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Cleaning up politics
Iran's political opposition: a birth of a new era or another political miscarriage?

October 16, 2006

The Netherlands -- Iran, a country with a rich and old political history has seen many governments come and go, statesmen have been loved and hated. All government call for political opposition, political activism and counterweight organizations. In Iran these institutions of opposition have been created, developed, banned, used or forgotten. Iranians seem to have become used to revolt and on the other hand also to suppression that it almost seemed natural that every voice that ever came near to criticism against the regime was smothered.

This socio-political evolution has resolved in a certain cynicism that has grown over the past years among Iranians of the older generation that grew up with names like Mosaddeq, Tudeh, Mojahedin, Pahlavi, Savak, Ayatollah Khomeini and political assassinations. To this generation, every political involvement carried a scent of "dirty", "non-integrity" or trouble in general. The Persian saying "Siasat kasifeh" (politics is dirty!)  expresses the old image Iranians used to have of politics, politicians and political activists. It was also due to this same "dirty" politics that almost thirty years ago an exodus of Iranians left to mainly the United States and Europe to find a new place to live, work and continue their political opposition activities.

Some of these Iranians living abroad lost their interest or passion in politics and became milder in their convictions. Some continued their opposition activities within their own party or movement and some continued their activism in other ways. The few who continued their opposition activities have become a small group of "veterans" or "dinosaurs" as they are called by the new generation Iranian political activists living abroad. Their mostly black- and- white way of thinking and strong ideological conviction is that which characterizes them the most. Because of this the Iranian opposition has always been fragmented into political splits.

Now, the twentieth century has opened doors to many ways of communication and information through satellite television and the internet. For the few Iranians who are willing to pay the price of being a "dirty political activist" the internet has given a new impulse to reach their message across to larger groups. On the other hand, the Iranian political opposition of 2006 face a new challenge today, namely difficulties of ideological diffusion, party-sclerosis and the culture of the younger political (mostly students) activists in Iran.

The ruling image of the old-fashion Iranian political activist is that of someone who has a strong idealist and ideological conviction, who mainly and sometimes even unconsciously thinks in terms of black and white and whose opinion is usually negative about other political party's or organizations. Sometimes party's that support the same ideological thought even rule out the possibility of cooperating together to reach a common goal!

This diffusion of idealisms in the past has often leaded to disappointments and frustrations for the political activists, but also for the Iranian non-activist population. The most edgy and perhaps also tragic example of this distrust among political activists are the "character- bashing-campaigns" that American- Iranian political activists show on their satellite television programs, where everyone actually tries to disgrace each other as if they were all in an electoral campaign, or a free-fight competition!

The new generation of Iranian political activists, that mainly consists of students in Iran and a very small amount of young individuals living abroad. These are mostly children of the political refugees who left Iran during the past thirty years. This new generation can be characterized by a strong sense of urgency, lack of a network and a lack of knowledge of political history. Some are organized in student organizations and some express their involvement under a less political colored umbrella such as human rights activism and urge for democracy and more individual freedom. They are passionate, motivated and in need of guidance.

The new means of communication that has finally brought the old and the new political activists together can turn two ways after a while. The first scenario would be that the old would be able to teach the new political activists about the historical and political background of social and political phenomenon in Iran. They could also provide the (inside Iran) new activists with a large and trustworthy network.

The new political activists could teach the old political activists to reach out together to reach a common goal instead of holding tight to their own ideological convictions. This synergy of old knowledge and new strategies and energy could create an arena in which Iran's political opposition could perhaps one day be an added value to the Iranian people to offer them some kind of alternative to the Iran they live in today.

The second scenario would be that the older political activists would only take advantage of their newly found arena to censure each other and create more diffusion and partysclerosis that would only disappoint and de-motivate the new political activists. The (mostly inside Iran) new political activists would then have no other option than to exclude Iranian political activists living abroad who could at least have brought their message across to the international arena.

The new political activists, mainly students in Iran, see and feel the need for political change everyday; it is in their direct interest to have support and attention. Political activists living abroad do not share that sense of urgency to act within a problem- solving mindset that the new political activists do have. This alarming fact could only lead to a cultural gap between the old and the new political activists resulting in more fragmentation.

According to an old saying unity is more than an accumulation of parts. According to another old saying all small drops of rain could create a river and this river could destroy any obstacle that would want to stop it from reaching the sea. Would it not be a synergetic and strategically wise decision for Iran's opposition party's, groups or individuals to gather their powers, means and visions aiming only to reach one common goal, instead of wasting their knowledge and energy by disregarding cooperation? Eventually all drops of rain long for the same vast blue sea.”Comment

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Tina Ehrami

Tina Ehrami


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