The Ripon Forum

Volume 43, No. 3

Summer 2009 Issue

The New Revolutionary

By on December 3, 2015

by ELHAM GHEYTANCHI

Women lead the protests in the aftermath of the controversial presidential election earlier this summer in Iran. In a country where 62 percent of all university attendees are women and an overwhelming majority of the population is young, young women have poured into the streets to protest the fraudulent election.

The image of Neda, a 27-year old student who was brutally murdered on June 20 in Tehran while protesting the results of the national election, has brought the role of women in this post-election crisis to light. Indeed, at the forefront of these non-violent demonstrations, which are being violently suppressed by the government-backed militias known as the Basij, are brave Iranian women.

The Supreme Leader and all of the institutions directly operating under his supervision — namely the Judiciary, the Guardian Council overseeing the parliament, military forces and state TV — have forcefully suppressed women’s rights during the past 30 years. Any attempt to organize or work within the governmental institutions for improving women’s conditions has been aborted by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Although the political apparatus in Iran has prevented the women’s movement from becoming institutionalized, it has not been able to completely eradicate women’s right activism. The proof is the existence of the One Million Signature Campaign, a vibrant, nationwide grassroots movement that is active in 16 provinces in Iran, is strongly supported by the Iranian diaspora, and is demanding changes in the discriminatory laws against Iranian women.

…at the forefront of these non-violent demonstrations, which are being violently suppressed by the government-backed militias known as the Basij, are brave Iranian women.

In the wake of the recent unrest in Iran, mothers of all those who have been unlawfully killed have formed “The Mourning Mothers of Iran” (http://www.mournfulmothers.blogfa.com/). These mothers have decided to break the silence. Despite pressures from the state not to speak up, they gather every Saturday evening between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. (the time Neda was martyred) in major parks in Tehran dressed in black to commemorate the young people who were killed in the streets, those in the prisons and those who have disappeared.

As these protests continue, one thing becomes clear – the Iranian political system is facing a deep-rooted crisis of legitimacy. The very first victims of this crisis are women who are beaten up, imprisoned, tortured and abducted. There are unconfirmed reports of a dire situation in Iranian prisons. The state TV is broadcasting confessions of the prisoners who have, under torture of course, “confessed” to having relations with the CIA, the British government and Israel to overthrow the regime.

Consistent with the past behavior of the Iranian authorities, the protesters are being framed as puppets of the West and especially the United States. The protesters, who include supporters of the rival presidential candidates Mousavi and Karoubi, as well as the populist reform-minded president Khatami, are now accused of espionage for foreign governments and threatening the national security. Prosecution of such alleged crimes under Islamic punitive laws is very harsh.

As always, the U.S. response to Iranian government is of grave importance and has serious implications. If, as some in the Obama administration argue, Iran’s atomic bomb clock is ticking, should the U.S. negotiate with Iran just as the Iranian government is violating the fundamental human rights of its citizens?

On the one hand, any public support of the demonstrators by the American government will be used by the Iranian hardliners as “evidence” for their alleged cooperation with the West. On the other hand, the hardliners seem determined to crush the protesters. In the absence of any viable civil society organization, precisely because the regime has feared them and thereby crushed them, human rights violations including torture, abduction and imprisonment seem likely to continue.

U.S. foreign policy towards Iran reflects not only America’s national interest but also American values and international norms regarding human rights.

Could there be negotiations with pre-conditions based on the release of political prisoners by the Iranian state? I asked women’s rights activists in Iran this very question.

Bahar, a young women’s rights activist expressed her disappointment that the U.S. government might even consider negotiating “with an illegitimate government, one which has no doubt come to power through fraud.” Bita, another activist, said the Iranian government is gradually becoming a military dictatorship and “they will not abide by any pre-condition proposed in the process of negotiations.”

The Iranian public is outraged by China and Russia’s full support and acknowledgement of Ahmadinejad. On July 17, protesters shouted slogans against the governments of these two countries for recognizing the illegitimate government of Ahmadinejad. This is not the case with the newly elected administration of president Obama.

U.S. foreign policy towards Iran reflects not only America’s national interest, but also American values and international norms regarding human rights. Internal dissent in Iran is rising, and this time the sheer number and variety of opposition figures will make it arduous for the state to accuse them of being agents of the West.

U.S. foreign policy should make its priorities clear. Any state that violates human rights of its citizens is not a legitimate partner in any negotiations. 

Elham Gheytanchi is an Iranian-American sociologist at Santa Monica College who works with women’s rights activists in Iran and has written extensively on the culture and politics of that nation. She can be reached at gheytanchi_elham@smc.edu

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