Something interesting is happening in Iran.
It’s far too early to say that it’s the first stirring of a significant rebellion against the regime since last summer’s post-election upheaval. But unlike that upsurge, which involved millions of unhappy pro-reformist voters, this time it’s the bazaar, Iran’s commercial class, that is showing signs of unhappiness. Back in 1978, when the anti-Shah revolution got going, it was the bazaar that provided the muscle. Many bazaaris, with whom I spoke extensively during two visits to Iran in 2008 and 2009, despite the mullahs. And traditionally, another part of Iran’s bazaar class has had close ties to the religious elite of ayatollahs and mullahs. They, too, have reasons to rebel, since in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, where the security forces and the Revolutionary Guard have emerged on top, the religious classes have to some extent been shunted aside. So it’s possible, but still unclear, that there could emerge an alliance between the bazaar, the clergy, and the reformists who, after all, are themselves led by clergy such as former President Khatami.
The unrest began several days ago, and it has reportedly spread beyond Tehran’s sprawling bazaar, a vast canopied and covered marketplace in the heart of the capital, to bazaars in other leading Iranian cities. According to one report, after members of the guard and the basij, the religious-fascist militia, stormed the bazaar in Tehran last week, one prominent shopkeeper was killed:
A prominent textile trader was killed when pro-government militiamen and police officers raided the bazaar on Wednesday, demanding that shopkeepers reopen for business, opposition Web sites reported.
Opposition websites, of course, are notoriously prone to exaggerate events. But it’s clear that something important is happening. In response, the Iranian government has declared a sudden, unscheduled two-day “holiday” whose sole purpose seems to make it appear as if the reason that shops in the Tehran bazaar are closed is because of the fake holiday, not a shutdown by shopkeepers.
The bazaar strike began as a protest against a government-imposed tax increase of 70 percent. The strike began last Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles Times:
By some accounts, the bazaar protest is gathering momentum. In response to the growing demonstrations, increasing numbers of police are stationed not only around the bazaar but in various points throughout Tehran.
The LA Times adds that students and other political activists are joining the strike:
Some Iranian youth joined the merchants in protest at Sabzeh Maidan. Eyewitnesses report that when a student attempted to record the scene, police beat him with a baton and arrested him, spiriting him away to an unknown location. Witnesses claim that plainclothes policemen and government security forces then launched tear gas bombs at protesters.
One opposition activist reported that by Thursday, hundreds of students and merchants had gathered in the shoemakers’ quarter of the old bazaar, chanting such slogans as, "Death to Ahmadinejad" and "Victory is God’s, and victory is near," adding "Death to this deceptive government!”
It’s very likely, if not certain, that many of the bazaaris are affiliated with the forces around Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the wily billionaire ayatollah who joined forces with the reformists and Mir Hossein Mousavi last summer. Reports the Independent:
There was some speculation that the striking shopkeepers were affiliated to factions within the Islamic regime that have grown disaffected with the president and his inner circle following last year’s poll. Some are said to be close to Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, the former president, a leading cleric and sworn enemy of Mr. Ahmadinejad.