This analysis, part 1 of a 2-part series, was originally published on August 24, by INN contributor @SabzPersian, (MidEast Youth, on Twitter).
“We have to be careful in how we choose to make our voices heard to the regime,” said a 25-year-old student from Tehran University. “Since 2009, the regime has shown no mercy with the massive number of political prisoners it has taken.”
After Iran’s 2009 disputed presidential elections, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reclaimed a second term despite massive support for opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi. The international community expressed concern over the irregularities of the election outcome as many Iranians had clearly displayed support for Moussavi. As a result of the fraudulent elections, the Green Movement was formed and tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest against the election outcome that no one had anticipated in the biggest unrest Iran has seen since the 1979 revolution.
Two years later, as the Arab Spring has dominated the region many wonder whether the Green Movement is still alive and if there is hope for reform in Iran.
According to Italy’s former ambassador to Iran, Roberto Toscano, the Green Movement is NOT dead. However, Toscano emphasized that in order for Iran’s Green Movement to be effective, it has to address the political and social dynamics of the regime. Like in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other surrounding countries experiencing turmoil- demonstrators have a broad scope of protest rather than solely focusing on political issues- Iranians must do the same and address the different aspects of oppression enforced by the regime.
“In Iran, there are plenty of reasons of social discontent: cronyism, corruption and efficiency,” Toscano said. “And yet, the Iranian protest is more imminently political. Socio-economic themes have the tendency to unite a wide spectrum of social data.”
It is crucial for Iranians to keep their voice alive especially at a time where citizens in the Middle East and North Africa are taking a stand and fighting for democracy. In Libya, rebels have now successfully advanced into Tripoli, Muammar Gadhafi’s stronghold, and captured Gadhafi’s two sons. In Egypt, parliamentary elections are expected to happen later this year and though Egyptians are unhappy with the slow movement toward democratic change, Egyptian clerics and liberals recently agreed upon a “constitution guide” that will pave the way for a “modern democratic state.” With all that is going in the region, where is Iran’s opposition movement?
Several weeks ago, 800 young men and women gathered at a Tehran park called Garden of Water and Fire. Together, they laughed, splashed water at one another and soaked in the sun. For any normal Californian, it was equivalent to a regular day spent in the summer with no worries over schoolwork or household chores. For a short time, the youth of Iran put aside their grievances with the regime and engaged in a simple water fight that had been organized through Facebook. Their efforts toward a peaceful water fight weren’t necessarily political since no one chanted or screamed any anti-government slogans as they splashed one another with water. Regardless, Conservatives still viewed their attempt at a fun-filled day as “violating Islamic principles and norms.” Furthermore, Conservative websites posted photos from the water fight in an attempt to display the participant’s actions as “immoral” and “corrupt.” Tehran’s police chief, Hossein Sajedinia reported that a group of Tehran’s residents were arrested for participating in the allegedly “unIslamic” water gun fight and promised that police “would act against others who disrupted public order and security.” Parliament Deputy Mousa Ghazanfarabadi reported that people had organized the event in an effort to “distance the youth from Islamic principles and the values of the Islamic republic.”
Could this simple water fight have been an act of protest or was it just a group of (800 mind you) people trying to have fun despite their oppressive circumstances? A week before the infamous water gun fight, young men and women gathered in ANOTHER park in Tehran dressed in “unfashionable clothing.” They wore traditional hijab with bright colors, men wore wigs of long hair (authorities normally force men to cut their hair if it is “too long”) and fake eyeglasses as they paraded around the park.
Additionally, last January- men and women with curly hair met up in yet another park to celebrate their curly hairstyles. There have been other reported gatherings around Tehran of people having paintball fights and flying kites. One gathering even included blowing bubbles at one another- all of which had been organized through Facebook. While the water gun fight may have caused more controversy with security forces, it is apparent that these gatherings are not simply held to just “have fun,” but instead, they illustrate a motive to fight against the regime. Since a peaceful, silent movement didn’t stop the regime from arresting hundreds of activists back in 2009, why not hold a social event with essentially no apparent political intentions? The reason these gatherings are controversial: photos from each event have been posted on Facebook, which shows boys and girls laughing and mingling with one another. Additionally, the gatherings have been publicized on various media outlets after taking place.
The regime finds get-togethers of men and women inappropriate, and authorities (or as they like to say, “Islam”) discourage interaction between the two genders before marriage. More importantly, the use of Facebook to organize these events is also an issue since the regime has blocked all social media websites within Iran and imprisoned countless bloggers and other users of social media. Iranians can’t access Facebook or sites like Twitter without first downloading a program that can hack through the filter system of the regime. According to former New York Times Correspondent in Iran, Nazila Fathi, Iranians also can’t download Skype to be able to communicate with loved ones. Additionally, the regime is working to implement a “clean/halal” Internet program at the end of August in an effort to ban Iranians from accessing information.
Despite, Ahmadinejad’s claims that he is unconcerned that the Arab Spring may ultimately reach Iran, the regime’s crackdown against gatherings such as the water gun fight is a clear example of the fear that the regime faces with any kind of antiestablishment sentiment that Iran’s youth may harbor.