Iran’s traditional Fire Festival set to upset regime

environmentFor thousands of years now, Iran has witnessed a Fire Festival on the last Tuesday of every year. Iranians ring in the New Year on the spring equinox, which corresponds to March 20 this year. But first, they bid winter farewell by holding a national day of Charshanbeh Soori as it is called in Farsi, the language of Iran.

Charshanbeh Soori is a fire festival in the tradition of Iran’s ancient Zoroastrian religion whose adherents believed in the duality of light (good) and darkness (evil).  By lighting bonfires in the streets at the end of the last Tuesday of each year and jumping over them, Iranians sing and chant, “Let your ruddiness be mine, my paleness be yours.” They also do some trick or treating that is called spoon-banging where youngsters in disguises visit neighbors and receive snacks. No Charshanbeh Soori would be complete without fireworks.

Iran’s ultra-right theocratic regime has discouraged Charshanbeh Soori and tries to dampen public enthusiasm for it by public displays of police and security forces warning residents to refrain from participating in the festival. However, Iranians have managed to ignore and sidestep regime intimidation and impediments to carry on with their rich traditions every year since 1979.

And so it is that every year Charshanbeh Soori has become a flashpoint between the Iranian public, particularly the youth, and the religious dictatorship’s shock troops who roam the streets in intimidation.

This year, however, with the December and January uprising that rocked over 142 Iranian cities in defiance to the regime’s supreme leader and all factions of the regime, Charshanbeh Soori is gearing up to be a big opportunity and event to defy Iran’s oppressors.

The major opposition group whose supporters spearheaded the uprisings of the past few months, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), has called for widespread defiance of the regime. Under the call of “Dictator on Fire,” scores of resistance cells that have formed in various Iranian cities have promised to do precisely that, and to answer the regime’s suppression with their active participation in a fire festival to protest the regime and call for its overthrow.

As the unrest in Iran continues, the role of the MEK/PMOI in organizing resistance to regime repression has shifted the balance of power on Iran’s streets. The people no longer fear the regime, and the regime has much to fear from the people that it has victimized for so long.  The world watches to see how far the Iranian people can move the bar in bidding good riddance to this regime and welcoming in a true Iranian spring.

Column by Jubin Afshar. Mr. Afshar is the Director for the Middle East Studies at Near East Policy Research, a policy, analysis firm in Washington, DC.

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