The scenes leaking out of Tehran on Monday, captured on hundreds of cellphone videos and hasty photos smuggled onto the Internet, formed a chaotic patchwork quilt of forbidden dissent stretching across much of the city.
Tens of thousands of young people filled the squares and boulevards of the Iranian capital, dodging canisters of tear gas, blockading roads with cars and burning garbage bins, engaging in frantic stone-throwing skirmishes with the motorcycle-riding basij militia, who are loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and with thousands of police.
If it resembled Cairo a week ago, that was deliberate, for this was meant to be Iran's day to import the Arab uprising to the Persian world, and revive the democracy movement that erupted after the June, 2009, election but was violently crushed.
But Iran is not Egypt. The stakes are far deadlier, the clerical regime more hardened against dissent. The regime's fear of an Arab-style democracy uprising was palpable, though, as it shut down the Internet across Tehran Monday and scrambled foreign TV and some cellphone signals.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards have already established their willingness to kill, torture, imprison and execute protesters by the hundreds. Iranians were warned by the military not to go outside, and Iran's best-known protest leaders, including former prime minister Mir-hossein Mousavi and fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, were placed under house arrest, their homes blockaded by police vehicles.
Given those threats, the crowds were surprisingly large and defiant. Calling themselves the 25 Bahman protesters (after Monday's date on the Iranian calendar), the organizers vowed to turn the demonstrations into a permanent fixture. An Egyptian-style mass sit-in wasn't possible, as police used tear gas to flush people off the streets Monday afternoon, though there were reports of protesters staying overnight and more planning to come on Tuesday.
"Death to the dictator," shouted crowds of marching students, or "Dictator, run, look at Mubarak." Some simply chanted the names of Tunisia's and Egypt's expelled leaders followed by the name of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.
The government and its media denied that the protests had occurred, even though Tehran had publicly backed the Egyptian protesters last week. Mr. Ahmadinejad himself said on Friday it was the "right" of Egyptians to protest against U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, just hours before the Egyptian strongman stepped down.
The pro-government Fars News Agency ran a brief report Monday night saying a few hundred banned guerrilla-group members plus "hypocrites, monarchists, thugs and seditionists" were in Tehran to protest, but "after they realized there was not going to be popular support for them, they began running away and left the scene" or were "arrested by our brave nation."
Fars later added that a bystander had been shot dead at the hands of protesters. It added that a number of people were wounded by gunfire and blamed the outlawed former rebel group, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, for the violence.
The opposition in Iran has not been able to hold a major protest since December of 2009, but the police appeared to be avoiding the carnage that marked their crackdowns on post-election demonstrations a year and a half ago. Several reports suggested that police were firing paintball guns and using tear gas.
As night fell, leaked videos showed hundreds of protesters attempting to stay in a public square. The BBC's Persian service reported that police had turned off the street lights and had begun beating people.
Despite this, organizers used the protest's Facebook page to call for daily mass demonstrations. "The 25 Bahman group will try to announce the program for protests for tonight and tomorrow shortly," read a posting that went up late Monday night. "Please stand by via any means of communication you have. We are victorious."
The 25 Bahman Facebook page echoed tactics in Egypt and Tunisia, and was set up by sympathizers outside Iran to collect videos, eyewitness accounts and information. Twitter feeds informed demonstrators to gather quickly at a certain intersection and then disperse as rapidly- one video showed them burning a government poster as the chant against Ayatollah Khamenei rang out.
The date was apparently chosen carefully. It is the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, a day of celebration across the Middle East. And Friday had been an official day of celebration to mark the 32nd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution. The parade had been unusually poorly attended, according to several reports, with only a scattering of people on the street. The 25 Bahman group had wanted to show that a democracy protest could attract a larger crowd.
In Washington on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the "courage" and "aspirations" of anti-government protesters, and pressed Tehran to follow Egypt's example and "open up" its political system.
"We wish the opposition and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week," she told reporters during a visit to Congress.
"We support the universal rights of the Iranian people. They deserve to have the same rights" as those demanded by protesters who helped oust Egypt's Hosni Mubarak "and that are part of their own birthright."
Ms. Clinton's spokesman Philip Crowley said Washington is "deeply concerned" about reports that one person had been killed and others wounded in the clashes with security forces.
"We condemn in the strongest terms any use of violence against people peacefully assembling and expressing their desire for freedom and reform, and we call on Iran to refrain from violence," he said.
Ms. Clinton called events in Tehran "a testament to the courage of the Iranian people and indictment of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, a regime which over the last three weeks has constantly hailed what went on in Egypt."
Many of President Barack Obama's Republican foes have criticized what they view as his tepid response to anti-government protests in Iran in 2009 that drew worldwide attention.
At a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, Republican Representative Don Manzullo scolded deputy secretary of state James Steinberg for what he called "a message of weakness" on those protests.
With a report from Associated Press