A group of Iran's green movement activists had a grand and detailed vision for what was supposed to happen on Feb. 11. They called it a "Trojan Horse" strategy: Backers of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, camouflaged in unassuming attire, would attend the official regime-backed rally commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Then, at a pre-arranged time, they would assemble in front of the cameras of the foreign news media, reveal themselves as enthusiasts of the green movement, and denounce the brutality of the government for all the world to see.
As we all know, however, there was no great reveal at the official rally: The plan didn't work, and Feb. 11 will be remembered by Iran's activists not as a triumph, but as a disappointment. And the scale of the setback, which has placed a significant damper on the movement's spirits, is closely tied to the specificity and grandiosity of the visions that were being cultivated in the preceding weeks via blogs, forwarded emails, and social networking sites.
Iranian activists have long reaped the benefits of Internet communication, but especially in the months since the June 12 election, they have also fallen prey to its pitfalls. Reassured by their own online echo chambers, activists and participants allowed their optimism to grow like a market bubble -- a bubble that, many say, was popped on Thursday.
Now, many of the greens are experiencing a sort of idealism hangover. Mohammad Sadeghi, the 27-year old Iranian-German who administers Mousavi's official Facebook page, admits that he doesn't know what comes next. He has always managed to be one step ahead of the manifold events of the past year, but now he's at a loss.
He created the Facebook page last January, before Mousavi had even officially declared his candidacy, back in the days when Facebook was still freely accessible to any Internet user in Iran. In the following months, after the page had attracted a small but devoted following, Mousavi's campaign reached out to him, expressing its desire to consult and cooperate with him in the run-up to the election.
After the election, Mousavi's Tehran-based campaign and his Germany-based Facebook site experienced diverging fates. Layers of campaign staff were hauled off to Iranian prisons, while the Facebook site saw an explosion in followers. Sadeghi decided that he had a responsibility to independently continue the campaign in Mousavi's name, to serve as a meeting place, conference room, and bulletin board for sympathizers and activists. By his account, the Facebook page played a key role in propagating the defiant nightly "Allahu Akbar" chant and organizing the protest schedule linked to major Iranian and Shiite holidays.