Frontline World

IRAN - Forbidden Iran, January 2004


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Forbidden Iran"

THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY
A Brief History

INTERVIEW WITH JANE KOKAN
Undercover With the Underground

INTERVIEW WITH SHIRIN EBADI
Nobel Prize Winner

FACTS & STATS
Government, People, the Press

LINKS & RESOURCES
Human Rights, Blogs, Nuclear Threats

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The Struggle For Democracy
The Modern Past Khatami: The Harbinger of Change The Student Uprising The Third Force


A student protestor

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)
The Student Uprising - The clerics crack down and student protest explodes

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 arrested.

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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