Iranian Students Spark Revolt
On the night of wednesday June 11th a new resurgence of student revolt erupted onto the streets of Tehran...
Iranian Students Spark Revolt: A Cursory Analysis of the June Uprising Against Repression and Privatization In Tehran
by wispy cockles aka sean west damon
On the night of wednesday June 11th a new resurgence of student revolt erupted onto the streets of Tehran. Initially several hundred students took the streets to express their anger with the government's plan to privatize the university system and with the government's decision to close university campuses in order to prevent demonstrations in the week leading up to the fourth anniversary of the July 9th 1999 student protests.
The July 9th protests four years ago, led by Tehran University students, were sparked by the banning by judiciary decree of the Salaam (Hello), an independent daily newspaper that argued for government reforms. The 1999 protests grew to more than 1,400 people in less than three days.
This time around a similar situation developed. The initial actions of students created a space for popular dissent against the regime in which thousands of people joined in violent demonstrations against the clerics which ran for several nights.
The friday night protests were by many accounts the largest and most disruptive, erupting on the campus of Shaheed Beheshti University in northern Tehran and moving onward to overtake the two major highways leading to the dormitories of Tehran University.
Earlier in the day riot police police and pro-government vigilantes had attacked five dormitories busting out windows and doors and severely beating and arresting several students.
By the evening traffic was snarled as many people had taken to the streets in automobiles and on foot to see what the demonstrations were all about. People sympathetic to the demonstrations attempted to direct traffic around bonfires that had been lit in the roads. At one point several people yelled angrily at a man who had left his vehicle to help direct traffic. "Just be patient, we are trying to have a revolution," the man yelled back.
"Tanks, machine guns are no longer effective," cried out protesters in defiance of Iran's iron fist policy towards domestic dissent. Demands for the release of all political prisoners and an end to the rule of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is seen as the main opponent of reforms that would open up more space for political dissent and democratic participation.
"This is civil disobedience," shouted a 45-year-old man beside his car on Chamron Highway, where demonstrators had lit stacks of tires and even trees on fire along the road. "We are standing up against them. We are resisting and protesting against the regime."
Running battles between protesters and riot police and vigilantes bloodied the streets throughout the evening. The vigilantes, a para-military group commonly reported to be under the control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, known as The Baseej and also known as Ansar Hezbollah, rampaged throughout the city on motorbikes and pickups in groups of up to 200. They beat demonstrators with rubber truncheons and wooden sticks, going as far as to drag people out of their cars to assault them. They positioned their ranks with Kalishnikov rifles at intersections over which they had gained control. Some witness claimed to have seen people with slash wounds from razors and gunshot wounds.
By early morning hours the demonstrations had been repressed and The Basseej made victory laps around the campus beating their truncheons against the sides of their trucks to inspire fear in demonstrators who had retreated back to the university.
While the brave actions of student and popular protest against privatization and theocracy in face of brutal repression are something to be applauded a specter lingers in the background of this popular uprising. With US victory over Iraq, the US is eager to tighten it's grip over the whole region. Recently US saber rattling toward Iran has increased with US government claims that Iran supports global terrorism and is developing a nuclear weapons program. Not even Iran's support for US operations in Afghanistan was enough to keep it off of the "Axis of Evil" list!
The US government is eager to forward any attempts to destabilize the Iranian regime so they can move in and gain as much control as possible over this gateway nation between the Middle East and Central Asia. With US troops stationed in Central Asia (Afghanistan) for the first time in modern history and the toppling of the Baathist regime in Iraq conquering Iran is the next big step to concretize US control over both of these regions.
In the weeks preceeding the uprising nearly a dozen US-based Persian-language satellite television stations had been broadcasting calls for demonstrations and rebellion in the lead up to the July 1999 anniversary. The US regime will certainly encourage instability within Iran to the extent that it creates opportunity for US interests to expand. However, it's foolish to assume that Satellite television or US operatives within Iran could have caused the demonstrations. There has been the steady emergence of homegrown resistance and reform movements in Iran for well over a decade, including not only students who protested the banning of The Salaam in 99 and the death sentence of a reform activist this past November, but also a movement by workers against lay offs and for the restoration of the right to strike.
On February 11th 2003 CIA director George Tennent reported to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that "For now, our bottom line analysis is that the Iranian regime is secure, but increasingly fragile." It is clear that US intelligence is closely watching Iran for any opportunity that it might have to gain influence over an emerging, broadbased movement capable of regime change.
The US is certainly no friend to left wing demonstrators fighting privatization as was illustrated by the experience of anti-biotechnology activists who while protesting the World Agricultural forum in St Louis, Missouri last month had their homes and community spaces raided by federal and local authorities and were arrested without provocation while bicycling or walking around town. Nor is the US government an ally to people fighting tyrannical regimes, as the people of Palestine, Columbia and Chile can attest to in their struggles against US backed regimes.
The US government is only a friend to it's own interests: continued growth of it's geopolitical influence in the Middle East and beyond, the perpetuation of a system of free market fundamentalism called global capitalism and the obliteration of whomever stands in it's path.
Therefore any success by the Iranian people in toppling the clerics and the oppressive regime that has held them in bondage since 1979 in Iran will reveal a larger struggle. The struggle against a powerful US empire which will quickly move to co-opt their movement and install a puppet regime in Iran suitable to it's interests. The Iranian people must not choose to go backwards into the past and find themselves once again under control of foreign regimes and used to keep oil prices cheap as they were before the Islamic Revolution under the Shah. Nor must they settle to live under the independent, but oppressive rule of the clerics. They must move forward and shape history in a new direction to create a society where they have not only self-determination but political freedom and social equality as well. They must revive a revolutionary spirit that puts the people's needs above that of the Iranian ruling class and the US ruling class respectively. They might cast a glance back to the All-Iran Worker's Alliance, who before being brutally repressed by Ayatollah Khomeni and the clerics during the Islamic Revolution, struggled for a society "free of class oppression" and called for worker's shoras (councils) to be "formed by the worker's of each factory for their own political and economic needs."
Having lived under oppressive regimes, both Islamic and imperialist, for sometime one can assume that they have no desire to be anyone's dog any longer and if they have a chance for true freedom they will seize it. I can only hope that history, luck, insight and skill will ultimately rest on their side.
Ultimately the future of Iran and the region rests in the possibility that social movements can rid the country of it's current theocracy, and build a strong popular base resistant to control by the US government. Either the continued existence of the unpopular theocracy, which will sooner or later be moved on by the US military or it's proxies or a domestic movement to overthrow the rule of the clerics that relies on US backing will lead to the same ends; subjugation to US interests and global capitalism.
Therefore it is the responsibility of freedom fighters in the US and those who wish to halt the growth of the US empire to not only protest against US aggression towards Iran but also to support grassroots Iranian struggle against theocracy, imperialism and class oppression whenever possible. Contrary to the assertions of many on the authoritarian left who argue that to fight US imperialism we must support totalitarian domestic regimes that can resist it, I offer a different perspective. Totalitarian regimes while powerful in military might are no match for the unsurpassed military might of the US government and more importantly lack the domestic popular support needed to keep them strong during sustained diplomatic and military aggression by a most powerul enemy, the US government. People won't fight with all of their might to keep their oppressors in power, but they will fight with all their might to stay alive and more importantly they will fight vigourously for a life where their needs are met and where popular power shared by all replaces the boot grinding down upon their collective face.
It is clear that if people within the US wish to pose a sincere challenge to US imperialism we must support movements within nations under attack by the US to shape their societies along directly democratic and egalitarian lines. Neither clerics nor businessmen will pose a true threat to the United States Government's ability to expand. Only popular resistance will be able to halt the US empire in it's increasingly gruesome footsteps. Anything less is simply a loosing strategy.
Sources: Inter Press News Service, Reuters, Counterpunch and Zabalaza: A Journal of Revolutionary Anarchism
sean west damon aka wispy cockles lives in Philadelphia where is a free lance labor solidarity organizer, helps publish The Defenestrator (www.defenestrator.org) and works with the Anarcho-Communist Union of Philadelphia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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