Three decades after Ayatollah Khomeini's return from exile, Iran's Islamic Republic is in the midst of its biggest political crisis yet, with opposition supporters threatening to stage demonstrations on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
Iran's anti-government opposition looks set to seize on yet another state-sponsored event on Thursday as the country prepares to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution with nationwide celebrations.
Calls for fresh revolution
More on Iran history
The Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, rode to power in February 1979 following a popular uprising that overthrew the Western-backed Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Khomeini replaced the monarchy with a theocracy under the guardianship of religious clerics.
Freedom and independence were proclaimed the central pillars of the new Islamic regime, but Khomenei kept ultimate authority for himself. Known as Iran's Supreme Leader, he ruled the country until his death in 1989.
The February 11 celebrations, which mark the day the Shah fell in 1979, have traditionally been a festive occasion and an opportunity for Iranian leaders to showcase popular support for the regime.
But this year, the regime must contend with opposition protesters who continue to reject the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a disputed presidential poll in June 2009.
Opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the figureheads of what has become known as the "Green Movement", have refused to take the fight off the streets despite a brutal repression. They have urged their supporters to turn out en masse, prompting the authorities to warn of a crackdown should the celebrations be hijacked by anti-government protests.
Last December, eight people were killed on the holy day of Ashura and hundreds more were jailed as the authorities battled opposition protesters. The deadly crackdown, coming on Shiite Muslims' most sacred day, sparked outrage and underscored the depth of Iran's current crisis.
A 'punch' to the West
The authorities accuse the demonstrators of siding with Iran's enemies abroad and of seeking to topple the Islamic Republic. They want Thursday's anniversary to be a show of national unity, as in past years. For Khomeini's all-powerful successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the day will deliver a stunning "punch" to the "arrogant" powers.
Khamenei -- who has the final say on all key issues -- supports Ahmadinejad, and has dismissed allegations of fraud in the election. He blames the West for the post-election unrest and continuing dissent, which he slams as "sedition".
As the anniversary approaches, the Internet has slowed and text messaging services have been disrupted. The government is blaming technical glitches, but others cry foul.
With foreign media banned from covering the demonstrations, the opposition has been exploiting the Internet and text messaging on mobile phones to organise rallies and spread news and pictures about the protests.
Timeline of the post-election crackdown
June 12, 2009: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is re-elected with more than 62% of the vote, while his opponent, reformist Mirhossein Mousavi, gets 34%. The results are quickly contested. (AFP)
June 13 – 30: Demonstrators swarm the streets of Tehran to protest against suspected electoral fraud, with violent clashes breaking out between Mousavi supporters and law enforcement officials. (AFP)
June 19: Ayatollah Khamenei defends Ahmadinejad as the rightful winner of the presidential election. On June 20, young Iranian woman Neda Agha-Soltan is shot at a demonstration. Footage of Neda bleeding to death turns her into a symbol of the opposition. (AFP)
July 1: Young Frenchwoman Clotilde Reiss is arrested for “gathering information and encouraging rioters”. Her trial begins on August 8. She is released on bail on August 16 but required to stay at the French embassy of Tehran while awaiting a final verdict. (AFP)
July 9: With the opposition still contesting President Ahmadinejad’s re-election, more than 3,000 protesters defy the ban on public demonstrations to commemorate the anniversary of the 1999 student protests. (AFP)
August 1: Trials of protesters begin, with Mousavi denouncing the proceedings as a judicial masquerade. On his website, he says the “confessions” obtained are “reminiscent of medieval torture”. (AFP)
August 5: Ahmadinejad is sworn in for his second presidential term. The next day, the opposition denounces the “illegitimate president” and organises a protest in front of the parliament building. An estimated 1,000 demonstrators are scattered by the police. (AFP)
August 16: Mousavi announces the formation of the "Green Path of Hope", a grass-roots movement dedicated to contesting Ahmadinejad’s presidency. (AFP)
November 4: Iranian police break up opposition protests near an official ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran.
December 21: Clashes break out in the holy city of Qom at the funeral of top Iranian dissident cleric Hossein Ali Montazeri. Mousavi’s car is attacked, and other clashes between opposition protesters and police are reported in Isfahan and Najafabad.
December 27: Widespread protests mark the Shiite holiday of Ashura. A police crackdown results in at least 8 dead and hundreds injured, triggering sharp rebukes from several Western countries. Mousavi’s nephew is among those killed during the clashes. (AFP)
December 30: Ahmadinejad calls for his supporters to demonstrate in order to save the regime. New arrests include that of Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi's sister, while Mehdi Karoubi, one of Ahmadinejad’s election opponents, is placed under house arrest. (AFP)
January 28, 2010: Two opposition protesters are hung for "plotting assassination attempts" of Iranian authorities. In total, 12 people are sentenced to death for their involvement in opposition demonstrations. (AFP)
Date created : 2010-02-09