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Things have changed in Iran

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran


Dick Cheney, in my opinion, like Nancy Reagan during Reagan's era, is the power behind the throne of the American presidency. When it comes to Iran, one gets rather lost, as there is not one person that one can pin this honor on. My friend, Hossein, tells me that here, in Iran, one must look for circles of power rather than individuals. The reason one may say is due to the fact that clergy work on group basis and all that stems from them, consequently does so likewise.


We were discussing the present political turmoil in Iran, the current majlis (Parliament) sit-in and forthcoming election, if there will be one.  We both agree that this, in part, is one of the tactics that the moderates and reformists have been adapting for sometime now. The tactic consists of the fact that they try to make Iran's internal issues more international and thus force the hands of the conservatives toward more compromise by throwing lights on their issues.


Last night we were in very heavy conversation regarding people's expectations and their right to such demands, the role of Mr. Khatami in history, requirements for a Civil Society and so on. My current local political affairs class was again very interesting and rewarding. It truly makes me think about why, what and how and even when at times.


We went over the fact that only 100 years ago the rate of literacy in the country was 5% -yes, during the famous Constitution Revolution, at that time even in Tehran the rate was around 10%- no wonder we, as a nation, suffer this paper chase complex.  


Our instructor and my friend Hossein pointed out that Iranians, in history, have never had anywhere to gather and exchange views and express opinions except in mosques. Therefore, it is no wonder that the last two revolutions stems from there. Of-course there is other reasons too, but we get to that later. We must bear in mind that the idea of living in apartment blocks, where people have common needs and problems, and they must seek a mutually agreed means of dealing with them is really less than half a century old. Thus, exercising different forms of cooperative behaviors and acts, which are required as a prerequisite of a civil society, is very new in this land of ours.  Just remember that Iranians are very good at wrestling and not so well at Football in the international arena. Shouldn't we seriously ask ourselves why? Shouldn't we work on the answers in a serious and deep manner, and shouldn't our social scholars try to find the roots of this and find applicable solutions and remedies with a realist and meaningful time frame?  I do not mean just for the educated or even worse the westernized educated elite- me included- but for the Nation as a whole. From north to south and from east to west, such solution/remedy must apply not for big cities but for the remote villages where none of the 'Modern' values and customs prevails and life goes on as it has for centuries before, with very little differences.


The present sit-in issue will all be solved sooner or later. Many hope and believe that this will entice large portion of population to sympathize with the reformist and moderate candidates and go out there and vote on the election day. Therefore, something good might have come out of this. If we are too cynical, we can say this is a very indirect and effective marketing tactic.  Nevertheless, to be serious, above all, this has helped, as one said, to "demonize the conservatives" and win the sympathy of the people for the reformists in a fundamental way. However, I must emphasis and remind you that this portion of the population only includes those who are active in exercise of civil society or even may be their close relatives and friends. The majority of the population does not even know what is going on. It is very sad and hard to be a realist. To this day, despite the knowledge that people are unhappy with National Broadcasting Radio & TV, three quarter of people, unfortunately, refer to it as their main source of information-We seem to have more things in common with USA than we would like to think.  No wonder then that we almost hear nothing about the majlis sit-in in NIRT news broadcasts, which means that for many of the country folks this event has not even happened! We are truly talking about a maximum of 25% of the population at best who are aware of the situation. As sad, as it may be we must face it in order to do something constructive about it and overcome it one day?


As regard to people's expectation, the question on the floor was "what have people exactly done that they demand so much?" Yes, they went and voted; they hoped that their needs and demands would be met, but would they really dare to lose their jobs let alone their lives over what they believe in and stand for?  Is it not true that government reflect the nation and its people when we ask ourselves, "Do we really deserve this!?"  Besides, we forget the most important question is what constitutes us?  Is it not true that the us we all talk about is nothing more than 20-25% of the whole of this nation at best?  I was talking to a business partner recently who has close ties to bazaar, and knows what goes on in there; you may say he has access to insider information. When I asked him, "what is going to happen?" he simply said NOTHING!


I was truly taken aback; he said that still if anyone of the ayatollahs makes a fatwa, the masses would go out into the street, and do as ordered. Nobody wants a blood bath, or do we?  The real problem is that there is no obvious reliable alternative. This can only come from the fact that we, as a nation, find it hard to work and join together to find out what is it that we really want and how it can be achieved with the bases and foundations that we have at our disposal, without daydreaming about what would be good and we wish for. It is no good writing a great constitution and comparing it with the best if it cannot be applied, if realities of the home are not taken into consideration.


Still, I know that many of you do not think much has changed, but believe me, it has. It may not have changed as much or as far as we [20-25%] want, or what we desire but things have changed for Iran, in a grassroots and fundamental way. Iran is young in every respect of the word, and not just its population.  Like everybody in their youth, we want things without thinking about how we are going to be prepared for or pay the price for it, be it self-determination, free election and free what not.


To prove that things have changed rather than are changing, I tell you something I doubt if you have heard of it. Daughters of a grand Ayatollah from Qom have placed a complaint against their father, to the courts, over recent marriage of their father to another woman without their mother's permission and consent, which is required by law!  Can you believe this?!  It does not matter that the case is thrown out of court now, but the gesture of the act in itself is a real change, and in a few years the daughters might win and the new marriage may be annulled! Other things will follow these issues.


Another example is that when the Iranian National TV wants to find out what the youth are thinking these days, it sends their reporters to interview all these young rapier who crowd the Tehran streets. Another example is when the nation's leader, in his speech to Basijis, advises them to think first and don't overreact when they come across non-Islamic looking guys and girls. He tells them that those who may look/appear different from them are actually 'good' and these boys and girls love their country like them.


One thing is for sure, transparency is good and benefits all, and we are getting there. Whether we are considering economy, court rulings, taxes, import regulations, everything is changing and becoming more transparent.  The different sides are watching the other side with great care and resilience.  They may not be at each other's throat, but they are ready to reveal facts, deeds and misdeeds if need be. This means that, slowly but surely even those in power, the ayatollahs and their sons, may not be able to do as they wish, as they have done for many years, and even they must work within the frame of the law, the basis of civil society.  It took Europe many years to get where they are now. Let us learn to be a little more patient and keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.


I assure you the critical mass is here, and the rest will eventually follow. Yet it may not be as quick as we wish it to be for all of us to see.


The present question is not if the clergy are to stay in power or not. The question is rather to what degree can they tolerate a secular society? The real dilemma for them is the question of relative secularization at this stage of the game. For that, they may not differ greatly from President Bush and the credits that he gets from going to church every Sunday.


This does not mean that the process of change has come to an end. On the contrary, it is just that there is no way that it can come to a stop any longer; it can only be delayed, and that is all. So let us be realistic and search and find our historical patience and hope for a better future for our children.

... Payvand News - 2/9/04 ... --

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