By Yasaman Baji, Tehran (Source: Mianeh)
Many Iranians who are sympathetic towards the opposition Green Movement hesitate to participate in the protests staged since last June's disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because they fear the alternative could be worse.
Opposition protesters in Tehran - June 2009
They may have voted for opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi or Mir Hossein Mousavi but they refrain from supporting the demonstrations out of concern about the weakening of Iran's central government and the possibility of foreign involvement in the country's affairs.
Some of these silent protesters are both passive and pessimistic and did not vote at all or did so only at the urging of family and friends. This is because they did not believe that voting would make anything better. They still do not believe that the protests will produce a positive outcome.
Demonstrations that were held in the wake of last June's election have largely petered out but the anniversary this year could be a major test of the movement's ability to get people out onto the street despite government threats and crackdowns.
Five million individuals who were eligible to vote did not participate in the election but their reasons for abstaining vary.
Reza is not a supporter of the Islamic Republic but at the same time he does not want any kind of change that would disrupt daily life. He says he does not see enough of a difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi to prompt him to protest at the election result.
Others are frightened to take to the streets. They prefer to stay at home and remain informed through satellite channels and friends who are active. One of these, Homa, calls herself a protester but cannot imagine coming face to face with police and batons.
A notable proportion of the silent protesters do have political reasons for refusing to participate in demonstrations. They may share the view that Ahmadinejad won by fraud but they believe that the country has more important priorities, like independence and territorial integrity.
This group includes educated people who are familiar with the West or may have studied there; they have some social standing and come from good families. They often read the news in English and are rarely influenced by the Iranian media. They are familiar with modern Iranian history and are well aware of the record of foreign involvement in the country.
Their main concern is that continued protests will threaten national security, weaken central authority, allow foreign involvement, and enable the rise to power of a puppet regime or that of exiled opposition groups like the monarchists or the Mujahedin-e Khalq guerrillas.
A stream of foreign interference runs through Iran's 20th century history.
The Russians bombarded Iran's first parliament in 1908 to topple the new democratic regime and in support of the despotic Shah. In February 1922, the British supported a coup that led to the rise to power of Reza Shah Pahlavi. The British also exiled the Shah to the island of Mauritius in 1943 over fears that he had pro-German sentiments.
In 1953, the United States and Britain orchestrated a coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, who nationalised Iran's oil. Western countries also backed Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War that began 19 months after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A history professor at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad said, "Let us not forget that the main slogan of the 1979 revolution was Iranian independence and the end of dependence on the East and West."
Farhad studied industrial engineering in England. His father was among the high echelons of the National Iranian Oil Company before the 1979 revolution. Farhad is not active in the Green Movement because he says he wants to be certain that the West will not repeat what it did in the eastern bloc in the cold war and meddle under the pretext of defending democracy. He is also worried that Mousavi's leadership does not have much further to run.
This section of the opposition does believe that the involvement of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, IRGC, in politics is dangerous. However, what is surprising is that they see the militarisation of Iranian politics as a by-product of constant threats by the West since the revolution 30 years ago.
Iraj is a chemical engineer who works at Iran's ministry of petroleum. He said, "If it weren't for threats from the United States, the Sepah (IRGC) would not have any pretext for militarisation and interference in politics." He agrees that the elections were fraudulent but believes that "domestic protests weaken Iran in relation to the US, especially at a time when there is the highest chance of negotiations".
On recent sanctions against the IRGC, he said, "Western policies are to weaken the Sepah, which is responsible for Iran's security in this tumultuous region."
According to a writer and English translator, Iranians may be the only people in the Middle East who do not foster anti-western and anti-US sentiments, but "this does not mean that they are enamoured with the West and the United States. Iranians do not want an unequal relationship".
Pourandokht, a retired doctor who wants to get rid of Ahmadinejad, says, however, that she prefers the independent Islamic Republic that has been in power for 30 years over any regime that would be a puppet of the US.
Another lukewarm supporter of the opposition, Nader, a manager in a publishing company, was a leftist during his youth as well as a political prisoner both before and after the revolution. He worries that the protests will create a path to power for the opposition which currently resides outside the country and thinks it is entitled to such power. He said they consider that "those of us who have lived, worked, experienced joy and sorrow, and even voted in Iran for the past 30 years are to blame".
Such people believe that the members of the opposition living outside Iran are remote from the realities of Iranian society and do not understand the internal changes that have taken place.
It does not matter to what degree the concerns of these silent protesters are rooted in truth or whether they originate from an old Iranian tradition of looking for signs of conspiracy, they are clearly widespread.
About the author: Yasaman Baji is the pseudonym of an Iranian Journalist based in Tehran. This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Persian pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today
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