Protests erupted on Tehran University around 7 July. Students in 18 Iranian cities were protesting within a week. They shouted “Down with dictators”, “Death to despots”. They carried signs calling for “Freedom, independence and dignity”, slogans from the revolt which overthrew the bloody rule of the Shah in 1979.
The United Students’ Front issued 14 demands. They called for freedom of the press from theocratic dictates, release of political prisoners, open trials, public investigations of security and intelligence repression of activists, and importantly, transfer of key institutions, including the military and security apparatus, from the control of religious officials or bodies to secular-government control.
The protests and their demands restore the impetus that led to the 1979 revolution. Then religion was the only avenue for fighting the Shah’s vicious dictatorship that could not be suppressed. The 1979 revolt was hijacked by clerical fascists. The state delegated ultimate power to a supreme religious leader.
Worldly concerns are agitating people now. It is estimated that eight million Iranians of marriageable age can’t afford to marry. Seventy per cent of Iran’s unemployed are between 15 and 24 and another 600,000 a year join the jobless queues. Nearly two-thirds of the population are less than 25 years old. In the absence of war, people demand advances. National people’s democracy is the rallying point.
Iranians are familiar with intense struggle. Revolt heralded the first decade of this century and established a constitutional monarchy in place of a feudalistic dictatorship. By 1951, Iranians had established a vigorous national movement that fought to bring down the rule of British oil monopolies. The Mossadeq government seized BP’s oilfields, nationalised the oil industry and in time expelled the ruling Shah, Iranian royalty.
In 1953, American and British-backed reactionaries ousted the Mossadeq government in a bloody coup d’état, installing Reza Shah as monarch. A reign of terror by the Shah’s secret police, Savak, maintained an iron grip on Iran until the 14-month revolt in 1978-79. That revolt was hijacked by clerical-fascist elements that installed Ayatollah Khomeini as supreme leader with ultimate power.
The recent unrest of early July put the Iranian struggle back on track to national democratic revolt and struck a severe blow at the dominance of clerical dictators.
The fact that students were in the forefront of a popular wave of dissent from the theocratic dictatorship has its own importance. Universities give preference to the children of veterans and martyrs from the Iran-Iraq war, and of clerics, civil servants and merchants who financed the revolution. Last year, anticipating unrest, conservatives in parliament opened universities to Basij volunteers, young Islamic militants who had acted as human minesweepers during the Iran-Iraq war and who have been at the forefront of enforcing Islamic theocracy since. That the universities, under this sort of attention, were the scene of a week-long nationwide revolt against clerical dictatorship is indicative of the depth of unrest simmering in Iran.
After the students rose in protest, clerics banned further protests without government permits, and supplemented police with “revolutionary guards”, secret intelligence agents and Basij volunteers on the streets. Tens of thousands of reactionary supporters were mobilised including troops in plain clothes. Thousands of students and workers were arrested. Death sentences were threatened for “counter- revolutionary activities”. Repression was in full swing.
Reactionaries also targeted Prime Minister Khatami, a product of people’s disquiet. At the last elections, women and young people voted against the clerical dictators across the board.
The least reactionary, clerically permitted, “reformist” candidate, Khatami, won Prime Ministerial office with 70 per cent of the vote in a four-way contest. At municipal elections this year, conservative clerical-fascists suffered further set-backs.
Khatami himself can come or go. What is important about him is that he reflected the people’s mood for change. All the signs point to a growing surge of struggle to unseat the clerical-fascist dictatorship and put the people in the driver’s seat in Iran once again. After 20 years of the Ayatollahs, Iranians are on the move. Women and young people in particular are urging the struggle forward. The struggle for national democratic revolution in Iran has been forced back onto the agenda of history.
[Reproduced from the Australian
11-8-99, with thanks]