The Student Uprising - The clerics crack down and student protest
A student protestor on the streets of Tehran in July 1999, following a police attack against university students. Student demonstrations against the clerical regime laid the groundwork for the popular opposition movement. (AP/Wide World Photos)
July 9, 1999, marked a turning point in the evolution of Iran's
opposition movement. That evening the clerical regime dispatched
its police forces to attack the dormitories of Tehran University,
which was becoming the center of agitation for reform. By morning
three students were dead, and many more had been beaten and
The regime's attack, far from stifling dissent, pushed seething
resentment to a breaking point. Students leapt into action by
the thousands, overtaking streets, destroying public property
and staging sit-ins in major cities throughout Iran for several
consecutive days. The upheaval was quickly put down by the regime,
but it announced the birth of a nationwide opposition movement.
Opposition groups and student unions emerged in great numbers
in the wake of July 1999. They lacked leadership and differed
in their degrees of religiosity and political liberalism, but
agreed on a general consensus for the future of the Iranian
nation: a separation of mosque and state, and basic civil liberties
such as freedom of the press and comingling of the sexes. United
by these goals, they began demanding for the first time the
complete removal of the Islamic theocracy.
The students were careful to emphasize their commitment to
peaceful change and continued to believe in the possibility
of democratic change from within the government. For this reason,
they remained loyal to Khatami and elected a string of reformists
to parliament in 2000. For a time, it seemed as if their revolution
from within was working.
But, in fact, the atmosphere inside Iran grew more stifling.
The ruling clerics, maneuvering to protect their conservative
way of life, closed reformist newspapers, arrested and tortured
opposition leaders, and dispatched their young religious vigilantes,
known as Bassijis, to break up student demonstrations. The reforms
Khatami seemed to represent had all but disappeared.
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