Indeed, although tens of thousands of people are expected to march in silence on July 30, on the religiously important 40-day anniversary of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young protester whose last moments were captured on video, many more will be staying home. "It's going to get brutal," says an opposition adviser who claims to have spoken to top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. The Guards, together with the paramilitary Basij force, has arrested thousands and killed possibly more than a hundred protesters since the disputed June 12 presidential election. "[Security forces] will be waiting for them," he says. (See the top 10 protest symbols, including Neda Agha-Soltan.)
Because the opposition was denied a permit to gather at the sprawling Grand Mossala complex to commemorate those killed in the post-election crisis, the crowds will likely spread to nearby alleyways and narrow streets, the type of urbanscape where Basij often corner protesters (there are no sweeping boulevards nearby like Enqelab or Revolution Street). "It's too dangerous [to join the demonstration]," says an office manager who works in a tony neighborhood in north Tehran. "Just not worth it for me to go." (Read about how Iran's leaders are battling over Ayatullah Khomeini's legacy.)
The increasingly harsh security crackdown - several protesters, including the son of an adviser to the conservative politician Mohsen Rezai, died in detention from injuries sustained during a July 9 protest - has sharply divided the population here between the dwindling numbers who defiantly still head to the streets and the vast majority who watch from the sidelines. Among the demonstrators, by now whittled to mostly students or recent graduates and those living on modest incomes, there are frequent mentions of democracy, human rights, the release of political prisoners, even the overthrow of the entire regime. But taken as a whole, it is hard to tell what their objectives are, particularly since the opposition transcends thwarted presidential contender Mir-Hossein Mousavi's Green Movement platform. The question remains: What exactly will they be marching for - and perhaps fighting for - on Thursday?