It is rare to come across Iranian protest coverage that does not over-simplify the events as a polarized clash over election results. The media juxtaposes posters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the hands of protestors against opposing green bandanas worn by moderate candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s supporters. It has been called a conflict of brother against brother, liberal versus conservative and the old generation versus the new. But this conflict is beyond that of a rural peasant who cannot see eye to eye with his Tehrani blogger countryman. It is not about Mousavi or Ahmadinejad. It’s not even about the election. It is about a pot that has boiled for over 30 years and now, yes, after a questionable election, it has finally boiled over with the last lash of injustice. Deep in the heart of every Iranian, from every corner of the country and abroad, there is a hunger for justice; a desire for human rights.
Iranians have taken a step in the right direction by standing up against the corruption, but looking ahead it is a question of whether all the deaths, beatings and abuse will translate into any significant changes. We are looking at the largest movement in the last 30 years where the Iranian people have stood up against their government. The protests are larger and more inclusive than the 1999 uprising, which was limited to university students. And contrary to the media’s view of a people divided, for once we actually see moderates and ultra conservatives, young and old protesting shoulder to shoulder, chanting the same lines. They want their country back. They want to be free from the yoke of this oppressive regime.
It was long believed that the more time that passed after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the prospect of regime change or noteworthy government amendment would be unfeasible. After all, two-thirds of the 70 million Iranians living in Iran are under the age of 35, meaning the youngest generation of Iranians was either very young when this regime took over or born after. They have grown alongside it and have adapted to the trickery and religious facade of the system. Their ideas about government can’t help but to be limited by the lens of an Islamic theocracy. But the Iranians have proved us wrong. They’ve come out by the hundreds of thousands to attest that freedom is not something you yearn for when you have it, but rather something you die for when you’re deprived of it.
But the question still remains: who will take the hand of this large freedom-seeking people and walk them through the next chapter of their 3000 year legacy? Mousavi, according to many, is just the temporary fix. In my opinion, even if he were announced President, protests, possibly more effective ones directed at the regime and not just the election, would ensue. Records of Mousavi’s alleged involvement with Hezbollah and human rights violations could easily surface, calling out his legitimacy to serve his country. Iranians have valid reasons to speak out against a government and Guardian Council that chooses four candidates based on their own theocratic standards out of a pool of over 400.
The main criticism of opposition groups working over the last 30 years both inside Iran and abroad has been their inability to organize and unite Iranians. Each group has a specific agenda that separates and precludes them from becoming the next hope and future of Iran. The longstanding issue with Iranians, which is what arguably can be said caused the Islamic Revolution, is that they are skeptical, mistrusting and rumor-generating fiends when it comes to politics. There is something to say about every candidate, every political group and movement. Among both the internal and external opposition groups that have gained visibility, each have a tag or disclaimer, such as apologist, monarchist, separatist or communist.
Understandably, Iranians are left skeptical and dissatisfied with these choices. Who knows? Iranians might have filled the streets long before had they found an alternative they trusted. What is missing from the opposition menu is a non-partisan, democratic, secular group that has no ties to the past and is well connected to and invested in Iran’s present and future. Such groups have begun to mobilize since the last uprising in 1999, emphasizing the youth, secularism, democracy and freedom; however, they are not getting the support and recognition necessary to gain favor in the eyes of the masses.
Idealistic as it may sound, Iranians would unite behind an individual, group or force that they can trust. Over the last three decades differences in socio-economic class and polarizing politics have been pushed aside by uniting frustrations such as betrayal, injustice and persecution. Neighbor has been forced to spy on neighbor and parents have had to throw stones at their own children. Be it the disadvantaged villager or cutting-edge city dweller, these are the experiences that unite all Iranians now.
Looking forward, this is the most opportune time for the international community to support the momentum that has already begun. Iranians have taken the first step. This is a step that the whole world has been anticipating. Despite President Obama’s reluctance to “meddle,” now is the time to create, support, and maintain a united front to establish freedom and democracy in Iran. The type of democracy that allows women equality, where religious minorities can live in peace and presidential candidates are selected by virtue of their accomplishments and not their Muslim lineage.
These are not lofty dreams. These are rights to which human beings are entitled. And now that Iranians are sacrificing their lives and livelihood, the international community ought to help in organizing their efforts. The only thing we have to lose is the opportunity to do this again.