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Guest Voice

Young Iranians' Collective Release

"We can't be careful," he said when I urged him to stay indoors. "We can't lose this chance."

By Jonathan Spollen

Iran's electoral watchdog, the Guardian Council, said today that it was investigating 646 complaints of polling violations in the country's disputed presidential elections, and announced it will hold a meeting Saturday with the three defeated presidential contenders to hear their allegations of voting irregularities.

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 opposition protesters filled the streets and squares of Tehran in the sixth straight day of mass rallies in Iran's capital, with many wearing black and holding candles to commemorate the deaths of at least eight demonstrators killed by Iranian security forces on Monday.

Reports of voting irregularities in last Friday's election range from shortages of ballots to voting centres being closed prematurely to reports of turnouts in at least 30 locations registering over 100 per cent.

But a trip to Iran last November is the strongest evidence I have come across so far to support the argument that this vote was rigged in the incumbent's favor. Out of scores of people from all walks of life that I spoke to over a period of three weeks, not one said they were satisfied with how Mr Ahmadinejad was running their country.

Bazaaris said he was bad for business, taxi drivers said their salaries were depreciating in value by the week, university graduates said there were no jobs, businesspeople said working in Iran was a constant struggle, religious minorities complained of persecution.

Everyone complained of the senseless restrictions on everyday life and the inability to make their discontent heard.

"It's impossible for someone like me to live here," an award-winning artist told me. He had recently returned from living aboard and was making plans to leave again.

But even members of the Baseej, the Islamic militia believed to strongly support Mr Ahmadinejad, expressed dissatisfaction with Mr Ahmadinejad, with some saying his foreign policies and rhetoric were overly hostile.

"He is making us look ignorant," one member of the student Baseej said over tea at their Tehran university office.

A female Baseeji and philosophy student told me how the younger conservatives were "outgrowing" the rigid ways of Mr Ahmadinejad and his revolution-era cohorts. She spoke of the regime like an elderly relative that had long since lost touch with the outside world and Iran's own younger generation - 70 percent of the country's population is younger than 30 - and needed to be guided, with loving care, to the political retirement home.

Some hardliners went as far as to wonder whether Mr Ahmadinejad wasn't secretly a puppet of western interests, used by the West to divert criticism from regional wars, perhaps, or to keep oil prices high.

But the criticism meted out by conservatives was positively polite compared to what the vast majority of people had to say about their president.

"He's a joke. He believes he's a messiah - he said there were halos around his head," said one reformist student who was at the time campaigning to get Mohammed Khatami to run for president. He was referring to Mr Ahmadinejad's claim that a light surrounded him as he addressed the UN General Assembly in 2005.

"Why won't he just go away?" said one despairing journalist, describing the futility of going through the available political channels to try and change the way things are in Iran.

And thus the events of the last few days: It's been impossible to give vent to real criticism in Iran - you risk jail or worse - and the result, after so many years, is the current chaos. This isn't merely the expression of anger over likely electoral fraud. It has been the frenzied meltdown of a people exasperated by 30 years of oppression and isolation.

It was the collective release of a young population who know they'll have to leave their country to get good jobs, who are sick of the restrictions on all aspects of their lives, from the clothes they wear to the music they listen to. They have had to watch in silence as their government, while claiming to resist "western greed and corruption", disappears one of the largest oil reserves in the world with seemingly no economic benefit.

The first thing one Mousavi-supporting girl at Monday's protest, speaking to the London Times, said: "We were singing, dancing in the streets, boys and girls together. We had never done this before. No one wanted to go home."

"It seems people were half-dead before and suddenly everyone felt alive."

It started off as a protest, but has become an important moment in the Islamic republic's short history. There has been a shift in consciousness, a realization that things could change - the same realization, perhaps, that gripped Mr Ahmadinejad and his friends 30 years ago when they took on the Shah and won.

But people in Iran know Mr Ahmadinejad did not win this time, and they have lost their fear of saying so.

When I was there in November, people were scared to speak just because my Dictaphone was switched on, even on non-political matters.

But on Monday - as news was coming in of pro-Mousavi supporters being beaten and killed by police and militias - when I urged an Iranian friend via Facebook chat to stay indoors, he said absolutely not.

"We can't be careful," he said. "We can't lose this chance."

Jonathan Spollen is Assistant Foreign Editor at The National in Abu Dhabi.

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Comments (5)

lottamiata Author Profile Page:

There comes a time in every nation's history (should it last so long) when a People rise up and claim what is theirs -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, guaranteed by a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Such a realization by the people of a nation cannot be forced upon them by others in a paternalistic fashion but can only be realized by them in their own way and in their own time. If this is the time for the People of Iran to take back what belongs to them then they deserve the unqualified support of all the free peoples of the world. With real democracy comes real peace.

wlockhar Author Profile Page:

I think encouraging people to protest is one thing, we did that during the 2000 US Presidential debacle. However, encouraging them to revolt is shortsided and deadly.

There is no reason for a revolt in Iran. Iran has a system of government. A complete system, just like Iraq. A successful revolt would be easily crushed because, most of the protests are only coming from Tehran, not the rest of the country.

Second, unlike Saddam and Muharab or the former Musharaf, there is no real dictator in Iran. Yes, the Media tries to paint the Supreme Leader as a demagouge with unlimited powers, but the truth is his power is limited by the Assembly of Experts, who can fire or hire Supreme Leaders.
The Assembly is elected by the people.

Ahemd has powers afforded to him by the Iranian Constitution, but they are limited in scope. Whereas the Leader ("Supreme" is not mentioned in Iran's Constitution) has all of the powers of the US president, plus those equal to Saudi's monarchy.

The US Senate limits the US President's power, but they cannot fire him without going through the House first. The Saudi Monarchy's Senate can't do anything to limit the Monarchy.

Thus the Assembly is like the US Senate, but much more powerful.

If there is going to be any revolution, then it needs to be at the ballot box for the next elections of the Assembly.

demtse Author Profile Page:

The youth around the world are rebelling for CHANGE in their societies. They are tired of the warmongers taking their countries to war unnecessarily. They want peace. PERIOD!

JamesRaider Author Profile Page:


The mullahs may have long feared that change would eventually come in reaction to their abuse of the population. Many have moved the proceeds of their pilfering offshore, “just in case.” Some have built themselves Los Angeles and West Vancouver mansions, in anticipation that the gun might eventually not suppress the crowds in Tehran.

The potential for change is directly conditional on the persistence and endurance of the youth filling the streets of Iran. It will be unstoppable if the demonstrations move to the poorer rural regions of the country.


This genie is out of the bottle. Change may be slow in coming, nevertheless, it will come.

ripvanwinkleincollege Author Profile Page:

30 years ago, a wave of Iranians left Iran when the Shah's regime collapsed. For the most part, they were welcomed everywhere with open arms. Let's just say that the type of people who might leave if the mullahs collapsed are not people I would want as my next door neighbor, much less to be bolstering the ranks of Hezbollah and/or the Syrian government. Let's hope that the Iranians can resolve this peacefully within their own borders.

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