By GERRY FOLEY
Massive protests of Iranian students and other youth in July presented the authoritarian clericalist regime that was constituted shortly after the 1979 revolution with its greatest challenge yet. The upsurge exposed increasingly explosive contradictions.
Despite the rapid political turn to the right of the Islamic leadership, the revolution set the masses in motion and aroused aspirations among the vast layers of the population that the regime was obliged to try to meet. In particular, education has expanded. There has been a considerable increase in literacy. There are now 600,000 students in state universities.
This educated youth, however, are frustrated by the stagnation of the economy and the authoritarian and obscurantist political regime. The election to the presidency of the moderate Mohammad Khatami two years ago aroused hopes for a liberalization. However, the real power remained in the hands of the conservatives.
The frustration of the youth exploded when the conservatives decided to move to shut down a moderate newspaper, Salaam. The question of free press and free speech is obviously a major one for student youth. But the real issue was larger than that.
The suppression of Salaam showed that the conservatives were still in control and that there was not going to be any liberalization. The students lost their patience.
Although the initial protests seemed to support Khatami and the liberals, they quickly radicalized. When the president called on Tehran University students to end their sit-in, they refused. According to Kargar, the journal of the Iranian Revolutionary Socialist League, published in London, one of the slogans that emerged in the demonstrations was “Khatami kari bekon ya bemir” (“Khatami, do something or go to hell!”).
A bitterer one was “Mikosham Mikosham, anke baradaram kosht” (“I will kill the one who kills my brother!”). On July 5, according to Kargar, seven students were killed by police in their dormitories in Amir Abaad near Tehran. Another two students reportedly died in the hospital. Many others were injured.
Kargar reported July 12: “Some of the wounded came back to the students while having signs of torture on their bodies. The regime’s brigades burnt their faces with gas, took out their scapular bones and many more.
“They beat the students in the name of Imam Husain [one of the martyrs of the Shi’ism, the official religion of the Islamic Republic]. … They made a death tunnel in the dormitory’s hallways and beat the students to death in those tunnels.
“People were shocked by the facilities of dormitories when the doors of dorms were open to the public. They compared these rooms with the prisons of the POW’s in Iraq.”
The student protesters at Tehran University raised six demands on the government for ending their sit-in: “(1) Delivery to us of the bodies of those killed in the massacre. (2) Permission to hold a march in commemoration of the martyrs. (3) The authorities must designate those responsible to the public. (4) The National Security Council must apologize to the students. (5) The government must clarify its position or resign. (6) Khamenei himself must point out those responsible.”
The demands were not met and Kargar posted a dispatch from students in Iran a few hours later that reported a general onslaught on the students by the repressive forces:
“The police attacked the students striking in both Tehran University and Amir Abaad campus at 7 p.m. Ministry of Intelligence and Ansaar forces in plainclothes entered the main campus, and Disciplinary Forces supported them. (Unofficial reports say it was under an order from the Interior Ministry and the National Security Council with the permission of Khatami.)
“They tried to disperse the students but they were not successful. Students gathered again, and the university turned to a scene of war. … The whole university is going into flames! More than 500 people are injured lately! Witnesses say that the streets were filled with tear gas so that it was hard for everybody to breathe….
“The crowd is going upward from Jamalzadeh street to attack the security forces from behind! They are burning tires to disinfect the tear gases, while the students and their professors who joined their strike are going to be cornered in Tehran University’s mosque!
“In North Amir Abaad Street, 10 rows of armed forces are going upward and have occupied the whole street.”
Although Khatami turned against the student protesters, the frightened conservatives decided to turn on him and put an end to any notions about liberalizing the regime.
The Paris daily Le Monde reported July 29: “A new wave of arrests of dissidents was announced on July 26 by the intelligence services. The day before, two people close to the reformist president Mohammad Khatami were sentenced for disturbing the peace.”
“On July 5, a special clerical tribunal found the editor of Salaam, Mohammad Mossavi-Kheoiniha, guilty of disinformation, slander, and publishing a confidential document. … The document in question revealed that Said Emami, the main one responsible for the murder of dissidents on Nov. 12, 1998 … who had held an important post in the Ministry of Intelligence, had advocated gagging the liberals.”
“Also, the editors of two conservative papers, Keyhan and Javan, were indicted after the Ministry of Culture made a complaint against them for publishing an “ultraconfidential” document-that is, the letter signed by 24 officials of the Guardians of the Revolution warning Khatami that they were at the end of their patience because of the disorders.”
The response of the right has been to launch a general campaign of intimidation that the liberal Khatami has neither the stomach nor the power to stand up to. This right-wing offensive, however, can hardly eliminate the contradictions that are undermining the regime. It will probably only make them more explosive.
It seems that the Islamic Republic cannot stabilize itself by liberalizing, that nothing but a mass explosion can eliminate the barriers to progress.