Zahra And Millions Like Her Call For Change in Iran
By Abbas Djavadi,
Zahra and millions like her won't stop
supporting freedom and calling for an open, moderate country with an accountable
Zahra is a nurse working at
the Beheshti Hospital in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. Both Zahra and her
husband, Arash, a physiotherapist, work hard, with a lot of overtime, to provide
for their two children.
They complain about their relatively low income. Zahra, for example, earns
550,000 tumans a month, about $600, and says the abolition of government
subsidies, as planned by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, would further reduce
their real income.
But the main reason why both Zahra and Arash voted for Mir Hossein Musavi,
Ahmadinejad's main contender in the presidential election seven months ago, was
not their economic situation, Zahra says.
"Financially, we are surviving, somehow. But we want to live in a moderate and
free society with better perspectives for our kids," she says. "The election
proved that our votes don't count and everyday there are new restrictions and
hostilities.... It's as though we were constantly at war with ourselves and the
But Zahra is afraid of losing her job and of pressure on her husband and
school-age kids. That is why she ignored the opposition's call for mass
demonstrations on Ashura, the Shi'ite holy day, on December 27.
On that day, in spite of harsh official threats, hundreds of thousands of people
again took to the streets to protest against the ruling establishment under
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But Zahra also managed to excuse herself for "family reasons" from a
pro-government counterdemonstration two days later that all Revolutionary Guards
and Basij families, schoolchildren, and employees of state-run agencies and
companies, including Isfahan's Beheshti Hospital, were ordered to attend.
"I'm not that much into politics. But they obviously first rigged the election
results and now, seeing that it doesn't help, Khamenei openly stepped in," Zahra
says. "They have declared war against anybody who is not with them."
Before the presidential election, there was a slim hope that Khamenei, in his
capacity as the supreme leader -- an unelected authority with ultimate
decision-making power in all major political and strategic issues -- would allow
a fair election between candidates who had been short-listed by a council that
he himself selected.
But Khamenei openly sided with incumbent President
Ahmadinejad, as did the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary, and
the security agencies who directly report to Khamenei.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has thrown his weight behind the
Even before the vote count ended, Ahmadinejad was hastily declared the winner
with some 24 million votes, although even by official accounts opposition
candidate Musavi received more than 13 million votes. In many polling stations,
Ahmadinejad officially received more votes than the maximum number of eligible
Since then, the opposition has not stopped protesting. On any given occasion,
millions of people went out on the streets to demand freedom and democracy.
Learning from the experience of the election, the focus of the opposition
democracy movement turned from Ahmadinejad to Khamenei himself as the supreme
leader. The most common slogan in recent months, "Death to the Dictator!"
suggests that the opposition now demands changes to the political system based
on the supreme authority of any unelected "rahbar," the supreme leader.
'Regime Is Finished'
The radical wave of crackdowns on demonstrations, public figures, political
groups, and the media was supposed to do two things: to silence the people and
deter them from taking any further action; and to reduce the number of
protesters from millions to a limited and suppressible number of "radicals." So
far, this attempt has largely failed.
The crackdown, accompanied by executions, show trials, imprisonment, torture,
and the closure of media outlets, has also led to a further internal isolation
of the regime, considerably minimizing the likelihood that the leadership could
save itself through relative moderation and inclusion. Typically, the more
exposed and isolated the regime becomes, the more brutally it acts against
whomever it deems a "threat."
Interviewed by RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and
Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi said that "the [Iranian] regime is
finished" -- unless it changes course soon and dramatically. Many argue that it
won't -- and it's too late.
Nobody can predict the course of developments in Iran in the next year or two.
Writing for RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Akbar Ganji, a prominent opposition figure,
points to two important factors, among others, that
guarantee the ultimate success of the democracy movement: remaining peaceful in
spite of regime provocations to draw the protesters into violent actions, and
expanding the number of its active supporters in spite of persecution and
threats. Those two factors complement one another.
Zahra and millions like her won't stop supporting freedom and calling for an
open, moderate country with an accountable government. What is crucial is to
keep them engaged and active by reducing their fears, and to further increase
the number of those who dare to show the flag. Looking back at the mass
demonstrations during the last years of the shah's regime, Ganji notes, "It is
not easy to massacre peaceful mass demonstrations."
Abbas Djavadi is associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views
expressed in this commentary are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those
Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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