Sunday, August 2, 2009

Iran: Hope and anticipation

Hope and anticipation

Afshin is a student at Tehran University who was involved in the protests following the presidential elections. He spoke to the Weekly Worker

Can you explain what happened and the reaction from the authorities?

The protest at Tehran University was one of the first post-election movements. Students started to gather near the main gate chanting slogans such as ‘Death to the dictator’. This was the same day as Ahmadinejad’s celebration rally in Vali Asr Square - very close to the university. Afterwards some of his supporters, including plain-clothes bassiji, headed to the main gate chanting pro-Ahmadinejad slogans and throwing stones, injuring several students. They eventually forced open the gate and viciously attacked students with wooden sticks - several were killed.

That night bassiji and police stormed into the university dormitories whilst students were asleep, leading to more deaths and many arrests. Those held in Evin prison and the ministry of the interior’s underground jail were denied access to food, water and toilets and subjected to torture. They were released after about 30 hours, but not before they had been forced to give a detailed account of their political activities and beliefs.

What other protests do you know about?

Most were concentrated in the first two weeks after the election. At first there were rallies every day and also many silent protests. But there were reports of gunfire and deaths too. However, in the second week, after ayatollah Khamenei had declared his opposition to the protests, the repression and violence got a lot worse, with more beatings, shootings and arrests. Gatherings were banned.

Most people were waiting for Ali Akbar Rafsanjani to say something about the election. Not because they agree with him, but rather in the hope that he could stop the attacks on demonstrators. He finally spoke at the end of the second week and many people gathered at Friday prayers and in the streets nearby to hear him. But the speakers in the streets outside were cut off - which the authorities blamed on the protesters themselves. Once more people were attacked by police and bassiji, even though Friday prayers are supposed to be holy and many elderly and religious people in Iran consider it a sin to behave in such a way. Some now refuse to go because there don’t want to hear propaganda for the regime.

What is the current mood amongst students and the wider population?

There is a mixture of hope, fear and anticipation. No-one knows what is going to happen next. People follow the news every day and discuss the meaning behind every decision, every act of the regime. In this sense there is no difference between students, workers and left activists.

However, what people are hoping for differs drastically. Some are looking for the regime to collapse, some for Ahmadinejad to step down and some simply for things to get back to normal and carry on as they were before. However, we communists are talking about the mood of the Iranian people and the prospects for revolution.

Do Ahmadinejad and Moussavi both retain support amongst sections of the Iranian people?

First of all, it has to be stressed that most people have never been firm supporters of either Ahmadinejad or Moussavi.

When Ahmadinejad was elected the first time, large numbers of Tehran citizens voted for him. It appears that this support was greatest among the middle classes - it is not true that he is first and foremost president of the rural poor and working class, as he claims. At first he was able to depict himself as an outsider to the regime, who was not responsible for what had previously happened in the Islamic Republic - somebody who had been kept out of office by the powers-that-be. This image fits perfectly with the aspirations of the middle classes - they hoped he was the saviour they had been waiting for.

However, in the June 12 election, Ahmadinejad could no longer portray himself as an outsider and most of the middle class appeared to turn to Moussavi, even though he had always been identified with a wing of the regime. But now Ahmadinejad was the agent of the regime and so it was Moussavi, because he against Ahmadinejad, who was considered the potential saviour.

It is very difficult to say what support exists among the poor and working class - there was a huge amount of fraud in the election, and so much bribery: money and food were given away by the government. So their vote - both in the past and during the recent elections - is not a true representation of their views. But one thing is for sure - the hopes of the working class in Ahmadinejad had never been raised to the same extent as the middle class.

Ahmadinejad had promised to revive the values of the Islamic revolution, which he accused the previous president, Khatami, of neglecting, and this had appealed to some religious people. But that changed in the recent election, when religious concerns were less prominent compared to other issues like the economy and social rights. Moreover, it was Moussavi who attracted part of the religious vote, because of his background as part of the reformist wing of the religious regime.

On the other hand, there are also those who take their lead from Khamenei, including the bassiji and fundamentalist sections of the military. They continued to support Ahmadinejad.

Capital itself is divided. There is a traditional market based on imported goods, and this section provides Ahmadinejad with his main spiritual and financial support (and, of course, these are the people who have gained the most from his policies). Another section consists of technocrats with more liberal views, and these people tended to support Moussavi.

What I’m trying to say is that none of the candidates enjoyed firm, consistent support from the majority of Iranians, who are always looking to the candidate who seems to be standing in opposition to the regime. Previously that was Ahmadinejad; this time it was Moussavi.

However, not everyone who voted for Moussavi believes he can do the job. And not everyone who was protesting on the streets was a Moussavi supporter. Those who are against Ahmadinejad are hardly fully behind Moussavi, Khatami and Rafsanjani.

What is the attitude of left activists to the reformists?

The left was divided over the election itself: the majority were for a boycott, while others (myself included) decided to vote against Ahmadinejad.

But now there has been a major realignment. Some of the boycottists and almost all who had voted joined in the protests. Of course, there is a genuine fear that falling in behind a leader like Moussavi will produce the same result as after the 1979 revolution, when Marxists and socialists were jailed and executed. So it is important to stress that it’s the mass movement we support, not people like Moussavi.

Finally, let me thank you and your readers - we appreciate the support our international comrades have showed at this time.

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