June 15, 2009 VOLUME 61
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN
To our readers,
With the widespread protests in full swing, Iranians are sending a strong message to the world that there is no republic in the "Islamic Republic of Iran". Iranians live under a system of theocracy which makes mockery of democratic processes such as elections. Still, the doubtful White House refuses to call the recent elections in Iran a sham and rigged because it is pinning is hope on negotiation even with the unelected and Supreme-Leader-selected Ahmadinejad.
The fact is, theocracy has been in full swing since 1981. Over the past four years, many have come to know what Ahmadinejad is all about, the excitement is now over the new guy, Mirhossein Mossavi. A quick glance on history of crackdowns, massacres and wave of suppression, however, implicates both Ahmadinejad and the so-called "opposition candidate" Mossavi. Both men were directly and indirectly engaged in:
- The 1980 engineering of "Cultural Revolution" in the universities and the subsequent crackdown on all opposition groups from 1981-1986 which led to mass arrests and executions, including execution of pregnant women, 9-year-old girl and 70-year-old grandmother.
- The 1988 massacre of political prisoners which led to killings of thousands including many women.
- The chain killings of the writers and intellectuals with at least 133 people killed, mostly in Tehran, during the 1990's.
- The worldwide assassination of exiled political opponents which took lives of at least 210 people from 1991 to 1997
- The crushing of student movement, mass arrests and executions in the summer of 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003
- The crackdown and mass arrest of women on International Women's Day in 2004, 2005, and 2006
- The weekly public hanging including several hangings and stoning of women in 2007, 2008 and 2009
So, even if the Supreme Leader, Khameini, would have sanctioned Mossavi's presidency, he is still responsible for his crimes against the Iranian people given the above glimpse into his past. One has to keep in mind that the post-election protests in Iran is not about Mossavi. It is about rejecting the regime in its entirety. As the demonstrators shout "down with dictatorship", they are taking advantage of the opportunity of regime's infighting to press for their demands and desire. Unfortunately, the mainstream western media and analysts have failed to recognize this glaring fact.
The world community must look beyond Mossavi and take note of the message that is coming from the Iranian people. It is time to isolate the regime and recognize its illegitimacy of all its factions. It is unacceptable that as Iranian people paying the the price of freedom with their lives, the world continues to "monitor the situation" in silence. Washington needs to be reminded that democracy is more than the mocked elections that just took place in Iran. The ongoing protests is about human rights, equality, respect for civil society, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association and that is the weapon Iranians are using against the regime in Tehran.
E-Zan Featured Headlines
The Guardian - May 15, 2009
[Iranian] Elections, as well as constitutional
interpretation, are overseen by the Guardian Council, a body composed of six
Shia theologians [all men] and six jurists [all men] selected by the supreme
leader and the head of the judiciary. In the 2005 presidential elections the
council approved only six candidates out of a total of more than a thousand, a
fact which led many to question the true democratic extent of the presidential
elections, and thus Iran's political system...According to the constitution, the
president must be selected from the rejal siyasi. The word rejal is normally
understood to refer to men, so the phrase translates as "statesmen"...
Charter 97 Website - May 19, 2009
Jila Baniyaghoob, freelance reporter and editor-in-chief of the website Kanoon Zanan Irani (Focus on Iranian Women), Iran. Baniyaghoob works in one of the most restrictive environments for both journalists and women in the world. Still, she has fearlessly reported on government and social oppression, particularly as they affect women. She has been fired from several jobs because she refuses to censor the subject matter of her reporting and several of her media outlets have been closed by the government. She has travelled throughout the Middle East, writing accounts of the lives of women and refugees during times of conflict. The topics of her reporting make her a target of the Iranian government. She has been beaten, arrested and imprisoned numerous times.
Agance France Presse - May 22, 2009
Iran's judiciary has charged an aide to Nobel
laureate Shirin Ebadi with "propagating" against the nation's Islamic system,
the official IRNA news agency reported on Friday. "Narges Mohammadi has been
charged with propagating against the Islamic Republic of Iran's system," the
agency quoted Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi as saying. Jamshidi
confirmed reports that Mohammadi has been banned from travelling and said she is
due to appear in court, though he did not say when. On May 10 Ebadi's rights
group, the Human Rights Defenders Centre said on its website, that Mohammadi was
barred from taking a trip to Guatemala to speak at a conference there on the
role of women in democracy.
Mohammadi, deputy head of the centre, and another peace activist, Soraya Azizpanah, were stopped at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport as they were headed to Guatemala, the group said.
Reuters - May 25, 2009
Iranian security forces have arrested 104
"devil worshippers" and seized drugs and alcohol during a party in a southern
city, a semi-official news agency reported Monday. "Cutting (their own) skin and
sucking up the blood was among the indecent behavior of the group," Mehr News
Agency quoted Colonel Abbas Hamedi of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in the city of
Shiraz as saying. He said a Guards intelligence unit launched an investigation
into the all-male group about one year ago, leading to their arrest Sunday
evening. "The group's aim was to promote irreligious behavior," Hamedi, adding
they had posted footage of their parties on the Internet. The Islamic Republic,
which bans alcohol and narcotics, last year said it would launch a crackdown on
"indecent Western-inspired movements" such as rappers and satanists. That move
signaled a widening of a clampdown on "immoral" conduct launched in 2007 against
women flouting rules dictating that they cover their heads and disguise the
shape of their bodies in public, in line with Iran's Islamic system.
Iran Focus - May 26, 2009
An Iranian women's rights activist was beaten by
inmates inside a prison in the western province of Kurdistan, Iran Focus has
learnt. Ronak Safarzadeh, a 22-year-old student and women's rights activist who
was recently sentenced to a 6-year prison term on charges of "acting against
national security", was beaten by intelligence operatives inside the prison. Two
of her inmates beat her repeatedly under various pretexts on the orders of
Kurdistan's Public Prosecutor, Amjadi, according to Kurdish rights activists.
The Kurdish student was arrested on 9 October 2007 by intelligence ministry
agents at her home in Sanandaj and after four months of solitary confinement was
transferred to the Central Sanandaj Prison. During interrogations and under
torture, her toes were broken. According to activists, she is continuously
tortured, insulted and verbally harassed by prison guards and agents. In January
2009, Safarzadeh was summoned to court and charged with participating in a
hunger strike along with other prisoners in October 2008. In April 2009, She was
sentenced to six years in prison for her activities against the state.
International Christian Concern - May 27, 2009
ICC has learned that on May 21, Iranian security forces raided an underground house church and arrested five Christian converts from Islam in the city of Karaji, Iran. According to the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), plainclothes security officers handcuffed and took the five Christians to an unknown location. The officers also confiscated several Bibles. Mr. Javad Abtahi, the leader of the church, is among the detained Christians. This arrest comes soon after news that two Christian women were imprisoned in March. Iranian officials imprisoned Marzieh and Maryam, who are also converts from Islam, and sent them to the notorious Evin prison.
Voice of American - May 29, 2009
Saberi said she was released only after she falsely
confessed that she was a US spy. "They promise to release you if you confess.
One thing they do is they record the confession and they video recorded my
confession," Saberi said. "Now I want to say here that if one day they decide to
show that video, it's all a lie," she said. Saberi said she was not physically
tortured in the prison but she was always under tremendous mental pressure. "At
first I was in solitary for two weeks," she explained. "Then they transferred me
to a jail with three, four other women who changed constantly. But they were all
political prisoners in ward 209 of the prison," she said.
WFAFI News Services - June 2, 2009
According to Director of Vice and Morality Police in Esfehan, Ayatollah Mahdavi, women who do not "observe the full Islamic covering (hijab)" are guilty of a crime worse than murder. Mahdavi admitted that he has included combating mal-veiling as part of his security plan.
Wall Street Journal - June 11, 2009
For the first time in Iran's 30-year history of presidential elections, candidates are going all out to win over female voters, making a flurry of last-minute appeals before Friday's balloting. Today's campaigns are a departure from the past, when candidates spoke of women voters in general terms, mostly centered on their respect for a mother's role in society or through economic assistance to widows. In this election, the three candidates challenging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose tenure has included a crackdown on women's-rights activists, have tried to set themselves apart from the incumbent by focusing on female voters...Female voters have responded to the candidates' appeals, with many attending rallies and street demonstrations...Last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad's government introduced two bills that would impose a tax on a woman's dowry and make it easier for a man to practice polygamy...Iranian women are among the most highly educated and socially active in the Middle East. Women have a 77% literacy rate and account for 60% of university students, according to local census. Half of the eligible voters in Iran, which has a population of 72 million, are females.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Iran approves president candidates but bars
May 20 2009
The UK Telegraph
By Telegraph Foreign Staff
Iran has barred women candidates from the race for the country's presidency but has granted permission to the four main contenders to contest the June vote.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election but will have to overcome challenges from ex- premier Mirhossein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi and the former head of Iran's elite Rolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai.
The Islamic Republic decrees that all candidates for high office must be sanctioned by a Guardian Council, which screened for allegiance to Iran's Islamic system and "absolute obedience" to the country's top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Over 450 hopefuls had registered out of which 42 were women. No women passed the test to stand in the election.
Reformists believe a high turnout would give them a better chance to win the vote. But they claim state media have not given sufficient coverage of the election to mobilise Iranian voters.
President Ahmadinejad's rivals have criticised the coverage of the president's travels around Iran. The opposition said the trips, before the authorised period of campaigning are illegal and should be stopped. The government has refused to halt the trips. State radio and television deny being partial.
Some 46 million Iranians aged 18 years and older are eligible to vote in the polls, Iran's tenth presidential election since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The president regularly rails against the West and vows a return to Islamic revolutionary values. Ayatollah Khamenei has urged Iranians to support anti-Western candidates.
The three other candidates have said Iran needed to have interaction and "policy of detente" with the West, at odds with the Islamic state over its nuclear programme.
President Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 vowing to share out oil wealth more fairly but critics blame him for disappointing economic growth and high inflation. However, his promises of a fairer redistribution of income still resonates with the poor.
A Woman as President: Iran's Impossible Dream?
May 20 2009
By Nahid Siamdoust / Tehran
Every four years, hundreds of Iranians register to
stand as candidates in the country's presidential election. Women have signed up
to run since 1997 — yet no female has ever been certified by the government to
run for President. This month, 42 women were among the 475 people who signed up,
harboring hope that this time, there was a real chance for a female candidate to
Indeed, expectations had been raised when the spokesman of the Guardian Council — the powerful body that vets the candidates — announced on April 11 that it "has never announced its opinion on whether a registrant is a man or a woman. Whenever a woman has been disqualified, it has been because she's lacked general competence." That was a tantalizing hint of a liberal interpretation for words in the constitution that are often perceived to block the candidacy of women.
Standing in the way of women has been Article 115 of Iran's constitution, where an Arabic phrase, rejale mazhabi-siasi, defining the qualification of candidates appears to be applied exclusively as "religious and political men" — even though it can also be read as "religious and political personalities." Says Jamileh Kadivar, a former member of parliament who heads women's affairs for the campaign of presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi: "We are dealing with both legal and institutional discrimination." Among the women who registered this time, the most prominent was the conservative politician Rafat Bayat. She was disqualified in 2005 but insisted on standing again, because, she explained, "I am a political personality!"
However, the interpretation of the word rejale rests with the jurists and clerics who make up the Guardian Council. All of them, of course, are men. And on Wednesday, they chose the candidates for the presidency. All of them, once again, were men.
Women take some comfort in the fact that they are a constituency that most presidential candidates — with the notable exception of the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — are courting. Karroubi announced on Tuesday that he could consider women for six of his Cabinet posts, including the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Islamic Guidance and Culture. Similarly, the aide of another candidate, Mohsen Rezai, told TIME that Rezai will consider a woman as "Hillary Clinton's Iranian counterpart." "The fact that the candidates are talking about women in their Cabinets is a step forward," says Shadi Sadr, lawyer and women's rights activist. "It shows that our grass-roots efforts have yielded results."
Although women play important public roles in various sectors of Iranian society and constitute the majority of university students, no woman thus far has been appointed to a significant ministry in post-revolutionary Iran. The woman who has held the highest Cabinet position is Massoumeh Ebtekar — better known to American television viewers of 30 years ago as "Mary," the students' spokeswoman during the U.S. embassy hostage crisis in Tehran. She was appointed by reformist President Mohammad Khatami as his Vice President as well as the head of the Department of Environment.
Women, however, are not a solid ideological bloc. Reformist women like Ebtekar and Sadr stand in almost direct opposition to would-be presidential candidates like Bayat who, despite her outspokenness, espouses a different vision of women's rights. A representative in Iran's majlis (or legislature), she and her female colleagues reinstituted gender segregation in the seating of the parliament. They worked to reverse efforts by female reformist MPs in the previous session to join the U.N.'s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Such membership would have obliged the Iranian government to abolish discriminatory rules against women regarding such matters as inheritance, child custody and blood money.
"We don't believe in 100% gender equality," Bayat told TIME in her office as head of a governmental institute of higher education. "We believe in the equality of opportunities." How then does she qualify to run for the presidency? She argues that she has held important political positions as well as fulfilled her role as a mother of three children. "They should take that into consideration," she said, sitting behind an image of revolutionary founder Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini (commonly referred to as the Imam in Iran) and current Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. Disappointed but not surprised by the ruling, she said, "I am convinced that the views of both the Imam as well as the Leader support the candidacy of women." Bayat added that her inspiration to become politically active was a visit she paid to Khomeini as a young student, in which she saw firsthand the "immense respect with which the Imam treated his wife."
Azam Taleghani, a political activist and the first woman to have registered as a presidential candidate in 1997, decided not to register this year, though she has done so in previous rounds. As the daughter of one of the revolution's most prominent ayatullahs, she carries a name with religious capital. "I knew that they wouldn't qualify any women, just like they haven't in all previous elections, so there was no point in registering," Taleghani told TIME. "It's convenient for them to say that it's not because we're women but because we don't qualify as religious-political personalities. It lifts the weight off their shoulders, but what are we all then? Heathens?"
Even Bayat, who plays by conservative rules and is not one to push boundaries, said, "Let's face it: the decision makers are all men." With some resignation and an office that barely speaks of serious campaign preparation, she added, "Not one man among the candidates has so far stood up and asked the Guardian Council to consider women candidates with full equality." She adds, "They said gender wasn't an issue, but it was because they didn't consider the imbalance of opportunities between the genders."
Still, Sadr said, there is reason for hope. "The fact that dozens of women have registered for the last several rounds of the presidential elections is in itself a good sign. It has shown its impact already in the fact that the candidates talk about giving Cabinet positions to women."
Students and the paradox of elections in Iran
June 12, 2009
By Ana K. Sami
It is an oft cited statistic; seventy per cent of Iran’s population is under the age of thirty. In and of itself, such a statistic is not momentous unless social and political implications are considered. After June 12, 2009, Iran will have conducted the tenth selection of a president since the 1979 revolution. With all of the election activity and rallies taking place in Iran, a less publicized topic is the issue of youth and university student voices in Iran who have recently exhibited increasingly daring behavior towards the events surrounding the upcoming elections, specifically targeting the candidates and selection process as a whole.
Although Iran’s political processes are common knowledge, it is paradoxical to use the term “election” as the general understanding follows that there is somewhat of a choice between candidates as decided by a state’s citizens. In Iran, these candidates are in fact pre-selected before an actual national “election” takes place. Amongst those who are barred from running are of course women, and those who do not pass the rigorous litmus test of the Iranian government’s Guardian Council. A true power base, this elite group consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamenei) and six jurists nominated by the judiciary, also approved by the parliament. The single most important quality that the Guardian Council seeks to observe in a candidate is their commitment and loyalty to the established authoritative hierarchical structure, the most important of which is unquestionable loyalty to Khamenei.
A noteworthy implication of Iran’s youthful population includes timing. Currently, Iran’s population while now old enough to understand and participate in politics, cannot be held accountable or claim loyalty to a government they never chose. While their parents’ generation cannot be held fully responsible for what was to become of the revolution, they can at a minimum claim political participation and activism to change a way of life they knew and rebelled against.
The bold reactions and content of criticism surrounding the candidates from within Iran’s youthful population is striking considering previous protests and the consequences that followed. Although far too numerous to mention all of them, a sampling of activity for which photos and video are available can be presented. Most of these events take place in risky atmospheres in cycles that are quick to occur and immediately dismantled by state security and secret services.
As seen on video leaked out of Iran on May 4, during a lecture at the University of Babolsar, students pressed candidate Mirhossein Moussavi (a “reformist” backed by former president Mohammad Khatami) about his role and actions as a former prime minster (1981-1989). In particular, they criticized Moussavi’s role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the infamous 1988 massacres in Iranian jails. This historical mass execution has been documented and recognized by Amnesty International (AI) in a public statement as well as an in house report. Although Moussavi made his best attempt to avoid the question, students by way of shouting slogans and holding up signs and pictures of those killed in 1988 pushed for answers when they said “At the time, you were the prime minister…what do you have to say now about your silence back then when all this was taking place? How may people did you kill yourself?” These types of remarks are no doubt extremely risky in a government that has a past reputation of eliminating opposition, especially public criticism, by way of blood curdling tortures and swift executions.
In an even bolder move, a female student took the microphone and in frustration expressed her anger with regard to the situation of women in Iran. While several attempts were made to cut her remarks short, her voice, quick and unyielding, reverberated throughout the auditorium amidst the repetitive cheers, whistles, clapping, and overwhelming support from the crowd. Her remarks were an all out attack on everything that is at the very core of the Iranian government’s belief system.
“I am speaking of an Iran in which the law exists only to dictate to people what they can or cannot do…Interrogations and solitary confinement are the only answer the government has to offer even towards the most peaceful women’s social rights groups. Where should I start? Should I speak about the discriminatory laws or honor killings? When I am barred from one of my most basic rights of education, what sort of future do I have to look forward to? The only way the government sees women is perverse and sexualized which gets translated into legislative bills and laws so that their lustful and slave-like desires can be fulfilled…the victims of these laws from beginning to end are women.”
Mohsen Rezai (former head of the notorious IRGC, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) does not give campaign speeches in universities so that he may steer clear of questioning perhaps pertaining to Interpol’s warrant for Rezai’s arrest for direct involvement with the July 18, 1994 suicide bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The internal role and actions of the stealthy IRGC remains dubious and eerily dark. They are at a minimum responsible for brutal crackdowns, and surveillance on the Iranian youth for past thirty years. In 1999, Mohsen Rezai’s own son, Ahmad Rezai sat in a panel discussion with the news service Voice of America to voice one of the most serious accusations against his father. He stated: “We believe that the Islamic Republic is a terrorist regime, the biggest terrorist government in the world…We want to be free…but we have no freedom in Iran.” Ahmad had extremely harsh accusations towards Khatami and the duplicitous nature of the reform movement which he described as being a charade. Ahmad stated that Khatami’s goals, first and foremost to “fool” the youth and the world while promoting domestic oppression at home.
Under Ahmadinejad’s tenure, some of the most gruesome images of public savagery were published in May of 2007. he blood soaked scenes of youth taken by Ebrahim Noroozi of Fars News Agency show youth being mercilessly beaten and tortured in the streets by masked secret service agents. These scenes, unimaginable to the average human, cannot be likened to any existing event; the most graphic and disturbing horror movie made would not stand a chance against this reality. The look on these youth’s faces of terror, pain, and humiliation is remembered as the face of Ahmadinejad, and furthermore the face of a government who promotes these atrocities, in ignorance of any human moral in existence. These are scenes the outside world is able to view as they happened in public, what happens internally in Iran’s prisons, especially the infamous Evin prison merits the slogans of Iranian students as they shout “Students die, and yet they accept not this brutality.”
Indeed, Iran’s students need not be schooled on the system of suppression that burdens them so greatly. Put best by a literature student in Iran named Kamran in an interview with SPA news agency: “Changing the rhetoric does not necessarily change the policies as long as the political roots are the same. I see no real difference between the candidates.” For students like Kamran, they have the experience of the empty promises of reformist candidates like Khatami (now backing Moussavi), and they are beginning to understand why things never seem to change for them. Challenging authority “can easily be interpreted by the judiciary as an offence to national security,” he added. Therein lies the crux of the matter; for a governmental foundation that demands its legitimacy from human interpretation of divine law, political criticism can only be seen as sacrilegious, a crime punishable by death. By voicing their opposition, the youth of Iran are choosing life, whether they are lucky enough for it to be their own, or in sacrifice of, so that others may live with the freedom so desired.
Iran election protester details encounter with
riot police, militiamen
15 June 2009
The Los Angeles Times
By Borzou Daragahi
A bag that an activist left with strangers during
a Tehran protest against election results leads to an interview in which she
recounts a frantic search for her brother and beatings by police.
Anousheh's hazel eyes burned from the smoke. She caught her breath. Up the boulevard, amid the hazy din, the riot police were beating people with batons and threatening others. Screams erupted, as young men and women ran for cover.
The 29-year-old Iranian interior designer and her brother, Babak, had just been up there, at the northern end of Tehran's Africa Boulevard, where the crowds were chanting, "Death to the dictator!" -- a burgeoning mass of hundreds of people protesting alleged vote count fraud in the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As bearded, truncheon-wielding Ansar-e Hezbollah militiamen began storming the gathering crowds, Anousheh and Babak sprinted down the street, losing sight of each other in the chaos. She searched for him on side streets with no luck. She thought about going back home, but knew there was no way her protective big brother would leave the scene without first finding her.
She imagined him lying in agony on the roadway, or locked up in a wagon and taken to prison, perhaps Evin and its solitary confinement wing, where she said her mother had spent 40 grueling days in 2003.
Before going back into the crowd and risking arrest or a beating, she decided to jettison her backpack, which contained a digital camera packed with potentially provocative images of stone-throwing demonstrators, a wallet full of identification cards, and her and her brother's cellphones, with numbers of all their contacts.
"Can you please take this?" she said to a group of strangers sitting in a car, observing the unrest ahead. "I need to find my brother."
The baffled passengers took the bag, opened it quickly to be make sure the contents were not dangerous, and watched as she sprinted back into the melee, a solitary figure in a beige coat and light green head scarf.
Trained as a graphic artist, Anousheh makes an unlikely political activist. She lives with her parents. She stayed home on election day, unlike her brother and parents, who voted for moderate candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who has accused Ahmadinejad of vote fraud. But she believes Mousavi should have won.
"I don't accept any of them," Anousheh, who asked that her last name not be published, says in steady voice. "None of them can do anything."
She's driven, she says, not by politics but by a heartfelt sense of the injustice of it all, and a strong commitment to her country, her city and her neighborhood, called Jordan, among the Iranian capital's most urbane districts.
Jordan was a target of the Islamic revolutionaries who took control of Iran in the late 1970s, a symbol of all that was decadent about the toppled regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Authorities re-designated Jordan Boulevard, named after American educator Samuel Jordan, who established a high school here, Africa Boulevard in a showy sign of solidarity with the Third World, and a slap to the district's cosmopolitan pretensions.
Analysts sometimes describe a great rift in Iran between rich and poor, between the pious downtrodden masses and the wealthy Westernized elite. But many say Iran's divide is more about culture than class, more about cool than cash.
Plenty of the bazaar merchants who bankrolled the ayatollahs and became fundamentalist pillars of the Islamic Republic were rich, and many of the young working stiffs in menial jobs in wholesale districts listen to made-in-L.A. Persian pop music and sip homemade vodka with their friends on weekends.
And among the so-called north Tehran elite are many of modest means: government employees or teachers who treasure the arts, travel abroad and, above all, believe in a good education for their children.
The revolutionaries were resentful of the north Tehranis not so much for their money but for their schooling and worldliness, for what they viewed as a pretension that they could meld East and West instead of just being content with Iran's traditions.
The late intellectual Ali Shariati, who once inspired Iranian revolutionaries, came up with a term for it: gharb-zadeghi, meaning struck or poisoned by the West.
Growing up, Anousheh encountered pro-government militiamen on motorcycle patrols of her neighborhood. They regularly made their way up to Jordan to set up checkpoints. They searched passing cars for alcohol and young unmarried couples to detain.
On occasion, the young people of the district would fight back, pummeling the militiamen with their fists and chasing them out. For the kids of Jordan, the clashes between the pro-government militiamen and the youths unfolding over the last few days are just the latest episode of a 30-year brawl.
Anousheh wound up studying art and graphics in college, and Babak, six years her senior, became an engineer, like their father.
Their mother, a homemaker turned community activist, became involved in Iran's budding civil society movement under the government of former President Mohammad Khatami, the reformist who tried but failed to open up Iran's religiously conservative political system. She was arrested in 2003 while supporting a student uprising.
Anousheh lived in London briefly and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for two years, studying English and working an administrative job.
After returning to Tehran, she decided one day to dress in an elegant, foot-to-toe Arabian abaya, in the style worn by women in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. For fun, she decided to wear a colorful Thai print blouse over it.
As a result, she says, she was stopped on the streets.
"You look like a billboard," a woman from the Guidance Patrol, the morality police, told her.
"Excuse me?" Anousheh recalled responding. "Everyone is looking at you," the woman said.
Anousheh became furious. "My legs are covered, my arms are covered, my clothes aren't tight," she said. "What could you possibly complain about?"
Such experiences made her want to move abroad. But she was continually drawn back by close-knit friendships and her country's breezy familiarity, a society in which someone could drop off a backpack with a digital camera, cellphone and cash inside with random strangers on the street and be reasonably sure she'd get it all back in a day or so.
Unbeknown to her, she had dropped her bag off Saturday night with a group of journalists discreetly making mental notes while watching the storm outside.
We used her cellphone to call her Sunday morning and told her we had her bag. "Come on over," we said.
"I trust people," she explained during a late-morning chat, as she nursed deep purple welts on her legs and thigh. "If you never steal something from someone, no one will ever steal from you."
She then explained what happened after she left us Saturday night. Anousheh said that when she raced to find her brother, the anti-riot police screamed at her to go home. "Get out of here, or we'll hit you, crush you," one militiaman told her.
"Go ahead, crush me, but I still have to find my brother," she told them.
It was a chaotic gantlet, she says. There were chubby, helmeted militiamen swinging clubs. There were black-uniformed special police units on motorcycles. There were anti-riot police. And along the sidelines, there were bearded, plainclothes security officials, barking orders into walkie-talkies.
As she navigated the layers of armed authorities, she endured insults and baton swings, about five judging from the number of bruises on her lower body. The security forces then began spreading out into the side streets.
"Anousheh," a neighbor told her, "your brother is looking for you."
After 90 minutes, she found him hovering inside the doorway of a building along a side street, just as worried about her as he was about him, and just as bloodied.
But instead of going home, she says, they jumped back into the fray, chanting slogans and playing cat and mouse with the police until just before 6 a.m.
"My brother said Nelson Mandela was in prison for 20 years until he reached his goal," she says. "I learned from my mother that you fight for your rights.
"Your rights are something you take,not something you're given."
June 15, 2009
By Patrick Martin
The Globe and Mail
Iran's presidential election may be over, the
protesters subdued, but the cause that brought so many Iranians to the ballot
boxes and into the streets endures.
“This was much bigger than just one man against another,” says Iranian Saeed Rahnema, a professor of political science at York University in Toronto. “It was a movement – several civil society groups – that decided to make [challenger Mir-Hossein] Mousavi their candidate. They existed before his campaign. They made him a contender, and they won't go away.”
Certainly, the regime tried its best on the weekend, cracking down on the thousands of demonstrators who rioted in Tehran's streets Saturday, and again yesterday. Police said they rounded up 170 people over the protests as well as using tear gas and live ammunition fired over people's heads to break up demonstrations. Pro-Mousavi activists, shouting “Death to the dictator” threw stones at police.
It was a rare challenge to a regime that keeps a tight rein on its people, and foreign reporters said they were blocked from covering many of the protests.
The demonstrators railed against the official results of Friday's elections, in which 63 per cent of voters were said to have voted for the hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while only 34 per cent reportedly cast their ballots for the more moderate Mr. Mousavi.
Opposition supporters cried fraud.
“No one even imagined this much vote rigging, before the eyes of the world, by a government which says it is committed to religious justice,” complained Mr. Mousavi, who has lodged an appeal with the powerful Guardian Council to cancel the results of the election. “[This] will jeopardize the pillars of the Islamic Republic and establish tyranny.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad, in a large victory rally of his own, insisted that elections in Iran are the cleanest in the world. “Today, we should appreciate the great triumph of the people of Iran against the unified front of all the world arrogance [the West] and the psychological war launched by the enemy,” he crowed. “The era of a few countries making decisions for the rest of the world has come to an end.”
As for the protesters, the 52-year-old Mr. Ahmadinejad said the election was like a football match and the loser should just “let it go.”
But it seems clear the “losers” will not just let it go.
There appears to be a clash, some analysts say, between former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami (who supported Mr. Mousavi) on the one hand, and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his protégé Mr. Ahmadinejad on the other.
“They [the latter two] have claimed victory,” said Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. “They are going to calculate that everyone is so stunned and shocked that they will go home bewildered.”
But that's not likely, says Prof. Rahnema. “The civil society groups have grown numerous and strong,” he said.
At the core of these groups is the women's movement.
Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani is one of its leaders. She and 31 other Iranian women were arrested in Tehran on March 4, 2007, just before the International Women's Day demonstrations. Ms. Khorasani is one of the founding members of the One Million Signatures campaign, an effort to petition the government to pass legislation that recognizes women's equality in law.
To Ms. Khorasani, the election was not the end but a means to an end.
“Already, diverse groups of equal-rights activists in Iran have taken appropriate advantage of this opportunity and formed a large alliance called the ‘coalition of women's movements to advocate electoral demands,'“ she wrote last week in the online magazine The Mark.
“The election atmosphere provides these movements an opportunity to find a common platform beyond the cliché and repetitious slogans,” she wrote. They are “a golden window of opportunity for civil society activists and social forces in the country to vigilantly and prudently develop solidarity and joint actions.” Indeed, the alliance of women and student groups visible this past week is a manifestation of that tendency, as is the less visible but still strong alliance with parts of the trade union movement.
Ms. Khorasani warns that “it is only through the organization of popular forces and formation of groups for change that they can hope to survive the next four years.”
The issues that motivate these groups include demands for gender equality, economic opportunity and greater freedom of expression, including not only the press but expressions of culture – from high culture to rock music. The puritanism of Iran's ruling clergy has frustrated these people.
Indeed, Juan Cole, professor of Near East history at the University of Michigan, says the clash between forces here is nothing less than “a culture war.” And it's been going on for 12 years.
“We have already seen, in 1997 and 2001, that Iranian women and youth swung behind an obscure former minister of culture named Mohammad Khatami and his 2nd of Khordad movement, capturing not only the presidency but also, in 2000, parliament,” he wrote on his blog yesterday.
“The problem for the reformers of the late 1990s and early 2000s was that they did not actually control much, despite holding elected office. Important government policy and regulation was in the hands of the unelected, clerical side of the government. The hard-line clerics just shut down reformist newspapers, struck down reformist legislation and blocked social and economic reform.”
Now, however, the civil society groups that started with the presidency of Mr. Khatami have multiplied.
“What is remarkable,” says Ghoncheh Tazmini, author of Khatami's Iran , “is that despite the conservative nature of President Ahmadinejad's regime, the drive and energy for pluralism not only survives but also prevails.”
“The regime now has a choice,” said Prof. Rahnema, “Either it deals with the issues of concern to these people, or it resorts to more violence.” Such violence might begin with massive arrests, the closing of newspapers and expulsion of students, he said.
Ironically, some analysts suggest, the nuclear issue might be an area where compromise is forthcoming. “It may be,” said Prof. Rahnema, “that making a deal with the United States over nuclear weapons is a way this discredited regime gets back some of its credibility.”