimed to be one. Everyone knows that the president has limited powers and that true power lies with the supreme leader and his assembly of experts. While elections are good and at least gives the Iranian people some measure of participation in the selection of government officials, it is naive to think that elections are nothing more than a way for the true Iranian leadership to give the people something to chew on, so to speak, and give them way to satisfy aspirations towards western-style democracy.

    June 22, 2009 at 7:23 am |
  9. Tino

    my name is tino i live in Elgin IL born in mexico and raise in usa is there something that i could do to help with Iran or do to help the people of iran it makes me cry to see this is not fair is there something our president can do?

    Iran i pray for you and i cry with you .........

    June 22, 2009 at 5:17 am |
  10. Eric dzn

    Where are the spy satellite pics and vids that USA is capable of taking? Why don't you share to the world the real information available that you have?

    June 22, 2009 at 3:54 am |
  11. Spelunker

    Iran already has their own "Tank Man" as martyr "Neda" has quickly become the eternal symbol of sacrifice in Tehran'anmen Square.

    June 22, 2009 at 1:39 am |
  12. Judy

    Those poor protesters in Iran. I thought the free world defeated Nazi Faschism in WW2. The Government in Iran is like Hitler. I can not believe what I am watching. I am praying for those protesters fighting for what they want.

    June 22, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  13. David

    I am scared of guns and would never own one but just to know I have the right to bear arms makes me feel like a free man. America this is why we need to honor and never allow our gov't to take away our rights to keep and bear arms- If the people in Iran had that right they would be able to protect themselves from the suppressors.

    June 21, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  14. J. Gygax

    I would like to know if there are any comments from
    the Arab language TV stations about the events and
    the Iranian people's reactions in the past few days.

    June 21, 2009 at 10:07 pm |
  15. Ahmad Alavi

    Hello Anderson,

    The Shark(Rafsanjani) Strikes again. I called this out a few days ago "This is a war between Khameneie and Rafsanjani, and People of Iran are just being used." Now it seems like Rafsanjani is wining this war if this happens, Now they're talking about Instead of having a Supreme leader have a Council that can do His job. See while Khameneie was yapping and Making Treats, The Shark(Rafsanjani) who was silent the whole time was making deals behind closed doors. I don't Like Rafsanjani but i Respect His Politic game. the reason I call Rafsanjani Shark is that's his Nick Name among Iranian People.

    June 21, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  16. JackieQ- Brea -Ca

    Stick to the subject, Iran.
    That country which likes to burn the American flag. It has been 30 yrs in the coming but the world is watching the real Iran. Dirty and Used and Abused by Religious means.

    One World, One Dream, Freedon!

    June 21, 2009 at 8:48 pm |
  17. John Reifenberg

    What Iran needs are the freedom songs of the60's we shall overcome Blowing etc.

    June 21, 2009 at 7:19 pm |
  18. galwaygirltexas

    Americans can show support for Iranians by tieing a green ribbon around some component of their vehicle. This is a peacful, subtle way to let them know that we support them in their courageous pursit of freedom and democracy.

    June 21, 2009 at 7:13 pm |
  19. K. Stanchak


    I am counting on you to correct the use of Farsi when referring to the languge spoken by the people of Iran. At such a critical point in their history great attention must be paid to their proper identity.

    Thank you

    June 21, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  20. Kyan

    CNN should interview Sean Penn and his views on the situation since he has been to Iran personally and has had experience with the people in Iran. I am sure he has lots of opinions in regards to the events that have been happening.

    June 21, 2009 at 5:43 pm |
  21. Lassie

    Anderson, I hope you're not taking credit for this heading. It was a Twitter member who came up with this late last night.

    June 21, 2009 at 5:14 pm |
  22. Pat R

    My heart breaks for the Iranian people – free elections are only free if the people have confidence in their elections. The lust for personal power and the desire to control the lives of others 'for their own good' is often the driving force behind dictatorships (even when the dictators are 'elected'). These kinds of actions will nearly always end in turmoil, pain and death – we need only witness the chaos in many African countries to know the truth, and the history, of this. How many times does this have to happen around the globe for leaders to understand that leading with cattle prods isn't leading, it's driving with coercion?

    President Obama is handling this properly, keeping a cool head, and knowing / understanding that this problem must be addressed first by the Iranian people and second by the free world as a whole. The majority of the Iranian electorate, the people, no longer sees the US Government as the devil incarnate – thanks to the new President and his current Cabinet leaders – let's try to keep it that way. When cooler head prevail, fewer guns are necessary.

    June 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm |
  23. Kladionica

    No.This is not an another Tiananmen square.This is not a rebellion against the dictatorship or a battle for ˝democracy˝.I don't see people fighting police,but i see people fighting Basij .Who are they?- civilian militia & supporters of the current govt -.Neither faction want to give up their theocracy,but they want push their political leader.So let's put our preconceptions and sentimentalism apart,and let's call this for what it really is:
    Muslims killing other muslims.Neither 1979 was a revolution.

    June 21, 2009 at 3:54 pm |
  24. ILove Iran

    Please let it be known that if protesters are carrying the holy book, the Koran, police can not and will not harm them. The violence needs to end!

    June 21, 2009 at 3:53 pm |
  25. JohnWinNC

    Obviously, the elections were a fraud! The Iranian government is terrorizing its own people to protect a lie. Anyone with elementary math skills can see that the election results were skewded beyond belief. By refusing to hold a fair and open election, the Iran leadership has virtually admitted its guilt.

    June 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm |
  26. Beryl

    Good coverage.

    Thanks to Walmart shoppers and decades of selling our country to China, we are in danger of China interfering with us at will. Let's not demonstrate interference in Iran.

    Our President has done the right thing by confirming our position for human rights and sanctions against tyranny. As a country, that is all we need to do. If more is desired, see the UN.

    McCain and others who want military responses, should put on fatigues, get on a plane to Iran, and help out personally. Leave the rest of us out of it.

    June 21, 2009 at 3:34 pm |
  27. Geline

    Hurrayy! for Facebook and Twitter! Social networking now has it's purpose. And I pray that things will be better for the Iranians. The Iranian government may have suppressed the media but not the world wide web.

    June 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
  28. hardi

    the good fight for a better tomorrow continues. The fight for justice to be served continues. People power! God is great!

    June 21, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  29. Gary

    May peace come to Iran soon

    June 21, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  30. tinawest

    watching and praying for world peace

    June 21, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
  31. Grace

    They're fighting for their voices to be heard in a true democracy and I admire their courage. May God help them.

    June 21, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  32. Lori

    These people are so brave.

    June 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm |
  33. Maureen, Georgia

    Anderson it is so sad to see how the Iranians are being abused, I've never seen anything like this before. The Iranians are putting their lives on the line for freedom from tyranny. I've been glued to the tv since the election & pray that all this protesting results in their leaders being overthrown & the Iranians get the freedom they deserve. Some times I think as Americans we take our freedom for granted, even though we're having this economic crisis we're still blessed with freedom.

    June 21, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  34. HossRah

    As a american-born iranian. I believe that history is about to repeat itself. From the 70s of our father, changing history from a monarchy to a clerical state. To today changing a clerical to a democracy.I pains me to see my hertiage in such turnmoil. I love America and I love Iran. I pray that God/Allah will shows his guidance and stop this blood shed.

    June 21, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  35. Aquafina

    Great post. Thank you for combining historical/accurate facts mixed with newsworthy happenings. It's eerie that you posted this story this morning, as I had just told several people that what we're seeing now is the Tiananmen of our millenium, and even more importantly, the younger generations in Iran.

    Unfortunately, the horrific and gruesome video of "Neda", as she is called by Iranian Twitterers, dying in the street after being shot by the Basiij, serves as this uprising's iconic image. Like the Tank Man, Neda left us with an imprint of bloodshed and innocent victimage that won't soon be forgotten.

    To all those in Iran - believe in what you fight for, keep democracy a peaceful movement, and know that citizens from nations around the world are watching helplessly, but support you immensely.

    June 21, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  36. Kristin

    These problems faced by the people of Tehran are so unkind to the movement to the people who want their freedoms. Like this is 2009 not the year 1100 AD, please all who are involved with the exterminating of the
    rights of the humane culture should be condemned world wide. Enough is Enough! The past is haunting you and the progress of your people. It's about time Iran lived up to It's proper place in the world society. Uplift your people and your country! Stop the oppression of millions of souls who all intended purposes want to just live free from the fear and chaos.
    To suffer under this Iran state is criminal, and it goes against the principles of our Creators wishes.

    June 21, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  37. susan

    Oh. And the demonstrators at Tienanmen were unaware that they had subtle support in the form of General Secretary Zhao as the protesters in Iran have the support of the likes of Rafsamjani, and other clerics at the highest level.

    So, as I noted prior – Khameni = Deng.
    Monarchs claim their right as a divine right. Thus, Khameni is really a Monarch.

    June 21, 2009 at 12:00 pm |
  38. MARG G

    The water hoses remind me of a commonplace occurrence during the 60's race demonstrations. Water hoses & police dogs inflicted on peaceful protestors and we witnessed it regularly on the nightly news And it happened here in the US.

    June 21, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  39. matthew simon

    Could you provide bio's on the major players in Iran. i had to wiki them to figure out who they are and what they represented. the story became much clearer with this very interest information.

    June 21, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  40. susan

    Note that THE ECONOMY was a major issue in both situations –
    inflation and corruption in China (interesting read, Zhao postumous memoir)
    unemployment and sanctions that limit economic prospects (due to posturing and stated foreign and domestic policies) in Iran.

    Note also that many of the early demonstrations centered about Azadi square/tower – Freedom!

    Hey – I asked if this would be Iran's Tienanmen Square with the first demonstration!

    June 21, 2009 at 11:55 am |