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People driving movement, not politicians

20 Jul 2009 18:2414 Comments
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By JASON REZAIAN in Dubai | 20 July 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Op-Ed On May 21, I headed to Tehran to cover a president election that no one can claim to have believed would be as eventful or contentious as this one has turned out to be. The election, while understandably important to the rest of the world that viewed it as a referendum on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemed quite unimportant to a politically apathetic Iranian population, many of whom, only weeks before the election, intended on not voting.

Exactly one month later, I left Iran in the midst of the post election chaos. Like so many other journalists working for the foreign media, I felt a pressure to stop reporting, one that I chose to submit to, knowing that I wanted to continue my work in Iran at a later time. The situation was becoming more and more difficult to bear, and ultimately I just didn't feel safe. Whether those threats were real or perceived didn't matter. I knew it was best to leave the country for a time. I didn't know how long I'd be gone, but I left my apartment intact and decided not to take my most important possessions, providing some sort of anchor to return to when the time feels right.

Now it's two months to the day after my arrival in Iran and I find myself in Dubai, a short flight from Tehran, but light years away from what's happening there. Everyday I marvel at the reporters who have the gall -- or is it resourcefulness -- to report on a situation in a land many of them have never visited or know little about. It's hard enough to crack Iran's surface while one is in the country, but attempt to make sense of the realities on the ground from afar is not a game I feel comfortable playing.

Although the media blackout remains in effect, news still filters out. I get eyewitness reports here and there and have tried to keep myself as informed as possible, knowing I'm living in an information vacuum. From what I gather, the struggle goes in waves, but shows no sign of ending. As many of us have predicted, protests have become subtler, becoming volatile at potential flashpoint moments -- a natural occurrence in a country whose calendar is marked by so many official anniversaries.

The thing that fascinates me most about these past few weeks is the hold this story has taken on people and segments of the population who would generally remain disinterested. It's amazing to me, for example, that celebrities have become so involved. Alyssa Milano, for example has tweeted extensively on the subject, and just today, Robert Redford publicly announced his solidarity with Iranians and their quest for human rights and free expression. I applaud them both, and others, but wonder, why now? Why Iran?

Much of it has to do with our longstanding misinterpretations of popular Iranian sentiment. For years news coverage simply considered Iranian government rhetoric as synonymous with the will of the people. That was shattered this summer.

Until now our most in depth read of Iran had been concerning a perceived battle between hardliners and reformers in the mullahs' power structure. With little more to go on than what's made public by the state broadcasting company, international news coverage of Iran in recent days has again reverted to that, looking at Ayatollah Rafsanjani's Friday Prayer speech in particular as a sign that the divides among clerics may be even wider than presumed.

This is almost certainly true, but it misses the larger point, and the one that was so evident in the news coverage of the post election protests, demonstrations and riots. In my last days in Tehran, beginning with the nightly rooftop "Allah o Akbar" chants, which quickly escalated to chats of "Death to the Dictator," then "Death to the Supreme Leader," and finally "Death to the Islamic Republic," it became pretty clear to me that this was a battle between a society and the state that governs it.

It's from within that struggle, furthermore, that the desired change will either emerge or fizzle en route. My bet is with the former, as I witnessed something different within people those weeks that I was there that I have never seen anywhere, specifically in Iran.

To me it was a birth of sorts. A decision made by vast numbers of people that they were ready to take responsibility for their own destiny, both personally and politically. I continue to feel very proud of those people and want to support them in their quest for self-determination. It's a right that belongs to everyone, but unfortunately it has to be forcibly claimed sometimes.

For that reason, I suppose, I'm tired of Iranians abroad expressing their fears about continued bloodshed (there hasn't been that much to begin with) and their hope that everything just "calms down." I, for one, have enough respect for the right of people in Iran -- young and old -- to decide for themselves how they intend to express their frustrations with their current leadership, and if that means risking their lives on the streets, so be it.

The schism between the clerics is very old news. The more relevant divide is the one of understanding between the residents of Iran and the rest of the world, including Iranians living abroad. It's become difficult under the current restrictions on media to shine a light on those concerns, but I hope in the days to come we can focus our attention back on the Iranian people and their desires for the future and away from the same ancient characters who have been at the center of this story for the past thirty years.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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14 Comments

I don't think anybody living abroad just want for things to calm down and go back to the way they were. Can you be more specific? Every Iranian living abroad want Iran to become a true democracy where people decide their leaders. Other than that this was a very good article.

Al A / July 20, 2009 2:38 PM

Personally, I hope things "calm down" only after the people of Iran have the freedom and democracy they deserve.

Dave In America / July 20, 2009 3:23 PM

The author makes it sound as if people are fighting to achieve deep structural changes through a revolution of some sort. He's saying it's the people vs. the entire regime. Let us not forget that people came out in numbers on Friday only because Mousavi said he'll be there. He still commands this movement, although not as much as previously, but nevertheless he's still the symbol of this movement, along with green and Neda.


And to say that he's "tired of Iranians abroad expressing their fears about continued bloodshed (there hasn't been that much to begin with) and their hope that everything just 'calms down'" is just rude and inaccurate. Most Iranians abroad don't want this to go away. They want to see some real changes. But when it comes to bloodshed, no one wishes to see it. What? Suddenly we shouldn't be concerned that our brothers and sisters might get killed or injured in tomorrow's protests? Even those who protest, they don't go out thinking they're going to die. Maybe some do, but most don't.

Sepand / July 20, 2009 5:41 PM

It seems like Mousavi and, to a greater extent, this movement, are just what Rafsanjani and Khatami have been waiting for. It's definitely the impetus they've needed. Let's hope Rafsanjani and Khatami are as smart as I've always thought they were.

Dave In America / July 20, 2009 8:32 PM

I think that author is right.

Many Iranians from abroad are looking at it as a movement which is lead by Mousavi or by Rafsanjani or by someone. But I think that now people are leading Mousavi not the other way round


Many Iranians from abroad are also afraid that if Iranians inside would be not supported by major mullah figures, the movement will fizzle out. True, it may do that but we don't know how strong the movement is because there is still much cenzorship.


Same Iranians, because they live abroad, are more afraid for their nearest and for Iranians than Iranians inside Iran are. That's why they stress finality of death and they stress that iranians should be "calm" "calm" "calm". even if Iranians were till now relatively "calm"


Finally some Iranians still tell us that we should be careful how we look at what is happening in Iran because in reality many, many Iranians support Ahmadinejad. Which is true some do support him, but many do not .

ella / July 20, 2009 8:59 PM

as an iranian-american,some one who deeply is concecned,i see these people,same age as my daughter,ofcourse i do not want anyone dead,i was an student activist dring my colleg yrs in america in the 70 s.

n one peirced a bullet in my chest.now a mother i feel for those mothers that they see their sond and daughters out there,seeking their rights,and votes. pray and hope that they come home alive.

fay moghtader / July 20, 2009 10:04 PM

Decent article until the bloodshed part - totally undercuts the author's credibility. That comment was as insensitive as it was ignorant. Not to mention annoying - the author would be well served never repeating that inane line.

nader / July 20, 2009 10:37 PM

I completely agree with Sepand's comments. Many articles I have read on tehran bureau's site have been either incorrect or very negative or contain off-the-wall opinions and it can be very annoying at times. I mainly read Muhammad Sahimi's articles that also gives you detailed history on the subject in addition to the author's opinions. His articles give you the impression that the author is knowlegeable and mature which is not the feeling I get from reading article by other contributing journalists.

Minoo / July 20, 2009 11:10 PM

Thank you Mr. Rezaian. Worth reading and sharing.

shetty / July 21, 2009 4:11 AM

People did not have the knowledge of having a movment without war and violence which is usually a quip de ta that ends in some dictators killing some and taking their place and doing the same thing to the people as the one's before! Up to now history has not experienced knowledgable movment which I called RoseRevolution of Compassion and after I wrote 9 books in one year in 1994 I guided the reformists step by step out of a quip to a revolution that from the beggining wanted to stick itto the students and kill them and stick them up and make heros and martyrs out of them to keep the toxic dictatorial control over the movement that would end up bringing a dictator to power! I did not want the young people to get killed and my revolution was toward peace and freedom without war and violence! My promoter did not want my name on my own prophecy and wanted to steal my idnetity and bring Rafsanjani back to power and make his own stories with my life work and knowledge as he has been for 12 years that he censored and silenced me! My revoution was to bring back the youth right and dignity to claim their land and their share of prosperity without war and violence with the knowledge of self and mind power created by the pioneering knowledge I have braught which is a new humanity a new creation and a new Rebirth and a Universal Psycho-Spirituality of Prevention Health & Excellence! I remember Ghasemi yelling in Radio Sedaye Iran saying "ma bayad in ra beh kasi beshasbaneem ta an bakhtak keh mane daneshmand hastam ra kasi nashenasad." in such a chvenistic hate focused and dictatorial old dark patterns of bullyism and machiavalian politics I created a new movement a revolution ofcompassion they call green and I called it Rose Revoution of planting a red rose in everyone's heart and changing their patterns from dark to light & claiming back the kingdom of god in their heart! They have turned everyone I rose for against me by giving them a leaf a word a piece of me and carrots to change their patterns form light to dark of the lie stories and denial of me! That is what I wanted to prevent! For my revolution not to go in the wrong hands and pawns of power to do the same destruction as they have done before!

RoseParvin / July 21, 2009 7:08 PM

For f//k's sake, cover people's faces before publishing a photo. This is 4 real, people cd die bcs a photo of them protesting is on the net.

sonya roberts / July 21, 2009 7:18 PM

You understand The Sea of Green completely. _O_

Keep sharing Your thoughts, dude.

We are entering an New Era. Wanna bet?

I got some stories to tell too.

bontehond / July 21, 2009 8:09 PM

Thank you for your nice article. While Reading it I felt that I am hearing from someone who has been engaged with the daily lives of Iranians and have grown akin with them. In regards to your comment about Iranians abroad, I must say that we have been waiting for this moment for the past 30 years. This is a birth pain of a true revolution that has been going on for over the past 100 years. I for one do not want to see people going home until our baby Democracy has been delivered live and well. Then I think we all should worry about her heath and nourishment. I, myself want to jump out of my skin and join my countrywo/men and cry in one voice "give me Democracy or give me death". Of course I will be taking a few Basijis along before the later happens. POWER TO THE PEOPLE.

rFarrokhzad / July 22, 2009 3:47 AM

I think the author should be very much applauded. We each have different perspectives as to the best outcome, and the fluidity of the situation would certainly suggest their are no tea leaves or crystall balls.


What makes this writer distinct is that he renders a heart felt account, rather than much of the clinical reporting we have been exposed to as of late. Furthermore, he is absolutely correct in drawing a distinction between the people and the nominal leaders of the movement. The Iranian people have always been at the vanguard and considerably more inspirational than their political elites at every historical juncture, wehether it be during the constitutional revolution, the 1979 one, or now.


One would hope that the twist of fate does not transpire or unfold to dissapoint yet again.

Ali Cyrus / July 22, 2009 10:01 PM