“The cultural change taking place is a real achievement that will remain in the minds of our youth whatever happens. But the road from here to the fall of the Islamic Republic is not a short one.”
- A. is an Iranian sociologist, writer and poet living in the country. We talked to him about the ongoing uprising.
What is the extent of the protests?
As Javad Haqshanas, a former government adviser under President Khatami, wrote a few days ago in a national daily, the young people we see on the streets are only the tip of the iceberg. The hard core is underneath, consisting of the parents, who are staying vigilant and waiting for the right moment. They are not passive; they support their kids. Haqshanas wrote: just think how quickly they react when a boy or girl is arrested. The young people have taken on board the criticism and discontent of their parents, then they have experienced it themselves, at school, at university and on the street. It is naive to think that their critical ability is only the result of social media. The fact that the demonstrations are relatively small, but very widespread and cross-cutting, is itself a lesson they have learned from their parents’ mistakes. I believe that the critical mass brings together people from many walks of life, even with differences in their views and demands.
Change or revolution?
I don’t believe that the regime right now has the ability or credibility to effect meaningful change. They repressed doctors, teachers and workers, then demanded that they return to work as if nothing had happened. Just a few days ago they arrested Professor Dariush Farhoud, known as the Iranian father of genetic science, 85 years old; they interrogated Vahid Rajablo, a young man suffering from ALS, winner of the Tuan Tec Exhibition prize.
Repression was chosen as the solution. But the more the regime represses, the deeper the distrust becomes. There no longer seems to be a connection between the security apparatus and the political mind of the country. There has been no attempt at mediation. However, a change has already taken concrete form: it is true that a political transformation has not yet taken place, but a real cultural change is taking place. Today I see female students without headscarves walking down the street and I notice the looks of admiration, support and solidarity from their male peers. Everyone is talking and discussing change, revolution, protests. It is a very important cultural leap in a closed and deeply patriarchal society. All this was impossible just six weeks ago.
But there is a considerable distance from here to a real revolution. The Islamic Republic still enjoys the loyalty of the security apparatus and a great mass of people who depend on the system. Many productive sectors don’t see an overthrow of the established order as beneficial for them. Then there are those who, whether out of religious or political conviction, are defending the system. Earning their trust in a new revolution is not exactly a simple matter. It would be naive to completely overlook the extent of the influence of religion within many social classes.
Is the movement united?
The behavior of the system has created a large critical mass, but this mass is not uniform, everyone has their own demands and their own idea of the future after an overthrow of the regime. There are even differences on the meaning of the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.” There are also important differences in the strategy for carrying out the struggle. The satellite TV channels linked to the Saudis and Israelis are already talking about armed struggle, and there are videos in which they teach how to build weapons at home. Others are propagandizing for unarmed and non-violent struggle. It takes time: the movement must metabolize all of this and find its own way. At this stage, vulnerability is very high, and the movement could be hijacked in any direction or even stifled.
What role do you think the millions of Iranians abroad have?
Again, there are important distinctions here. There are millions of fellow Iranians abroad who sincerely and honestly have the good of the country at heart and are trying to be the voice of the protesters, and in my opinion they’re doing good. But there are some who want to manipulate and influence what’s happening in the country. That is unacceptable. Look at the propaganda coming in from abroad. Unfortunately, the regime has created servile national media, without opposing voices, which no one trusts. As a result, it has thrown people into the arms of radio and satellite TV channels in Farsi broadcast from abroad, which have weight and influence. Many of these channels are following their own agenda, which has nothing to do with free information.