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It's the civil society, stupid!
It's ugly and brutal - but true

July 21, 1999
The Iranian

- Coming to the Iranian-American meeting Saturday?

- No I don't think so.

- Why not? We're going to discuss the student movement. You've got to come.

- I might. I don't know. I'm just getting tired of this "Iranian-American" thing. What the hell is that? You're either Iranian or American. Een loos baaziyaa digeh chiyeh?

- Yeah, it's ridiculous. But we have to call ourselves SOMETHING.

- What's wrong with IRANIAN?

- Well, we've lived in this country for a good part of our lives and it looks like we'll die here too. So we are going to become more and more American.

- Whatever!

- Anyway you have to come Saturday. I need your support.

- For what?

- I'm giving a speech about the current situation in Iran.

- Why? Beekaari?

- I wanna do it. I've thought a lot about Iran recently. I want to share my ideas.

- Have you written your speech already?

- Yeah? Wanna hear it?

- Sure. Bekhoon bebinam.

- It's called: "It's the civil society, stupid!"

- ... !! That's a great start!

- What do you mean?

- Heechee nashodeh you're calling your audience stupid.

- No I'm not. Haven't you heard the expression: "It's the economy, stupid!"? It's often used by those who think society is largely influenced by economic factors. So what I'm trying to say is that what's happening in Iran is not because of the crummy economy but that it's another major step in the struggle for a civil society.

- Well you better explain that because our dear "Iranian-Americans" zood beheshoon barmeekhoreh.

- Okay, so here it goes... In early July thousands of Iranian students in more than a dozen cities staged unprecedented rallies, demanding greater freedoms ...

- ... and the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

- They did NOT ask for the overthrow of the regime!

- Yes they DID!

- Some of them condemned Khamenei's support for the Ansar thugs. But there was no "Death to the Islamic Republic".

- Doesn't matter. The whole movement was against the regime.

- Aziz joon! The students were very critical of the regime. But most of them were pro-Khatami.

- They're using Khatami as an excuse. What they REALLY want is to get rid of all the mollas.

- Well, if they do, they haven't expressed yet, except for a small minority.

- It's because they're afraid of what might happen to them.

- Students aren't afraid of anything. They speak their mind. In 1978 they shouted "marg bar shah" even though many of them were shot by the troops.

- Well this is just the beginning. You'll see...

- Maybe... we can't say for sure. Anyway, can I continue reading?

- Befarmaaeen...

- The movement for fundamental reform...

- Reform? Haven't you seen pictures of these students? Didn't you see them on CNN? Were they asking for REFORM?!

- ... ! You're acting as if "reform" is the most disgusting thing imaginable. What's wrong with reform? What's wrong with gradual change?

- Reform, my dear, means prolonging the life of this bloody Islamic Republic . That's all it means.

- So what you're saying is that political progress is achieved ONLY through revolution or an armed struggle or a popular coup or any means that quickly ends the life of an oppressive regime.

- Pretty much. Yes. Absolutely. There's no room for compromise with these bastards.

- Well, I have news for you: The people INSIDE Iran think differently. They do not like the present theocracy but they prefer gradual change to a bloody revolution.

- Az key taa haalaa sokhangooy-e mardom shodi?

- Come on... be objective. You have to look at the realities. Just because people don't like a regime doesn't mean there's going to be a revolution. Who's the leader of this "revolution"? Masoud and Maryam? Oonaa keh qorbooneshoon beram haven't got an ounce of support inside or outside Iran -- except in the U.S. Congress! Who else? Reza Pahlavi? He's good looking and makes intelligent comments once in a while. But does he have ANY significant support in Iran? And then you need the WILL to risk everything to destroy the establishment. Do you see that in the general population? Do you see a desire for CHANGE or a desire for REVOLUTION?

- I think the will and the desire is definitely there. And you can be sure that a leader will eventually emerge.

- Do you see another Khomeini around?

- You never know. Who knew Khomeini a year before the revolution?

- Well, I think you just don't want to accept the facts. And the fact is that the Islamic Republic isn't going anywhere any time soon. What you will see is a long, gradual and difficult struggle -- led by reformists within the regime itself and backed by popular discontent -- that will bring about greater freedoms and a more secular form of government.

- You wish!

- No I WISH Iran could be free of religious domination and repression. I wish Iran could be a secular republic. I wish there was complete freedom of the press and political activity. I wish women did not have to be forced to wear the chador. I wish I could order a glass of wine at a restaurant. That's why I am HERE instead of in Iran!

- So why don't you go and help Khatami Joon's "reforms"?

- For the same reason you aren't going to go there and help the "revolution". But I do wish Khatami well. I hope he will not go down the same way Amir Kabir and Mossadegh did. I hope 10, 20, 30 years from now we won't be saying "... only if Khatami had a chance".

Remember Bakhtiar? Remember how we laughed at him when he was appointed prime minister? EVERYONE hated him. We said he was trying to protect the monarchy. He was. But he believed in a constitutional monarchy. A "kinder, gentler" monarchy. Now we're sorry that we didn't support him.

- ...

- I just don't know anymore ... it seems the suffering never ends ... does it even matter what we think? I feel so helpless...

- Come here...


* Mansoureh Haqshenas & Koorosh Bayat's index of articles

- Send a comment to the writers, Mansoureh Haqshenas & Koorosh Bayat
- Send a comment for The Iranian letters section


    1999 not 1979
    Protest movement has no recognized leader
    By Fereydoun Hoveyda
    July 20, 1999

    What now?
    Three possibilities following the student protests
    By Mark J. Gasiorowski
    July 15, 1999

    Student protests, the government and the constitution
    By Guive Mirfendereski
    July 14, 1999

    Deja vu
    20 years after the revolution
    By Arash Markazi
    July 16, 1999

    Book of Kings
    A tribute to Iranian students
    By Laleh Khalili
    July 16, 1999

    Great pain
    Eyewitness accounts of tension in Tehran
    July 13, 1999

    The spark
    ... that ignited nation-wide student protests
    July 12, 1999


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