In Iran, cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) have echoed from Tehran rooftops every night, at least 20 have died, and hundreds have been arrested as authority figures from the highest level of the clerical establishment have spoken out against the current government. One thing is sure, Iranian activist Shahram Aghamir (Shah-RAM a-gha-MEER) told a Mission District crowd earlier this week.
“The Islamic Republic is not what it was before June 12.”
Aghamir was referring to the Iranian presidential elections in which incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (ah-mad-ee-ne-JAD) won 63 percent of the vote, a number that is disputed by many Iranians. Following the elections, millions took to the streets in protest calling the election results fraudulent.
Friday morning, more than a month after the election, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (raf-san-jan-EE), one of the most powerful political and clerical figures in Iran delivered a speech at Friday prayers denouncing the government’s crackdown and calling for the release of hundreds of detained protesters.
Entitled “Iran’s Green Wave: Reform or Revolution?” the talk, held at Dolores Street Community Services in the Mission District and hosted by the Center for Political Education, provided a way for those interested to understand the protests in Iran the presidential elections of June 12.
The talk was hosted by Aghamir and his partner, Melihe Razazan (raz-az-AN), who jointly produce and co-host the radio program “Voices of the Middle East and North Africa” on KPFA.
Razazan focused her discussion on the media and women in Iran, saying that “women are using this opportunity to campaign for women’s rights … women are at the forefront of what is happening in Iran,”
She said 65 percent of Iranian higher education students are women, and that other presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi (Kar-roob-EE) and Mir Hossein Mousavi (moo-sav-EE) made it a point to address women’s rights during their campaign.
Aghamir provided more background on the situation in Iran, saying that shortly before the election, Iranians seemed apathetic. In 2004 Ahmadinejad promising a populist platform, was elected in a similar climate among middle and upper classes.
“He cheated a little too,” interrupted Razazan.
“Not everyone voted for Mousavi as much as they didn’t want Ahmadinejad to win,” Aghamir said, referring to the most recent election.
Of course, in a crowd of activists, there was one inevitable question.
“How can we best support it?” said attendee Joan Cooke, referring to the Reformist movement.
In response, Razazan noted the difference between support from the American government, which she said would be the “kiss of death,” and the importance of grassroots support from individuals and non-government organizations.
Aghamir agreed that any U.S. government support would be problematic. The 1953 CIA-backed coup of the elected leader Mohammad Mossadeq, combined with decades of support for the Shah “left a deep imprint on the Iranian people,” he said.
Progressives “should carry the banner of civil rights,” not just in Iran, but even in the United States where civil rights were eroded under the Bush administration, Razazan said.
Like most, the speakers drew parallels to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when a popular movement involving the political spectrum from Islamists to Marxists overthrew the Shah.
Unlike the revolution 30 years ago, when the Shah provided concessions to protesters, Aghamir said, “I don’t see this regime stepping down,” without any form of violence.
It is important to hold these sorts of discussions, for Americans to understand what’s going on in Iran, Cooke said. Understanding Iran is “important for the whole Middle East, and its important for America,” he said.
While for now the protests have mostly died down, the two speakers said one thing was for certain.
“This,” Aghamir said, referring to working for change in Iran, “is going to be a slow process.”