Behind the Protests, Social Upheaval in Iran

Published on RoomForDebate, by the editors, June 23, 2009.

… We asked three Iranian-American scholars, including two who are writing from Iran – plus an artist – to give their thoughts on what the uprising has revealed about the schisms in Iranian society:

  • Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies
  • Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, economics professor
  • Babak Rahimi, Islamic studies professor
  • Shirin Neshat, Iranian artist

Looking for Their Martin Luther King Jr. (Hamid Dabashi):

  • Though the violent events of the past week have jolted me, many aspects of the current crisis in Iran are not surprising at all. That the ruling apparatus of the Islamic Republic is out of touch with the ideals and aspirations of a new generation of Iranians has been evident at least since the presidential election of 1997 that brought the icon of the reformist movement Mohammad Khatami to power … (full text).

Economic Fears and Discontents (Djavad Salehi-Isfahani):

  • A friend in Tehran has stopped going to work this week because of the crisis in the streets. He is staying at home not to protest the killing of demonstrators but to make sure his youngsters do not join them. He is part of 1.3 million families throughout Iran who are biting their nails waiting for this week’s national entrance exams to universities, the concour, to be over. (Many more have children taking exams in grade schools and universities.) These families had planned for a quiet week of no TV or socializing to keep their young contestants undisturbed … (full text).

New Martyrs (Babak Rahimi):

  • Driving through the Vali Asr Square, Tehran, I encounter hundreds of men dressed in plain-clothes, making their presence felt with their heavy black helmets and AK-47s. These armed men belong to the Basij, the state paramilitary organization in charge of suppressing civil unrest and mass demonstrations. They are the most feared agents of Iran’s theocratic state, a political system now undergoing a major crisis of legitimacy over allegations of a fraudulent presidential election … (full text).

An Uncertain Future (Shirin Neshat):

  • As a self-exiled Iranian, my take is that Iranian youth are fed up with their oppressive lives under the current regime. This is not an ideological war, like it was for those who demonstrated during the Islamic revolution of 1979, it is simply a loud and clear cry for basic human rights: freedom, democracy and justice.
  • In their peaceful protests, this new generation, most of whom were born after 1979, are not seeking to uproot the current regime, instead they are calling for reform. But for the government, any type of reform is a threat. So in a desperate measure — shamelessly, and as the world watches — Iran commits atrocities on its own people … (full text).


Interviews and Commentary on Iran Election Crisis, updated June 26, 2009.

The Arab World Reacts (or Doesn’t), June 23, 2009;

Diary of a Defiance: Iran un-Interrupted, 16 June 2009;

Where Will the Power Lie in Iran
? June 16, 2009;

Why Iran Freed Roxana Saberi
, May 11, 2009;

Behind Bars in Iran
, April 20, 2009;

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