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Deja Vu
20 years after the revolution

By Arash Markazi
July 16, 1999
The Iranian

A young man holds an unconscious classmate close to his chest as he runs with several thousand other student protesters. Young women wrapped in linen from head to toe, attempt to run through the commotion. What was to be a peaceful demonstration had turned into mass hysteria and total chaos.

Tehran's blue sky had turned into a white cloud of tear gas as demonstrators continued to chant over the sound of ambulance sirens, car horns, and screaming policemen.

These disturbing images where broadcast on televisions across the nations and seen by Iranians throughout the world. For many, these images were all too familiar off the last time such a demonstration took place. Twenty years ago, the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlevi remains fresh in the minds of many Iranians who immigrated to different parts of the continent prior to and after the incident.

The current protesters, however, do not hold the same memory of what happened twenty years ago. That's because many of them are not a day older than twenty themselves. More than half of Iran's population was born after the revolution, and this youthful contingent was the main reason why Mohammed Khatami won the 1997 presidential election.

The protesters, who are mostly composed of students from the University of Tehran, were initially upset over a new-anti press law and the banning of a leftist paper. Following the demonstrations by students, security forces entered a Tehran University dormitory, leaving at least 20 students seriously injured and over 120 others arrested during the raid, which Iran education minister Mostafa Moin described as a "tragic incident."

In the wake of the raid that left most of the Iranian students' dorms either burned down or completely trashed, minister Moin resigned saying the actions of the security forces "is not acceptable under any basis and expediency."

What followed soon after, has been a week of protests that run deeper than what happened at Tehran University last Friday. The students, who are now being joined by several other Iranians, are fighting for their rights and the rights of other Iranians, who they feel have been oppressed by an oppressive and outdated Islamic government.

Demonstrations spread to 18 cities and towns, including major cosmopolitan cities like Tabriz, Shiraz and Isfahan and more traditional cities like Mashad and Yazd, Iran's official news agency reported. Although the people voted Khatami, a reformer, into office back in 1997, many Iranians have become frustrated that conservatives and hard-liners, the main power-holders since the revolution, remain in positions of authority and control.

The crux of the power struggle between the hard-liners and reformers is over the limited power of the elected president. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leads the hard-liners and controls the armed forces, police, judiciary, the Intelligence Ministry, and the radio and television networks. He, however, is not elected. The protests and demonstrations that are taking place in Iran have been a wake-up call for hard-liners, who have been closing down moderate newspapers and arresting Khatami allies.

The protests, however, have tarnished Iran's image, a country that has recently tried valiantly to put itself back in good standing with other nations, including the United States. It seems that for every visit Khatami makes to the United Nations in New York or gets blessed by the Pope in the Vatican, Khamenei's fellow hard-liners are throwing tear gas at thousands of students and killing peaceful protesters. For every one-step forward that Khatami makes, Khamenei seems to be right behind him taking ten steps back.

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