Monday, September 12, 2011

Free Faranak Farid: Azeri Feminist Speaks of Plight of Azeri Women in Iran

On September 3, Faranak Farid, an Azeri feminist, writer, poet, translator and secretary of the First Azerbaijan Women’s Congress was arrested in Tabriz. Since then, she has been interrogated for long hours and severely beaten by agents of the Tabriz Ministry of Intelligence. Her condition is deteriorating and she needs urgent medical attention. Below are excerpts from the translation of a speech which Farid had presented to a gathering of feminists in New York City in March 2010. I have taken the liberty of revising and editing the translation.

Author: Faranak Farid
Title: Where Are You From?
Source: (Persian) (English Translation)
Translator: Anonymous
Translation revised and edited by Frieda Afary

“Where are you from?” Is ethnicity an important factor in women’s struggle for their rights? When I was studying English in Middle School, this question seemed to me an interesting one. I would imagine myself living abroad and answering the question proudly. But this innocent picture was blemished as I came to face different types of discrimination.

As a woman I grew up in an environment in which different types of discrimination existed. These forms of discrimination have a cumulative effect. They shape you, break you, reshape you, mold you, break that mold and create a new mold for you. Finally, you no longer know who you really are…

In order to reach a correct understanding of ethnic discrimination as a factor which holds women back in their struggle to achieve their rights, we need to look at the subject as a whole. Iran is a country with a population of over 70 million with a variety of cultures, languages, ethnicities and religions. It is said that ethnicities constitute 65% of this population. [This figure has been disputed. Other estimates range from 35% to 50%] All are dominated by the language and culture of a minority.

The enforcement of this policy began 85 years ago before and in conjunction with the rise of the Pahlavi Dynasty. It now continues. Azeris who constitute one third of the population [this figure has been disputed], as well as other ethnicities such as the Lurs, the Kurds, the Arabs, the Balulchis, the Gilakis, the Mazandaranis, the Turkmen and the Ashayer[formerly nomadic pastoralists] such as the Qashqai and the Bakhtiari, are the aforementioned majority who have been denied their economic, social, civil, cultural and political right and have been marginalized.

Ethnicities whose language is not Persian, do not even have the right to be educated in their mother tongue. There is only one official language for all the ethnic groups. As a result of not having this basic right, women who belong to these ethnic groups can only minimally express themselves in society. Or these women forgo using their mother tongue in order to free themselves from further discrimination.

Given these circumstances, it is clear that these women face more complex challenges in achieving their human rights both as women in a patriarchal society and as marginalized ethnic groups. In this environment, gender discrimination creates greater limitations for them in accessing economic, political-social, legal resources and the media.

For example, in my hometown Tabriz, gender inequalities such as not having the right to divorce, have led to an increase in the number of women who have killed their spouse and landed in prison.

In addition to sexual discrimination, other discriminatory factors such as poverty, living in rural areas, and being a member of an oppressed ethnic group etc., can help us comprehend the many barriers that these women face.

Consider the case of Raheleh, from one of Azerbaijan’s villages. She was forced to get married at age fourteen. Like many other women, she was subjected to various types of brutality such as beatings, rape by her husband, and other inhuman acts. These very brutal and disrespectful acts turned her into a murderer. Raheleh was subsequently executed. Her public defender had told her that she must “defend” herself. However, she really didn’t know the meaning of the word “defend” in Persian.

…Among religious groups, religion as a factor leads to greater inequality and deprivation for them. The tensions that are brought about in combating inequality, injustice and deep-rooted prejudices, result in women’s toleration of greater violence in conflict zones.

The suicide rate among women [who belong to ethnic groups] is now four and a half times the suicide rate among men…However, self-immolation which is the most horrible form of suicide is more common among the Kurds and the Lurs. Honor killings are also very common. However, its agents are often not prosecuted.

Female genital mutilation is one of the lesser known problems faced by women among some ethnic groups in some regions. Women’s rights activists in poor and backward areas such as Sistan and Baluchistan also report the following: Girls who are still considered children are forced to marry old men in exchange for money; Some marriages are not even officially registered; Drug addiction exists. Similar to the Arab regions of Khuzistan, the lack of basics such as hygiene and clean drinking water is one of the main problems which women face.

Emigration from ethnic regions has been prevalent and still continues especially among men who leave in search of work. The negative consequences have especially affected women and families. The deepening gap between the central areas of the country such as Tehran with a population of 15 million, and the rest of the country, has led to tensions and a lack of mutual understanding.

Race, ethnicity, gender, language and culture, social class, religion, place of residence, disability, etc. are factors which create inequality and discrimination. Often, women confront most of these forms of discrimination. Under complicated circumstances arising from these inequalities, women lose their self-confidence and feel overwhelmed.

It is not only the powers that be which suppress ethnic groups. Most intellectuals also do not pay attention to their problems. Hence, paying attention to ethnic discrimination both at the national and the regional level is an urgent need.
On the one hand, women’s rights activists in these areas are labeled “political activists” and “separatists.” On the other hand, women who belong to national consciousness movements that exist in these regions are kept away from decision-making roles, by some of the authoritarian men who are active in these movements.

However, given the above mentioned circumstances, women’s rights activists in Azerbaijan are just as determined as women activists in other parts of the country, to achieve their human rights. During the past fifteen years, and in continuity with the past, they have used every opportunity to promote the movement of women to achieve their rights and to create opportunities for activity. They have turned to writing to express themselves. They especially engage in reading and writing in their mother tongue. Their participation has increased in all aspects of social life and in social activities. They continue to insist on their rights, just as they insist on other basic human rights. They are not willing to forgo any of these rights.
Thank you.
Faranak Farid
March 12, 2010

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The State of Labor in Iran’s Oil and Petrochemical Industry

Translator’s note: On May 24, a massive explosion and fire at a newly inaugurated oil refinery in Abadan led to the deaths and injuries of an unknown number of workers. The explosion, caused by technical problems, occurred during a facility inauguration ceremony that had prompted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to boast of Iran's growing capacity to refine oil. According to Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the Energy Commission of the Majles, Iran's parliament, "experts had forewarned that the Abadan refinery was not ready to be inaugurated."
The explosion underscored once again the lack of safe working conditions in Iran's oil and petrochemical industry. In addition, recent labor strikes have challenged the industry's reliance on temporary contracts for its labor force. In March, 1,800 contract workers at the Tabriz Petrochemical Complex demanded that they be hired directly in order to receive the benefits and job security provisions to which permanent employees are entitled. In April, 1,500 striking workers at the Imam Khomeini Port Petrochemical Complex located in Khuzestan near the Gulf made similar demands.
Most recently, factional conflicts within the Majles over control of the income generated from oil production have led to leadership changes in the Oil Ministry. First, Ahmadinejad dismissed the oil minister and appointed himself "caretaker for the Oil Ministry." When parliament deputies and the Guardian Council called this act illegal, he appointed one of his allies, Mohammad Ali Abadi, as the new temporary "caretaker." Below are excerpts from a recent interview with Iranian economist Mohammad Maljoo in which he addresses the state of labor in the oil industry. It was published in the May 2011 issue of the Tehran-based journal Mehrnameh. This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on June 5, 2011.

Author: Mohmmad Maljoo
Date: May 2011
Translated by Frieda Afary

Mehrnameh: In the years after the Iran-Iraq War, how did the method used for resolving the problem of [the low rate of] accumulation of capital, affect the abilities of the labor force?

Maljoo: In order to be precise, I will focus solely on the labor force in the oil industry… In the period after the Iran-Iraq War, and under the administrations known as “Reconstruction and Reform” [those, respectively, of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami], one of the most important components of the effort to increase the rate of accumulation of capital was the cheapening of labor power. Within the oil industry, the realization of this goal was made possible in four phases.

The first phase consisted of the “clericalization” process, a plan to raise the wages and benefits of workers to the level of office workers. Hence, promotions for oil industry workers were facilitated under the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani. Workers were allowed to be promoted to office worker status without changing their job description. At the same time, a variety of cash and non-cash benefits for workers were cut. These benefits were kept for office workers. The majority of workers filled out the new employment forms and were turned into office workers while maintaining their old job description.

The workers who were aware and did not succumb to this arrangement were legally entitled to protest in face of the financial difficulties which had gripped them. However, they could not do so because they were now a minority. These workers either had to voluntarily resign in exchange for receiving their severance pay, or join the ranks of the office workers. The majority of them opted for the severance pay. Ultimately, the fate of the majority of the workers who had become office workers was the same [as those who had been terminated with severance pay]. However, this happened through a different route.

As a rule, office workers in the oil industry are in some ways considered managers. Unlike workers who follow the regulations of the Labor Ministry, office workers follow the regulations of the Oil Ministry. Hence they do not have the right to strike or the right to form labor unions. The “clericalization” project of the oil industry in fact legally deprived the workers who had now become office workers from any right to protest or complain to the Labor Ministry.

Although the workers who had now become office workers were many, they had no right to protest when their clerk classification benefits were gradually eliminated over the course of two years and when they faced financial pressures imposed by their managers. This sector of the labor force only had two choices: Early retirement or termination with severance pay.

The second phase [of the plan to increase the rate of accumulation of capital] was put on the agenda concomitant with the clericalization process. This phase consisted of throwing an avalanche of outsourcing projects on the oil industry. By creating contract- work agreements, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) avoided its responsibility for defending the rights of office workers.

The method was as follows: NIOC would ask for bids from contractors. The contractor whose bid was accepted would sign a contract with NIOC and receive funds from it. NIOC would then introduce its personnel to the contractor. Ultimately, all services such as payment of wages, insurance, benefits, etc. were put in the hands of the contractor. NIOC had rid itself of its responsibility toward workers.

However, during the years after the Iran-Iraq War, the level of production in the oil and gas industry was more or less increasing, and required hiring a new cadre of skilled workers. The third phase addressed this need. The mushrooming of contractors which provided human resources was in fact responding to this need. However, it is interesting to note that the bulk of the labor force hired by these contractors, consisted of the personnel who had retired early or had been terminated with severance pay.

The distinguishing feature of the type of employment offered by contractors was the temporary character of the employment contracts. Whether the agreement was a contract which employed workers for a little less than one year, or a temporary agreement which employed workers for one to six months, the common feature of all these employment agreements was that they deprived workers of job protection.

The fourth phase consisted of preparing the legal basis for such contracts, a legal basis which the 1990 Labor Code had provided years ago. According to the second amendment of Article Seven of the Labor Code, “If the nature of the work is continuous, and if no length of time is stated in the contract, the contract shall be considered permanent.” Another way of stating the above is that if the nature of the work is continuous, the employer can determine a set amount of time in his/her contract with workers, and employ them on a temporary basis in types of work that are continuous. The Labor Code not only legitimized temporary contracts, but also legally facilitated the expulsion of workers who had temporary contracts.

It is difficult to estimate the absolute and relative size of the temporary labor force in the oil industry in the years after the Iran-Iraq War. Depending on the industry sector and the geographical location, the size fluctuates between 60 and 90 percent of the workforce.

Please note that the plan to turn the labor force into a temporary labor force, did not only lead to a lowering of all wages. It also gravely affected the other components which determine the conditions of labor and the subsistence level of the labor force. These components include housing, the employment process, the length of the working day, the annual vacation time, job security, workplace safety, the extent to which benefits authorized by the Labor Code were applied or excluded.

In the years after the Iran-Iraq war, the mushrooming of contractors which provided personnel, the extended outsourcing as well as the massive increase in temporary workers, and hence the cheapening of the labor force, have led to a decline in job security and a decline in the individual and collective bargaining power of the labor force. Hiring temporary contract workers allows employers to circumvent labor laws and pay workers the lowest salaries. The temporary character of labor and the lack of job security, decreases solidarity among workers, especially given the continuously high unemployment rate. . .

This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on June 5, 2011

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Thoughts on the Plan for Targeted Monetary Subsidies

Translator’s note: Last March, The Tehran-based Center for the Defense of Labor Rights held a roundtable at which various left-wing Iranian economists and labor activists commented on the Plan for Targeted Monetary Subsidies. Below are excerpts from comments made by Mohsen Hakimi, labor activist and translator of Georg Lukacs’s Young Hegel.

Author: Mohsen Hakimi
Date: January 28, 2011
Translated by Frieda Afary

. . . Attempting to explain the introduction or elimination of subsidies on the basis of the needs of global organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization which represent capital, still does not display an anti-capitalist approach. In my opinion, the necessity for introducing or eliminating subsidies in Iran is far more connected to the capital relation inside Iran than the needs of the above mentioned organizations.

The philosophy underlying the existence of the subsidies is to keep the labor force cheap for the extraction of ever more profit. The government distributes part of the wealth which workers have created (gross domestic product) among the producers in order for them to produce workers’ means of consumption at a lower cost of production. In this way, workers will reproduce their labor power by subsisting on cheaper commodities, and the price of labor power will remain low.

The impression might be created that the elimination of the subsidies (which is the main goal of the Plan for Targeted Monetary Subsidies) will lead to a rise in the price of labor power. . . However what distinguishes the elimination of subsidies at this juncture is an increase in the prices of workers’ means of consumption without an increase in the price of labor. For example, the price of petroleum which was sold at 10 cents per liter was raised to 40 cents per liter and then 70 cents per liter.

The prices of staple commodities have risen without an increase in wages. It is obvious that the meager sums paid as cash subsidies (which may not continue in the future) will not make up for the increase in the prices of commodities in any way. These cash subsidies cannot be considered an increase in wages. Therefore, the essence of the Plan for Targeted Monetary Subsidies is nothing but an intensification of the exploitation of the working class for the purpose of preventing the collapse of Iran’s crisis-ridden capitalist society. . .

One of the manifestations of crisis in capitalism is the problem of budget deficits. I will explain this problem on the basis of the Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit. I consider the government a capitalist, that is society’s largest capitalist. If we accept this assumption, the tendential fall in the rate of profit for the government means that on the one hand the government will invest; on the other hand, the profit generated by this investment will not be enough to make the accumulation of capital possible. . .

One of the reasons for eliminating the subsidies in Iran was to make up for the budget deficit by intensifying the exploitation of labor. In this way, the government’s income will be increased. If you remember, Ahmadinejad first announced that the government needs to generate 40 billion dollars in income from the Plan for Targeted Monetary Subsidies. The parliament halved this amount and reduced it to 20 billion dollars. . . The parliament was telling the government to increase prices at a lower speed.

Regardless of the conflict between the government and the parliament on this issue, both sides had no doubt that the final aim of this plan was to increase the government’s income. What does this mean? It means that a worker who received let’s say 80 dollars in subsidies through the subsidies on fuel and other staple commodities such as bread, cooking oil and rice, now receives half this amount. The $80 dollars will be reduced to $40. The other $40 will go to the government’s coffers. In the absence of a struggle for increased wages, this reality signifies nothing but increased pressure on the working class.

As far as the history of this plan is concerned, I think it is correct to argue that the administration of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami raised this plan before Ahmadinejad’s administration supported it...

In conclusion, I would like to raise another issue. Sometimes our critique of the neo-liberal discussions of structural adjustments, may create the false impression that we are defending a statist economy in our opposition to the private sector. I do not believe that a statist economy is in the interest of the working class or that we should defend state capitalism in opposition to neo-liberal privatization.

In societies like ours where the government is itself the biggest capitalist, it is obvious that the government can never do anything in the interest of the workers. In societies which once advocated the welfare state, the government now steals from the workers to give to the capitalists, in order to save capitalism from crisis. Look at the United States, the birthplace of neo-liberalism and of economists such as Milton Friedman. During the 2008 crisis, we saw how the government stuffed the mouths of the banks and private corporations with billions of dollars to prevent them from collapsing and to help them recover from the crisis. The fact that a faction of ungrateful capitalists accuses the Obama administration of being “socialist”, does not prevent this administration from selflessly paying to preserve capitalism in the U.S.

January 28, 2011

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Iranian Intellectuals Censure Regime's Nuclear Policy

Translator's note: The following call was issued by a group of Iranian intellectuals and activists on March 18, 2011.

Call for Active Opposition to the Nuclear Policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Date: March 18, 2011

Fukushima completed the warning that was issued by Chernobyl. After Chernobyl, any trust in the ability of technology and the technicians to control the radioactive giant was lost. Fukushima further destroyed any trust in the ability to forecast earthquakes and other factors that turn nuclear power stations into ticking time bombs.

Everywhere, conscientious and responsible minds are demanding a serious review of nuclear projects. The Islamic Republic on the other hand, acts as if the news of the Fukushima catastrophe does not pertain to us. They act as if Bushehr and other nuclear power centers in Iran are completely safe. They claim that Bushehr does not face the threat of an earthquake.

At the same time, the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan proved that the optimistic calculations that laid the basis for selecting the locations of nuclear power stations were not trustworthy. In fact, the Bushehr Nuclear Power Station is located near several known faults which pose a very serious earthquake threat. If realistic calculations are made of the basis of safety arrangements at a power station like Bushehr, the cost of rebuilding it would be so great as to make it unjustifiable whatever the demagoguery.

The recent unfortunate events in Japan and the debates that are taking place on a global scale concerning the dangers of nuclear technology provide new motivation for criticizing the nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic in Iran and exposing its undemocratic and dangerous foundations.

From its early years, the Islamic Republic turned to nuclear projects. These projects lacked transparency, were economically unjustifiable, and created tensions in the region and in the world. Not only is this nuclear policy not a choice made by the people, it also conflicts with fundamental needs by incurring huge costs. Furthermore, by creating crises on the international scene, it conflicts with our national interest.

The nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic is economically unjustifiable since Iran has rich oil and gas reserves. Furthermore, we live in an epoch when clean forms of energy such as solar and wind [are accessible through] safe, cutting-edge technologies. Turning to clean technologies is the best and the safest way for economic development. It serves the environment and the needs of future generations.

Just in the past few days, the International Atomic Energy Agency once again announced that it cannot guarantee the civilian nature of the nuclear projects of the Islamic Republic. The lack of transparency of the projects, their economic indefensibility, and the documents made available to the agency have cast serious doubt on the regime's claim that it is pursuing only the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Instead of turning to a policy of transparency, the regime engages in further cover-ups and adventurism. In so doing, it imposes great economic and political losses on the nation. This policy strengthens the role of the military in Iran's economy and politics. It grants massive profits to those sectors of the market that have monopolized specific import channels. The nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic leads to intensified repression and further injustice. It has intensified the nuclear race in the region, a race that is against the interests of the people of the region and against peaceful coexistence.

The Islamic Republic's destructive nuclear policy has perverted the talents of specialists and researchers and has prevented the use of these forces for positive scientific and technological endeavors. The regime's justification of its nuclear policy has led to demagoguery, of which a main aspect is opposition to a growing environmental consciousness critical of nuclear technology in our epoch.

In his recent interview with a Spanish television station, Ahmadinejad, the president of the regime, claimed that the safety standards at Bushehr conform with international standards. Hence there is no reason for concern. He also claimed that there is no repression in Iran. These claims are two of a kind: They are both lies.

We, the undersigned, call on all the aware citizens of Iran to oppose the nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic in a more serious way and to criticize the shortcomings of the opposition forces in this realm. The Islamic Republic's cult of uranium is a pillar of the cult of the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent. A regime that [figuratively] bans the word "right" from its dictionary and metes out imprisonment and torture to those demanding their rights, uses the slogan "undeniable right" [to nuclear power] for the purpose of deception.

No right is greater than freedom. If the idea of using nuclear technology is deemed correct, the decision concerning its use should be made in a free environment. The media should be free to write about the defects and concerns. Independent specialists should have the ability to exert supervision over nuclear centers and report to the people concerning the dangers that they pose.

The specialists of the regime are not trustworthy. The level of awareness of the president of the Islamic Republic can be gauged by his famous comment about the production of nuclear energy in kitchens. The rest [of the regime's officials] are of the same kind. Their real area of specialization is conspiracy, interrogation, torture, and the plunder of the nation's wealth.

The regime loudly announces: "Nuclear energy is our undeniable right!" The real content of this slogan is not a defense of independence. Rather it implies the regime's sole right to take risks with the nation's future, economy, environment, and human resources.

We counter this slogan with the right to freedom. When this right exists, real independence can be experienced, peaceful coexistence with all nations can be pursued, and the interests and safety of the people as well as the exigencies of environmental protection can be considered when using any technology in a transparent and controllable manner.

We ask all to support this call for active opposition to the nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic.

Yusef Ardalan, Dariyush Ashouri, Jalal Ijadi, Farimah Ijadi, Marzieh Bakhsizadeh, Mehran Barati, Sohrab Behdad, Kamran Behnia, Turaj Parsi, Shahrnoush Parsipour, Nasser Pakdaman, Babak Takhti, Nayereh Tohidi, Mehdi Jami, Jahanshah Javid, Ghodsi Hejazi, Nassim Khaksar, Mehdi Khalaji, Hamid Dabashi, Mehrdad Darvishpour, Saeed Rahnema, Siamand Zandi, Arash Sobhani, Chahla Chafiq, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Shahram Ghanbari, Abdi Kalantari, Akbar Ganji, Sohrab Mobasheri, Majid Mohammadi, Mehran Mostafavi, Hassan Makaremi, Shokuh Mirzadegi, Anvar Mirsatari, Reza Nassehi, Farhad Nomani, Esmail Nooriala, Mohammad Reza Nikfar.

This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on March 29, 2011.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Iranians Draw Lessons from Middle Eastern Uprisings

Just when the Green Movement seemed to have been defeated by the brutal repression of the Iranian regime, the mass uprisings in the Arab World gave it new life. This resurgence of the Green Movement is evident not only in recent street protests in Tehran and other major Iranian cities on February 14, February 20, March 1 and March 8, but also in a variety of articles by activists and thinkers who are reflecting on the lessons of the Middle Eastern uprisings (References are provided at the end of this article).

In my reading of many of these articles, I have come across three main issues: 1. The need to raise economic demands alongside political demands; 2. The need to go beyond calling for reform and put revolution on the agenda; 3. Warnings about the internal dangers after a movement successfully overthrows a dictator.

I. Defining Social Justice as Economic and Political Justice

Mehrdad Darvishpour, Kaveh Ehsani, Arash Zarforush, Farhad Khosrow Khavar, Saeed Peyvandi, Mohsen Motaghi and M. Cheshmeh have all emphasized the ways in which the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt involved an alliance of unemployed educated youth with dissatisfied workers and the urban poor. Darvishpour writes:

"In the Green Movement, the question of economic difficulties and the situation of the poor received less attention. . . which meant that the poor and the working class did not have a proper presence in this movement. This in turn weakened the movement. Many of the educated youth who started the Green Movement represented a sector of the population which lacked job opportunities or a clear future. Economic difficulties had an important role in their revolt. In Egypt and Tunisia however, the issue of poverty and economic demands were so obvious as to lead many to call their movement a ‘Bread and Butter Revolution.’"

Arash Zehforush writes: “The discussion of democracy and freedom can only have an impact on social classes and strata when it is directly related to their situation and the production and distribution of wealth in society. Otherwise the discussion of democracy and freedom will turn into an abstract and ineffective discourse and will lead to disillusionment among the masses.”

Although the above commentators demand that social justice be made the motto of the Green Movement, they view themselves as different from each other in terms of economic alternatives. Some argue for one or another form of free-market capitalism and attribute poverty and unemployment solely to the existence of politically corrupt and closed systems. Some who do challenge free-market capitalism, offer state-controlled capitalism as an alternative. Some oppose both free-market and state-controlled capitalism.

II. Putting Revolution on the Agenda of the Green Movement

M. Cheshmeh, Arash Zehforush, Amin Sorkhabi and Parisa Sa’ed have singled out the ways in which the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt put the question of revolution on the agenda. Amin Sorkhabi writes: “In light of the developments and events that have begun with Tunisia as the starting point, it seems that the era of the revolutions of color has come to an end. Theoreticians need to think about theorizing a new model for revolutions or socio-political changes.”

M. Cheshmeh adds:

"The defeat of the Second of Khordad Movement [Reference to the reformist movement which began with Mohammad Khatami’s election in 1997] and the experience of the June 2009 presidential election which led to the rise of the Green Movement in Iran, have weakened the tendencies which advocate reform within the context of the existing regime and the constitution. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt can put the last nail in the coffin of this paralyzing tendency within Iran’s political movement. . . The occurrence of a revolution however, does not guarantee its ultimate success. As we saw, the domination of religious reaction and the immaturity of the politicos and intellectuals during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, threw Iran out of the frying pan and into the fire. However, in comparison with other processes, revolution is the only strategy that can shake the foundations of society to the point of either overthrowing dictatorial and ideological regimes or weakening them to clear the path for a transition to democracy. At the same time, revolution should not be considered a one-time blow and an easily reachable and ephemeral goal. Instead, it has to be viewed as a process with a variety of stages. The victory or defeat of any revolutionary process depends not only on the objective situation but also on whether the revolution has a progressive, democratic and humanist outlook and leadership. . . "

This sober view concerning the serious mistakes made in 1979 and the need to view revolution as a thoughtful and constructive process, reveals the maturity of the new generation of Iranian youth. It is this soberness that has also compelled more experienced Iranian thinkers and activists to warn about the dangers of using the term revolution lightly.

III. Need to Distinguish between Uprising and Revolution

Mashallah Razmi writes: “Hosni Mubarak resigned. However much remains unclear about the future. The army is popular among the masses. However, will the army remain a guarantor of the reforms or will it take over power, or will it take on a role such as that of the army in Turkey?” Manuchehr Salehi also warns that “In Egypt, the half-way revolution has once again put the army fully in charge of the country.”

Saeed Rahnema disagrees with those who have rushed to call the uprising in Egypt a revolution. In an article originally written in English and also distributed widely in Persian translation, he states:

"While with their admirable courage and perseverance the Egyptian people have achieved a sort of mass-induced coup d’etat, toppling a corrupt dictator, the US-backed army and the dominant classes have so far succeeded in aborting the revolution. The mere fact that the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the dominant classes will remain as major players in the post-Mubarak regime, suggests that the chances for establishing a democratic system - the main aspiration of those who poured into the streets - are not very promising. The appointment by the military junta of an Islamist to oversee the rushed constitutional amendment may well be an indication of what is ahead."

The above stated concerns as well as the forcefulness with which the Middle Eastern uprisings are continuing to place the problems of mass poverty, unemployment, sexism and prejudice on the scene, have reinvigorated the Green Movement. It remains to be seen how this movement will develop in Iran and how it will continue to express its solidarity with the uprisings in the Middle East. For now however, we need to heed Rahnema’s analysis of the difficulties which prevent an immediate Egyptian style uprising in Iran:

"Many have compared the revolts in Egypt to the Iranian revolt of 2009 against Ahmadinejad’s electoral coup, and hope for similar results. However, the situation in Iran at present is very different. The Egyptian regime was headed by a single dictator and that dictator was in turn dependent on a foreign power. The clerical/military oligarchy in Iran, with its intricate network of religious, repressive and economic institutions and multiple military and intelligence systems, is highly complex and also independent from any foreign power. It is a fascist-type system that still has millions on the payroll of the state and parastatal organizations, including religious foundations. It has also shown on numerous occasions that it does not hesitate to use extreme brutality against its opposition. In the long run, its fate will not be different from those of other dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East or elsewhere, but the Iranian people unfortunately have a much more difficult fight ahead of them."

Frieda Afary
March 24, 2011


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