Resilient protesters keep Iran off balance

Wed Dec 9, 2009 7:18am EST
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By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent - Analysis

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Ever bolder anti-government protests in Iran show no signs of dying down six months after a disputed election that has plunged the Islamic Republic into a crisis of legitimacy and paralyzed nuclear decision-making.

"Things are moving toward escalation, internally and externally. It seems the Iranian government is not able to manage these crises together," said Mahjoob Zweiri, an Iran analyst at Jordan University's Center for Strategic Studies.

Add to the mix popular grumbling over unemployment and inflation that could worsen if the government implements plans to lift fuel subsidies that are crippling state finances.

"We've been isolated due to the regime's foreign policy," complained a 38-year-old civil servant who gave her name only as Shahla. "The economy is shakier than ever. Corruption is so high. Nobody can solve these problems. We need changes."

Opposition rallies no longer muster the huge crowds that flooded the streets in the days after the June 12 election, but frustration remains. "I voted for change. I am very disappointed because they stole my vote," said Ladan, 19, a Tehran student.

A movement ignited by dismay at hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in a vote his foes said was a fraud is turning more radical, perhaps more so than mainstream opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi would wish.

"We are now in a cycle of contestation, repression and more serious contestation," said Mohammad-Reza Djalili, a professor at Geneva's Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. "It is difficult to imagine a peaceful outcome."

Protesters, who now seize occasions marked in the Islamic revolutionary calendar to raise their voices, this week defied the authorities in universities across Iran, using a day that officially marks the killing of three students under the shah.   Continued...