Thursday, May 25, 2006

Determined Foes Mount Challenge To Iran's Mullahs

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
While foreign ministers met in London to finalize measures to persuade the Iranian regime to suspend uranium enrichment, the country's ruling clerics will be facing the most determined opposition they have seen in three years.

In Tehran, university students staged a second day of strikes over the firing of eight professors and the new policies enacted by Tehran University's president.

In Tabriz, the regime tried to quell riots earlier this week over a cartoon depicting members of the Azeri minority as cockroaches.

In Qom, the theocracy was absorbing the aftershocks of a candid interview from Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who told an Iraqi news agency that the current Islamic Republic has failed to deliver the democracy it promised in the 1979 revolution.

The stirrings inside Iran are the most serious challenge to befall the mullahs since the protests that accompanied the 2003 commemorations of the July 9, 1999, Tehran University student rebellions. They also suggest the regime that America and Europe are now hoping to cajole into suspending its nuclear program may be more fragile than intelligence agencies recognize.

One of the steering committee members of Iran's largest student organization chapter at Tehran Polytechnic University, Abbas Hakim Zadeh said in an interview from Tehran Tuesday that his organization was now 90% in favor of rejecting slow reform in favor of nonviolent resistance.

"About nine years ago, the reformist movement under Khatemi took place, but Khatemi could not deliver and the Iranian people have no longer any faith in the reformist movement," he said. READ MORE

Those words should come as no surprise to observers who have followed the intellectual evolution of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, who was released from Evin Prison in April and is the author of a manifesto rebuking the reform movement for its timidity and calling for direct elections of the supreme leader.

But Mr. Zadeh's comments could be shocking to diplomats in Western capitals and analysts in Washington pressing for negotiations with Iran in part because it would re-empower the political movement of President Khatemi, the reformer to whom Mr. Zadeh was referring.

Yesterday, Mr. Zadeh said the country's largest student organization, Takhim Vahdat, rejected any direct talks between America and Iran if the negotiations centered around security guarantees in exchange for promises on nuclear enrichment.

"If there is any dialogue and conversations or negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the international community, whether the United States or other countries individually or collectively, if it is around the nucleus of human rights, democracy and the openness in Iran, it is something worthwhile to consider," he said.

"However if the idea is for Iran to get security guarantees embedded in it that the regime can suppress the human rights and the will of the people, that is something the Iranian student movement, the Iranian labor movement and the Iranian women's rights groups reject firmly and totally."

The atmosphere at Tehran University was tense as student protesters entered into the second day of a strike designed to oust the school's president appointed by President Ahmadinejad, Amid Zanjani.

In an interview on the Voice of America's Persian service, a student activist at Tehran University, Mohsen Sabri, said he estimated that 1,200 students were clashing with security officers. His colleague and a member of the national steering committee for Takhim Vahdat, Ali Nekomesbati, estimated that 15 students have been kidnapped since the sit-in strike began and another 70 have been injured.

The fracas at Tehran University flared as Iran's president took measures this week to calm tensions in Tabriz after hundreds of Azeris began burning parts of the city to ostensibly protest a state-run newspaper that ran a cartoon depicting Azeris as cockroaches.

The protests this week are a direct rebuke to Mr. Ahmadinejad. While Iran's president does not command the military or have final say on domestic and foreign policy decisions, he does have the power to appoint personnel in government agencies.

Since assuming power in August, Mr. Ahmadinejad has stacked the security services, universities, prison warden system, and social service departments with ideological allies from the ranks of the paramilitary group he is associated with, the Basij.

A colleague of Mr. Zadeh at Tehran Polytechnic University, Bijan Pouryousefi, said yesterday that Iran's student movement was reaching out to form a more unified front with labor unions and women's groups.

"The civil struggles of the Iranian people for democracy and human rights is alive, but it is fragile," he said. "You see this with the women's groups, the labor unions and this as a whole. We need the support of the international community by supporting democracy, and other organizations can provide the basis for the support of our movement."

But Mr. Pouryousefi was careful to say that at least Takhim Vahdat would reject direct funding from America or any foreign government. "When you talk about money, we will have our character assassinated. There are human rights organizations that can defend the rights of the individuals. The subject of the money is separate," he said.

Takhim Vahdat was created in the late 1970s to support Ayatollah Khomeinei and the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In recent months, the regime has tried to restrict the organization's ability to elect a national coordination committee by attempting to appoint students who favor the regime. Last summer the organization led the fight to release Mr. Ganji from jail and encouraged students to boycott elections that resulted in Mr. Ahmadinejad assuming the presidency.
A must read.