Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 15, 2011

Hot Air In Iran Protest Numbers

Claims the Financial Times:

Iranian security forces clashed with protesters as hundreds of thousands marched in Tehran on Monday in the biggest rally by the opposition Green Movement for more than a year.

Hmmm - "hundreds of thousands"?

A Tehran Bureau blog entry, a private endeavor, taken over by PBS after the 2009 election protests in Iran, has this anonymous account:

10:30 p.m. From a Tehran Bureau correspondent:
 It was amazing today. About 350,000 people showed up. ...

Hmm again. After reviewing many video clips (here, here and here) and pictures of the event I find those numbers totally unbelievable. Crowds of a few hundred people and in one case maybe some single digit thousand are visible in the 30+ video clips I reviewed. Those people are mostly student age folks chanting in the streets and burning a few trash cans. There is no evidence of any bigger demonstration.

That observation somewhat fits with the BBC report from a reporter on the ground:

Riding on the back of a motorbike, holding my mobile to take video footage, I went to central Tehran on Monday afternoon.
Thousands of people made their way amicably and silently towards the square, most of them young.
Riot police began to disperse the crowd before they even started the rally.

Reuters says:

Thousands of Iranian opposition activists rallied ...

AFP has no own number but reports:

Websites and witnesses said thousands of opposition supporters had taken to the streets ...

AP writes:

Tens of thousands of protesters clashed with security forces along some of Tehran's main boulevards, ...

The New York Times only has a U.S. based source:

Numbers were hard to assess, given government threats against journalists who tried to cover the protests. Aliakbar Mousavi Khoeini, a former member of Parliament now living in exile in the United States, said that 20,000 to 30,000 people had taken part across the country.

Al Jazeera also goes with "thousands".

To reliably guestimate "hundreds of thousands" one would have to either measure a long tight march or have a decent top-view of the event. There is nothing in the FT piece that makes one believe that the reporters actually eye-witnessed or personally observed the rally at all. The number seems to have been plugged from hot air.


The Washington Post is doing some funny math. Today:

In Tehran, large crowds of protesters defied tear gas to march down a major thoroughfare, chanting "Death to the dictator." It was the biggest demonstration in the Iranian capital since the government effectively crushed the opposition movement in December 2009.

The crowds, which numbered in the tens of thousands, ...

"The biggest since 2009."  But only four days ago the same paper reported:

Hundreds of thousands of government supporters massed Thursday in central Tehran to mark the 31st anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution, ...

So to Washington Post writers a demonstration of "tens of thousands" is "bigger" than a demonstration of "hundreds of thousands". A few are more than many? Yes, WaPo says, but that is of course only so when the few support the right cause.

Posted by b on February 15, 2011 at 6:15 UTC | Permalink


If it needs to be said, I agree with your disgust with the manipulation of the size of protests and prior election results, but I doubt anyone here supports the Iranian regime except in opposition to the US empire.

Posted by: Biklett | Feb 15 2011 7:59 utc | 1

Yes, it was pretty evident that there were not many.

But I don't think it is only US govt. policy which exaggerates the figures. The main source will be the Iranian exile and expatriate community. They belong to the same upper and middle educated classes who supported the Green Revolution in 2009.

They are the same Iranian elite who have run Iran for the last 2000 years nearly, but were put out of power in 1979. They have a basic psychological presumption that they have a right to be in power, and are completely non-plussed that they are not.

They exaggerate the importance of any anti-regime move without even consciously thinking about it. They naturally represent Iran, even if the majority actually elect someone else.

Posted by: alexno | Feb 15 2011 10:43 utc | 2

It is this simple, and usually things aren't so simple. To know how to gauge your reaction to such events, if you're not sure, you must look to the crafted response to the events by the right wing pundits who get their talking points from William Casey's Capital Cities....i.e. the CIA Mockingbird Press. The Iranian Revolution solicited apparent sympathy from the right wing pundits, whereas the Egyptian protests garnered derision and stoked fears of Islamism.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Feb 15 2011 12:22 utc | 3

Sorry about that terminology I used above. I meant to say the recent Iranian Demonstrations versus the Egyptian Demonstrations.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Feb 15 2011 12:24 utc | 4

Alexno @2, the obnoxious, arrogant Cuban-American exile community in South Florida is very much the same way. It's not surprising that both communities have strong ties to the CIA.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Feb 15 2011 13:27 utc | 5

Bahrain explodes[?]

Protests erupt in Bahrain.

From the comments:

Unlike in Egypt, the police forces in Bahrain are hired specifically to be ethnically and culturally different to the local Bahraini population :

"Human rights workers were clearly concerned at the potential for violence. The king has built a security force here staffed almost exclusively with foreigners. So the police charged with putting down any protests are from Syria, Sudan, Yemen and other countries, drawn here by the offer of eventual citizenship.

As a result, there is no connection with the people, and therefore a greater likelihood they will not hesitate to open fire, said Mohammed Al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights."

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Feb 15 2011 14:03 utc | 6

Oh, yes, here we go. One man's revolution is another man's political rhetoric. It's too bad that persons in Iran, risking everything to fight a brutal regime, are required to convince a humorless polymath and blogger in Hamburg that their sacrifice is sufficiently anti-American.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 15 2011 14:15 utc | 7

Ironic yet expected that uprisings, rebellion, in this case demos, that the USisr hates and fears, when copycatted or piggy-backed by an ‘enemy’ are inflated and approved of. It makes the whole discourse so seriously schizophrenic even Joe 6 gotta wonder.

In short, political discourse in the US is fragmenting, breaking up. Won’t have any effect for a long time though, as the media entrench the ‘good guys’/‘bad guys’ view, no matter what any of these guys do on the ground.

Saudi, good, Iran, bad, Jordan, acceptable, Syria, bad, etc.

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 15 2011 15:02 utc | 8

slothrop, it seems with every post you get closer to the horiwitz-hitchens axis - i hope someone is warming a chair for you at the american enterprise institute

it is perhaps not so odd that within a half hour of the ft's absurd claims - it was repeat as a headline in huffington post

you don have to support iran to detest the crude manipulation applied to it

i imagine you think you are mocking b but what is happening is that you mock yourself with every dubious exercise of rhetoric you try to elaborate here - i like you a great deal better as a librarian than as a commentator

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 15 2011 15:39 utc | 9


William Engdahl and Webster Tarpley made the same claims about Egypt. Namely, that the marchers in Tahrir Square never got over 60K or so. Tarpley cited day by day MSM accounts of attendance, with estimates ranging from 3 Million to mere "thousands" for the same day. He argued that a single open square would hold the same 60-100K that a sporting stadium of the same size would hold.

(I know that the two times I participated in events which MSM estimated at between 3/4 and 1 million, numerous whole streets were packed solid with people for miles - NYC: 5th, 6th, 7th, Bway, and 8th Aves closed from 34th St to 59th St and up to 86th St, along with every open inch of Central Park up to 86th St. There were walls of solid people far further than the eye could see, and the congestion was such that it took 15 minutes to traverse a single short street. The experience was unimaginable.)

Furthermore, Tarpley noted that when the organizers could not fill up Tahrir Square they covered up significant areas with empty tents to take up space and make the square look full. Camera angles were purposely kept tight to maximize the appearance of congestion. There were no shots that showed more than 50-100K.

Compare that to the obvious walls of people in, say, the famous '60's "March on Washington."

In any case, estimates of crowd numbers are notoriously political. Organizers and authorities often differ by orders of magnitude. It takes training to be able to make accurate estimates, and the average person may be easily mislead.

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 15 2011 16:34 utc | 10

On last Friday you could actually see all the streets coming into Tahrir packed with people. The numbers on the days with no big demonstrations are open to discussion though and the two days they were confronted by the security forces goons the number was likely relatively small (but at least on the tens of thousands or they would have been driven out). However at that time, and the next days with the army guarding all the entrances (and keeping people from easily streaming inside), there was a lot of action outside Tahrir that was, for obvious reasons, never shown on TV.

I actually thought that AJE was inflating the numbers at some point.

I didn't have the time to follow the news about the demonstrations in Iran but the actual impact (like those in Yemen, Bahrain and Algeria) doesn't seem to suggest overwhelming numbers. And I remember no mention of Iran packing up Tehran with police at the proportional levels the Algeria government did in Algiers.

I share the opinion that AngryArab has expressed about Iran, there is a civil conflict between the westernized middle classes (backed by a faction of the regime rival to Khamenei and Ahmadenijad) and the more pious worker classes. The size of each group? Well, could be half and half, or 30/70, or whatever in that range. But it implies that the Iranian government has still enough popular backing to not fall easily. That was what the 2009 protests showed. Mubarak and their allies never got a big peaceful counter demonstrations along with their goons.

Posted by: ThePaper | Feb 15 2011 16:58 utc | 11

@Marshall - in one of my liveblogs on the Egypt protests I actually cautioned about some of the Aljazeerah numbers. When the said 2 Million one day I said bull. It was in total maximum half of that on that day. The Tharir square and the big neighboring roads included within the barricades have together some 70,000+ square meters. At a moderate 3-4 person per square meters the place can hold 250,000 persons. There are also lots of side streets I didn't include. But the camera showing the Kasr Al Nile bridge also showed a continued stream of people coming and going. So on those big days, there may have been 1/2 million people there. Add to that the other demonstrations in Egypt, the Alexandria crowd looked at one point bigger than the Cairo one, and the million men march may well have reached that target.

I used this tool to calculate the area size:

Anyway, the point is moot. The size of the crowed seems to have convinced the regime that there were enough people and trouble to give in. That is the real point.

Posted by: b | Feb 15 2011 17:52 utc | 12

In the context of Iran, the protests deserve support if the regime oppresses individual rights and freedoms universally associated with Democratic self-determination. The litmus test for whether the regime is tyrannical is to answer a simple question: would the mullahs permit the people to elect representation removing the mullahs from power? Simple answer: the absolute guardianship of the jurist can never be threatened by the democratic institutions controlled by the supreme leader.

It's pretty simple why anyone who praises liberty should support Iranian protesters every bit as much as he supported Egyptian protesters, unless you're a recalcitrant prick who denounces the legitimacy of the protests in Iran only because you perceive "America" to be a supporter of the protests in Iran.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 15 2011 19:58 utc | 13

dear ô dear

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 15 2011 20:46 utc | 14

You know, if these Iranian protesters are really supporters of Musavi (and Rafsanjani by proxy), as the western media paints them, then they are hardly asking for the removal of the guardianship, just changing who the guardians are and perhaps token 'reforms' (that I have never seen discussed anywhere, as the main issue seem just to bring down thee 'dictator', Khamenei, and/or replace Ahmadinejad with the 'truly elected' Musavi).

Posted by: ThePaper | Feb 15 2011 21:54 utc | 15


One big difference between situation in Egypt and Iran is the fact that during past 32 years USA has spend over 50 Billion dollars to keep that regime in power while USA has spend about 50 billion if not more to destabilize Iran with regime change , war and sanctions.

USA and Zionist new_cons are behind terror, assassination of scientists, sabotage, bombings, and regime change in Iran. It is these evil forces that are trying to reignite turmoil in Iran and divert attention from their biggest crisis in Middle East.

USA is hypocrite and never been for democracy in Middle East otherwise they would have stopped crimes against Palestinian and human tragedy in Gaza.
Unlike Egypt, Iranian government and regime is stable, strong and their majority supporters are willing to defend it against US & Israeli lackeys, reminiscent of old regime, anarchist and Gucci crowds.

Posted by: Loyal | Feb 16 2011 1:00 utc | 16


all you're saying is what b always says in his circular The Elections Were Fair!! screeds: the people of Iran voted for an oligarchy that not for 1000 years would permit the same voters to unseat them, ergo, we respect the rights of the Iranian people to prefer a regime that does not count their votes except when the voters vote to retain the oligarchy! like I said, circular nonsense couched by b and his Internet buddy in an obsessive time-wasting thesis that the elections weren't rigged.

I'm sure there were Nazi apologists in the 1930s who justified the German plebiscites in the same way.

The future of Iran is among its well-educated young professional class. And they don't like mullahs because they don't like medieval theocracy. Nobody who is modern likes medieval theocracy. Except for b, evidently.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 16 2011 1:38 utc | 17

"The future of Iran is among its well-educated young professional class."

No slothrop, that is not democracy. That is Iran being ruled by people who, you feel, are just like you.

You aver that "Nobody who is modern likes medieaval theocracy."

Every weasel word is undefined and undefinable (to be alive is to be modern, by the way.) Suffice it to say that, in point of fact, the US and Israel and many other countries are actually ruled by persons who cheerfully confess to believing what Luther or Thomas Aquinas or their muslim and jewish equivalents believed. The only people who really don't believe in 'medieaval theology' are atheists, and very few countries are ruled by people confessing to that.

"In the context of Iran, the protests deserve support if the regime oppresses individual rights and freedoms universally associated with Democratic self-determination."

This is by no means axiomatic. Iran is not in a stable situation in which representative democratic institutions function. It is under attack, by the United States, from all quarters. In the Balochi region the US is running a guerrilla war, using bases in Pakistan, raiding Iran, planting bombs, blowing up mosques.
It is sabotaging the Iranian nuclear power system. It is assassinating physics teachers (and their wives). It is kidnapping and disappearing government employees, embassy staff, military officers. It is spending hundreds of millions of dollars sponsoring opponemts of the regime of every kind. And it is using its power to blackmail Security Council members to impose trade sanctions on Iran. And it is using pressure to extend those sanctions into what amounts to a blockade of the Iranian economy. And it is regularly issuing threats to bomb or to license Israel to bomb Iranian population centres.

In short the US and its imperial system are engaged in a cold war, going on hot war, against Iran. In such circumstances it is virtually impossible for the victimised state to act except in in an authoritarian way. Democracies at war cannot hold proper elections. They would be foolish to allow to allow their enemies to organise and finance fifth columns. They can be certain that, whatever the election result, it will be challenged as a matter of course by its enemies.

I am surprised that, as an American, you do not understand this. The US War of Independence was a very authoritarian affair. It is unlikely that much more than quarter of the white population (leave alone the slaves and the native American communities) favoured the break with Britain. But the majority were certainly not allowed to organise for King George, they were intimdated, terrorised and driven out of the country. Or lynched.

Abraham Lincoln and Jeff Davis both understood that fighting for national survival and representative democracy were uneasy bedfellows, and acted accordingly. In both World Wars the US government acted in ways that make the Iranian regime look very relaxed, by comparison (and in neither conflict did the US face any real military threat to its homeland.)

The truth is that the US government is very happy that it is able to push the Iranian regime into restricting its opposition. It goes nowhere near the restrictions which the US puppet Shah imposed (essentially opposition was banned and the US Embassy happy that it was) but it still leaves room for cheap propaganda.
Which, I guess, is where you come in.

Posted by: bevin | Feb 16 2011 5:08 utc | 18

What a great comment, bevin. You nailed it.

Its fantastic to see MoA up and running again. Thanks, b.

Posted by: maff | Feb 16 2011 5:53 utc | 19

Mark Pyruz (Uskowi on Iran) posted a list of videos and images of the most recent disturbances (riots ?) by apparently small groups.

Law Enforcement on 25 Bahman - Video and Image Analysis

Posted by: Philippe | Feb 16 2011 5:53 utc | 20

What bevin said.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Feb 16 2011 12:33 utc | 21

"The future of Iran is among its well-educated young professional class. "

You mean these folks?

That would be an ugly future then.

Posted by: b | Feb 16 2011 13:16 utc | 22

See this photos from the victim funeral. Guess, are they pro-regime or anti-regime?



The report from where this photos come from isn't very clear but says this was Sanee Zhaleh, 26 years old, shot dead on the protests two days ago. IRIB is quoted as saying that the people marching on the funeral were attacked by a 'seditious' mob (anti-regime protesters). The report also says that the 'martyr' is claimed by both sides.

Posted by: ThePaper | Feb 16 2011 14:05 utc | 23


You didn't respond to what I said. I said that elections that amount to no more than a plebiscite arranged by mullahs to wheedle a fraudulent legitimacy, is no democracy, and the people who oppose this arrangement by protesting in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere deserve the support of people like b or anyone else who supported the protests in Egypt.

Instead, you just ignored what I said and started babbling about the evidence of US meddling in the affairs of Iran--actions which are of course condemnable. But the two issues are unrelated -- but now I see more clearly the source of the contradiction which causes you to think unclearly about the situation.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 16 2011 15:56 utc | 24

I'll just say it out loud, bevin.

Your support of the regime in Iran is done for purely ideological reasons. The first way you do this is to weld "US actions" to the defense of tyrannical theocracy. I suppose the strategy here is to try to show that the iranians vote for tyrants because they're afraid of the US, or something (btw, supporters of the Green Revolution I've talked to don't like the US at all). The next move you make is to say that elections are democratic in Iran only because people demand not democracy, but tyranny legitimated by a scam vote.

Which is all to say that you're no different than American foreign-policy elites who have for many years defended tyrannical Arab regimes for pragmatic reasons. That is to say, you're unprincipled by design, or you're just stupid.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 16 2011 16:14 utc | 25

Nice to see MofA up and running again. Just found out this morning 2/16/11. Wonderful!

Posted by: Ben | Feb 16 2011 16:17 utc | 26

On the question of who won the Iran elections we now have, next to at least three polls and the published results, an additional indicator that indeed Ahmadinejad won. The U.S. government itself predicted this: Wikileaks

Poloff contacts tended to agree that reformists have likewise failed to unite, particularly after Khatami's withdrawal. The effect of the candidacy of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi on the election outcome was hard to gauge. Reformists seemed divided and adrift, with no clear focus for aspirations, an uncertain message beyond criticism of Ahmedinejad, and poor prospects for electoral victory.

Posted by: b | Feb 16 2011 17:23 utc | 27

there you go again. It doesn't matter who won, because the only person who could win is the supreme leader. You're using the elections in a perverse way to justify support of tyranny because doing so comports with your weird America Sucks Theory of everything.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 16 2011 17:34 utc | 28

Well, for that 'Green Movement' that seems to be behind all the protests and you seem to support for some (misguided?) reason it did matter. A lot. I would say it was and is the whole point of the protest. Or am I missing something?

I doubt that the current Green Movement, at this point, has much to do with the pro-democracy students that were staging protests, and being repressed by the state, for years in Iran before Khatami presidency and after. Or it would be a bad case of misjudgment.

Posted by: ThePaper | Feb 16 2011 19:53 utc | 29

The killed student was a Basij. And the Green Movement still claims that he is one of their 'martyrs'. Sounds weird to say the least. But not that strange if you compare what is happening with the 'confusion' about the famous victim of the 2009 protests, that girl named Neda, that someone shot too on the first days. The pro-protesters media couldn't make a straight story about who the girl was or what really happened.

In spanish

Posted by: ThePaper | Feb 16 2011 20:08 utc | 30

bevin, i wouldn't concern yourself greatly with the missives of slothrop. once a valued contributor, he has since the commencement of the illegal & immoral invasion of iraq become someone who bends events to his own ends. the readings are often so misinterpreted to represent nothing to do with the facts

a certain moment, that of abu ghraib instead of turning against the genocidal politics of u s imperialism - he began to defend it, defend it my a) demonizing the arab people & particularly those of iraq, b) effectively blaming european pensioners for the armed force used against colonized people, c) the refusal to accept any crimes connected to the imperialist project whether that was the genocide of one million people in indonesia in the coup against sukarno, not those of the torturing & killing of greek resistants in the colonels putsch in greece, not once has he spoken of the 3 million indochinese murdered in the illegal & immoral war by the u s empire, not once are the murderous & genocidal policies u s imperialism used in africa & latin america are mentioned, for him there is no phoenix program, there is no condor plan, nor operation gladio no salvador option

these do not feature in any of slothrop's rhetorical flurries because they point to the centrality of us imperialsm - even if you accepted a portion of his argument, which i don't - u s imperialism is the armed element of capital

more & more his political position represents those at the american enterprise institute, ex trotskyites all, a defence of u s armed force against all comer but especially against the people of the middle east who they hate with all the xenophobic passion they can muster

slothrop, ideologically prepares us for the war against iran & all the arguments slothrop uses here are in the service of that idea

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 16 2011 21:00 utc | 31

you're an idiot, and a liar

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 16 2011 21:02 utc | 32

from your recent commentaries, i take that as a compliment

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 16 2011 21:08 utc | 33

To: 30

It is consistent with their previous claims.
Pro US Green protestor they asked to have a rally in support of Egypt but that was an excuse and a lie. Last year they came to protest against result of election, but chanted No-Gaza, No-Lebanon, They came to protest against alleged election fraud but they were for trying to topple the system.
Their whole alleged election fraud was a big lie.
Last year there were many (mostly in fluent segment of population) were fooled by their lies and supported them, but with every new demonstration and action, they exposed themselves and lost most of their supporters.
Lie and deception may have worked early on for them but no more.
For slimy valentine demonstration they did not get support of many original allies from reformist camp.
What is left of them is radical and desperate minority. Unless they distance themselves from US backed groups, revise their views on Palestine& Lebanon issues, appeal to works &, poor segment of society and in line with early reformers, they have no chance to be part of anything good in Iran.

Posted by: Loyal | Feb 16 2011 21:11 utc | 34

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