After 10 years of living as a political exile in Los Angeles, Roozbeh Farahanipour secretly and illegally entered Iran a few days ago. Farahanipour, founder of the Marze Por Gohar or Glorious Frontiers Party, and one of the leading organizers of the 1999 university uprisings in Iran, traveled back together with members of his political party to prepare and organize massive protests for the 10th anniversary of the uprisings July 9th.
“I cannot just sit back and watch the regime highjack this valiant effort on the part of our people,” Farahanipour said only a day before leaving. “I have waited 10 years to have such an opportunity. I cannot wait any longer.”
Subsequent to the 1999 protests, Farahanipour was arrested, beaten and tortured for his participation in and organization of the uprising. When he was finally released, he escaped the country, and has been continuing to carry on ambitions of toppling the regime and replacing it with a democratic and secular republic.
Over the last 10 years, Farahanipour has been operating his political party out of a garden office on Westwood Boulevard, an area dotted with Iranian shops and frequently referred to as Little Iran; Though the political organization also boasts having thousands of members on the ground in Iran.
“Either I will make a difference, or I will die knowing I tried. At least I will die for my ideals,” Farahanipour said.
The July 1999 student protests, also known as the 18th of Tir (the Persian month), were the most violent and widespread protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The protest began as peaceful student demonstrations in Tehran contesting the closure of a reformist newspaper called Salam. The following day, hundreds of plainclothes riot police raided student dormitories beating students. This attack sparked six days of demonstrations and rioting throughout the country killing several and injuring hundreds.
Farahanipour’s Marze Por Gohar party has organized smaller scale riots and protests in Iran over the past decade and has been successful in overthrowing local government officials. On the American end, Farahanipour has organized a long list of initiatives from chartering a plane full of activists from Los Angeles to march in front of the United Nations in support of human rights in Iran four years ago to serving as one of the central organizers of last week’s Los Angeles demonstration which gathered 30,000 expatriate Iranians. More importantly, his organization has created an awareness of Iranian secularism and the strong and popular push for a democratic Iran. Currently, the MPG group is mentioned as one of the viable and recognized Iranian opposition parties by the CIA fact book.
“The same thing that was missing in 1999 is missing today,” Faryar Nikbakht, an MPG advisor for the last eight years and independent political and religious minority rights activist, said. “That is leadership outside internal regime. That is what is missing and has been missing.”
Nikbakht was politically active in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was instrumental in helping to free the 13 Iranian Jewish men from Shiraz accused of espionage in spring of 1999. He joined MPG because of its vision of equality for all Iranians regardless of religion, political or social beliefs, he said.
“Iranians in Iran have always appreciated the support that they’ve gotten from people outside the country. Now they see that one of their own student leaders has the guts to go back. It will give him a lot of clout and shows his courage,” Nikbakht said.
Farahanipour’s decision to go back to Iran was, in part, based on the lack of leadership within the protesters. Since the demonstrations began the day after the June 12 election, reports and reliable sources inside the country have confirmed that almost all leaders and prominent activists within any national, patriotic, secular or liberal front in the country have either been arrested or are under house arrest, preventing them from convening or organizing a constituency. The anniversary of this momentous uprising is ostensibly the opportune time to unite a wide range of Iranians from different ends of the political, social and religious spectrum to stand together for justice.
“Roozbeh has a chance at reviving the secular movement which desires freedom for Iran, rather than just wanting a recounting of the vote. The candidates are selected by the Guardian Council anyway. Iranians want real freedom. It has nothing to do with the election anymore,” Nikbakht said.
For Nikbakht, Farahanipour and many members of the opposition—both inside and outside Iran—Karoubi and Mousavi appear determined to impose their influence and to claim possession of the demonstrations. They fear the lack of direction and leadership will result in no change or a faux change under the guise of “reform.”
“In the end, anyone who has an idea, whether they are a part of the minority or majority, should be able to affect their society with their ideas,” Nikbakht said. “They should be free to express themselves, and Roozbeh is setting the best example of that.”