TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian opposition leaders have applied for permission to stage a rally in support of revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, their websites said, posing a dilemma for a government which stamped out their own mass protests a year ago.
The figureheads of the Green movement, who called hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, said they wanted to organise their rally on Monday, February 14.
The Green movement has not held a major demonstration since December 2009, when eight protesters were killed and more than 1,000 arrested at a rally to mark the Shi’ite ritual of Ashura.
That put an end to months of protests which opposition leaders say proved an inspiration to pro-democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt.
“To announce our solidarity with the public movement in the region, especially the freedom-seeking uprising of the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt against tyrannical governments ... we ask for permission to invite the people (to a rally),” read a letter to the interior minister, signed by opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi and reproduced on their websites.
The Green movement said Ahmadinejad’s re-election was a fix, something the government denied, calling the protesters “seditionists” supported by Iran’s foreign enemies.
There was no immediate response from the government, but it did not appear likely that permission would be granted for a rally that could revive the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Both sides of Iran’s deep political divide have expressed solidarity with the North African uprisings that ousted Tunisian President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and have put Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year tenure in jeopardy.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the two uprisings as an “Islamic awakening”, continuing the work started by Iranian revolutionaries who overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979 and established Shi’ite Muslim clerical rule.
In reply, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told Khamenei to mind his own business: “Instead of seeking to distract the Iranian people with Egypt’s political movements, the Supreme Leader should look to Iran and its people who have been aspiring to freedom from an oppressive system.”
And Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement responded to Khamenei’s comments by saying it did not deem the Egyptian uprising to be an Islamic revolution.
After Friday prayers in Tehran, where Khamenei sent a message of encouragement to the Arab protesters, several hundred Iranians demonstrated, burning pictures of Mubarak and shouting slogans against Israel and the United States.