Upon our return to the U.S. from a trip to Iran attending the Second Great Congress of Iranians Abroad, held in Tehran August 2 and 3, 2010, I decided to give a call to a long-time political friend and a peace activist to inform her about the success of the gathering and AIFC’s plans to hold a public meeting to report on the event. In this Congress about 2000 Iranian professionals, doctors, engineers, economists, financial analysts, etc. participated to get to know each other and discover the areas, from teaching in the universities to building projects from mutual research work, to developing financial markets, that they can contribute in the developments of their motherland.
With an investigative tone, the activist asked me who are the leaders of the country, one of which is called Ahmadi and the other is called Nejad. She continued the query by posing the question: “Doesn’t Iran have a president and also a Prime Minister?” Not even waiting for my answer, she asserted that in the U.S., we must talk about the restrictive social conditions of women in Iran. By then, I realized two things: 1) our activist friend knew next to nothing about the structure of the Iranian government and secondly she expressed that the peace groups are ‘ready to educate, change and free Iranian women from the Islamic government’s “oppressive” policies. This approach must be discussed later on in this article.
As a start, to screen 2000 educators and professionals on the basis of their educational qualifications and their political sentiments out of about ten thousand applicants who wished to take part in the Congress was not an easy task for the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad, particularly when plane tickets, other transportation facilities and room and board arrangements had to be provided on time. The participants of the Congress were arriving from the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa and so many countries in Asia. It was important for the Iranian government that all guests return back to their country of residence safely with no encumbrances.
In addition to attending the two day conference, the guests were offered to be flown to several provinces and cities across Iran and given a chance to see first-hand the economic and cultural projects in their different and unique stages of development. The ex-patriots were encouraged to collaborate in building the country, by investing their skills and/or financial savings. No doubt, organizing for such a task was monumental and the objective very ambitious.
The first day of the Conference began in the magnificent Tehran International Conference Hall with a welcome statement by Dr. Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad. He pointed out that the Iranian government is prepared to attend to the legal and professional challenges that some Iranians may encounter in the country of their residence. He also informed the audience that for the purpose of satisfying the need for socialization, the government is planning to establish ‘Iran Houses’ in six locations in the European countries. These “Houses” will be the center for Iranian socialization as well as have staff that can help resolve Iranian citizen’s legal, professional and residential issues.
Following several other speakers was the notable peace activist and former British Parliamentarian George Galloway whose thunderous speech against U.S.-Israeli war threats against Iran brought the audience to their feet. Mr. Galloway also pointed out that Iran’s nuclear enrichment is simply an excuse for the U.S. to undermine Iran’s sovereignty and economy and its critical regional role.
The emotional moment reached its peak when Mr. Richard Nelson Frye, Ph.D. (born January 10, 1920), an American scholar of Iranian and Central Asian studies and Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University requested that he be allowed to be buried in Iran, the country that he has dedicated much of his life’s work to. His speech to the conference included recitations of some lines from Iran’s famous poets. In introducing Prof. Frye, Dr. Farokh Saeedi talked elegantly about him and his efforts in the field of philology, the study of literary texts, written letters and establishing their historical authenticity. Later on, at his turn to speak, President Ahmadinejad responded to Frye’s request by saying that ‘we would like to have you alive in Iran and for that reason Iran is providing you a house of your own in the beautiful city of Esfahan, to live there and enjoy for the rest of your life!’ On Sunday, August 8, 2010, Dr. Frye cut the ribbon to this home in a special ceremony in Esfahan. Dr. Frye was born in Birmingham, Alabama to a family of immigrants from Sweden. He speaks fluent Russian, German, Arabic, Persian, French, Pashtu, Uzbek and Turkish. Certainly it was an honor to have Professor Frye among us.
The longest and most comprehensive presentation at the conference was delivered by Esfandiar Rahim Mashaee, equivalent of a vice-president who would replace the president should anything happen to him while in office, who spoke about the foundation of the Islamic Republic and its exemplary place in the world, noting Iran’s contributions in technology, science, culture and spiritual values. Both he and President Ahmadinejad defended Iran’s position in regard to the country’s peaceful nuclear energy industry.
Next in line, President Ahmadinejad spoke of the redundancy of the U.S. Congress and the UN imposing trade sanctions on Iran, emphasizing that Iran’s nuclear power plant is not the real issue for the U.S. The U.S. foreign policy is aimed at refusing to accept Iran as a regional power in the Middle East, and he challenged President Obama to a televised debate with him. President Ahmadinejad also welcomed the presence of Iranians from so many different countries, and called on them to build closer ties with their motherland. In the closing, the President symbolically opened the fund for investment, and the info-bank – a database where Iranians around the world can forward their identities and research to collaborate in the development of Iran.
Variety of Workshops
In the afternoon, following the citations from “Shah-nameh”, a cultural presentation, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Manoochehr Mottaki, talked about Iran’s position in the Middle East and its growing and dynamic relations with countries in Latin America, particularly with Brazil and Venezuela, and with the neighboring countries of the Middle East – Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan.
The second day of the conference began with a wide array of workshops comprising the professionals and experts from Iran and abroad in various fields of science, modern technology, education, medical sciences cultural and mass media, workshops discussing judicial and legal disciplines, economics, trade, social organizations and institutions, and financial markets including privatization of segments of the state properties.
No doubt, this was a great undertaking and it will take more than one congress and numerous workshops to reach to the political level and realization of the overall objectives of the programs. But it was a great beginning which provided the opportunity for the educators, professionals, scientists and investors to come to know each other and start to build networks in different domains for a brighter tomorrow for the nation.
Given my personal educational background in the field of political economy, econometrics and planning, I was placed in the group that dealt with finance capital, stock markets, investment, banking, insurance, foreign trade and the most sensitive topic like privatization of the state assets.
To be frank and sure, there is nothing in my background that supported privatization of the national wealth and its usurpation by a small minority at basement prices. However, I took a deep breath when Dr. Kurd Zanganeh, the deputy Minister and General Manager of the privatization organization said, “by 2006 most industries, comprising 70% of the economy, remained state-owned.” He continued that “the majority of heavy industry – including steel, petrochemicals, copper, automobiles, and machine tools – were in the public sector”, while only the most light industries and agriculture were privately owned and managed. These facts were in sharp contrast to the erroneous information dished out in the U.S. and European media by some Iranians and Americans who pretend to be supporting the Iranian working class.
According to Wikipedia, “Article 44 of the Constitution states, “The economy of Iran is to consist of three sectors: state, cooperative and private and is to be placed on systematic and sound planning. The state sector is to include all large-scale industries, foreign trade, major minerals, banking insurance, power generation, dams and large-scale irrigation networks, radio and television, post, telegraph and telephone services, aviation, shipping, roads, railroads and the likes. The agricultural sector, comprising 30% of the Gross National Product (GNP), is managed by the private sector.”
Industrial and Research Tours
So far, we visited the rhetoric and at times impatiently wanting to see their tangible counterparts, where reality speaks out. Early next day, this enthusiastic crowd of nearly 2000 doctors, economists, professors, accountants and let us not forget the peace activists, were lined up in various tour groups to be flown to such provinces as Fars, Esfahan, Mazandaran, Qom, Khorasan, etc. where some of the real projects had taken roots.
My wife, Eleanor and I, were in a group whose destination was Mazandaran, the province by the Caspian Sea, the largest lake in the world. When we landed at the airport, there stood a young school girl who handed each passenger a long-stemmed red rose and expressed a welcome message. It couldn’t have been a kinder reception.
In two comfortable buses, accompanied by an ambulance the entire way, we were driven along the sea coast with a well-educated tour guide who knew each and every economic development in the area. Along the coast are such cities as Behshahr, Noshahr, Sari and Babolsar. We were learning about the geographical natural qualities and make up of the coastal regions along the Caspian Sea, the climate, the rivers, the forests, the pastures, the agricultural products, and fisheries.
Although Mazandaran Province has only 2.3 percent of the arable land under cultivation, the province supplies 8.7 percent of Iran’s agricultural products. The province has seaport facilities that serve vessels from Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Kuwait and others. One of the bigger ports is the Amir Abad, which constitutes a special New Economic Zone. Ample and variety of agricultural products have given birth to different kinds of agricultural and food processing plants, producing tasty carbonated soft drinks, citrus concentrates, fruit juices, all kinds of chocolate products, honey, and dairy products, to name a few. There are also chemical factories, pharmaceutical companies, electrical generator plants and animal husbandry. The most majestic and unforgettable creation was our visit to the Sari Dam that produces electricity for the entire region around Sari.
Women In Iran
It has become almost a cliché when speaking about the development of Iran that 62 percent of the university students are women, a statistic recognized as a true fact. Additionally, we may add that the ratio of college and university students to the country’s population, 5.06 percent, almost matches that of the United States, the wealthiest country in the world, indicating the priority that Iran places on education of its citizens. Among the participants in the Congress, cultural workers and NGOs many of them women, were among the well-educated and organized who contributed to the richness of the event and showed great enthusiasm in wanting to continue their contact with the American Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC), by signing up on the email and giving their contact information. In the span of a few days, AIFC registered more contacts and friends than it could do in six months in the U.S. Young university students, women and men, demonstrated great thirst for knowledge, collaborative work and peaceful evolution of the world. It became apparent to Eleanor and I that there is a new generation of educated Muslim students, a large number of them women, who are studying in the social sciences issues that are affecting the Iranian society, such as women studies, Islamic jurisprudence, gender abuse, and family and cultural mores. These students are comparing Islamic teachings while investigating theories and data presented in western media outlets.
When opponents of the Islamic Republic criticize Iran, it is nearly always focused on women’s rights. To depict Iranian Muslim women as passive, ignorant, submissive and oppressed, and relate all that to head scarves and clothes, as is constantly presented in western publications, other media and in the four walls of the markets of ideas is effectively doing a great disservice to the Iranian Muslim women. Such characterizations are an affront to the intelligence of the Iranians, especially to those who believe in Islam as a way of life and salvation.
If the American humanists and progressives are serious about helping to emancipate women in general, as a first step they could begin exposing and criticizing the systematic commoditization of millions of women under the capitalist mode of production, and as a next step they could demand from the U.S. State Department to allow setting up a student exchange program through which American and Iranian women and men would spend a semester or two attending each other’s campuses and learning from each other and society as a whole.
I cannot end this report without complementing those who worked hard and who administered the Congress, the many young people who acted as guides and supporters, showing generosity and kindness throughout the trip, and the leaders in the Islamic Republic.
Ardeshir Ommani and Kazem Azin, Iranian born activists residing in the U.S.A. are on the Executive Board of the American Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC), which promotes peace and dialogue between Iran and U.S., and defends the Islamic Republic from aggressive plans by U.S./Israel. They can be reached at AIFC@optonline.net