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Gradual change more likely than revolution, experts say

by LEILA DARABI & SANAZ MESHKINPOUR in New York

05 Dec 2009 20:4813 Comments
SIPA+conference.jpg[ dispatch ] Everyone wants to know what's next for Iran. Since the June 2009 election, and subsequent protests, the mainstream media has asked, "Is this the beginning of another Iranian Revolution?"

Prominent Iranian academics gathered Saturday at Columbia University to say, in essence, don't hold your breath. As Columbia Professor Hamid Dabashi has said on repeated occasions, "This is not another revolution, this is a civil rights movement."

Dabashi moderated the event's opening panel during which experts evaluated the current status of political opposition in Iran.

The definition of freedom, itself, has evolved since the 1979 Revolution, said sociologist Asef Bayat. Iranians once saw liberation as simply overthrowing an unjust Shah, without much thought as to what would come next. Thirty years later, that definition has grown to include concepts of individual civil liberties. This has led to a far more mature civil society, that seeks change in increments, not explosive revolution.

Though experts often reference the Iranian Reform Movement of the 1990s in terms of its failures, Bayat argued that the movement made significant headway within the confines of a theocracy. During Khatami's presidency, media operated more freely, and Iranians experienced greater freedom of speech. These gains, however, disappeared when President Ahmadinejad took office.

Young Iranians are most frustrated by these setbacks. "For most young people, the major concern is this claim of youthfulness," said Bayat. "They want basically to act like other young people in other parts of the world. To choose where to go, what to wear, what to think, to listen, and who to marry or not marry."

Young Iranian women have been central in advocating for women's rights, and played a strong role in organizing the post-election protests, said panelist Shahla Talebi.

Historian Ervand Abrahamian compared recent show trials of political prisoners and televised forced confessions to those conducted by the government in the early days of the Islamic Republic. The then-fragile regime began using these tactics in the 1980s, fueled by paranoia of outside intervention. After thirty years, Abrahamian said, Iranians have caught on and these tactics have lost their power.

"The expectation was that this would be a repeat performance of the 1980s, that it would be fully dramatic and equally effective," Abrahamian said. "In fact, it sort of fizzled out."

These tactics may have failed, but Iranians are still aware of the regime's willingness to use force against them, said Bayat. In this setting, political organizing has to happen underground.

"They cannot have a fully fledged organized structured movement in the way that you have in Western countries--with leadership, with constituencies, with offices and newspapers--because they would easily be the target of appraisal and repression," said Bayat.

Thus, Iran's green movement operates largely through loose networks of friends, family, and colleagues, he said.

From the outside, looking in, this may seem like the movement has been squashed. But, Bayat said, Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Moussavi's first priority is to ensure the very survival of an opposition movement--even a dormant one.

At this time, he said, the reformist camp has made the strategic choice to quietly wait for opportunities to take to the streets--such as the upcoming 16th Azar University Students Day.

This tactic could backfire, Bayat said, because movements without structure tend to lose momentum. The green movement must find ways to remain spontaneous and innovative, or risk dwindling in stagnation.

Photo/Sanaz Meshkinipour

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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13 Comments

Anybody noticed that these are all old communists?!
The removal of IRI by Iranian people will occur. Whether you call it revolution or anything else. But not thanks to you.

Behnam / December 6, 2009 4:39 AM

Mr Bayat- please get your facts straight. Mir Hossein Moussavi is not the "leader" of the Green Movement. His campaign used the color green. Please do more research before you make unfounded statements. It undermines your "expert" status.
Ressa

Ressa2 / December 6, 2009 8:16 AM

Finally, perspectives that make sense of what's most likely going on. Too bad there wasn't an academic providing the establishment's take, as well. That would have provided the necessary rounding out of the discussion, to which the audience would have benefited from a more complete and accurate picture of contemporary politics in Iran.

Pirouz / December 6, 2009 8:33 AM

Iran does not need Islam and the akhond. Ignorance is always accompanied with Islam. Gradual chnage does not solve our problem. Abolishing Islam is the only solution.

gooya / December 6, 2009 7:39 PM

@ Pirouz:
maybe there were no pro-establishment experts because they couldn't find any ... do you have more than a handful of names to suggest? Experts who have real PhDs, by the way, not fake degrees like Kordan ...

Amir / December 6, 2009 8:01 PM

Of course these old commies will favor gradual change. What else did you expect? Have they ever said anything else? The leftists have always supported the mullahcracy in Iran and they are doing it again.These people do not represent us. Who gave them the right to speak on our behalf?This is the Islamic Republics lobby in the United States. If the Americans have not figured them out yet then we are really sorry for them. The Iranian people call for world support for Regime Change in Iran. Death to the Barbaric Republic.

Marjan (Freedom for Iran) / December 7, 2009 4:34 AM

Gradual change? never! An ignorant government of mullahs with their goons, Basij and Pasdaran are bent to scuttle any movement that represent Iranian citizens desire for freedom and peaceful co-existance within the World Community. In this envirenment a "Velvet Revulotion" will never happen. People's repugnance for this government goes beyond "Green Movement" itself. This goverment is self destructing from within and without. Excessive use of force will bring the people to Arms someday. And their rigidity in the nuclear matter, when its all said and done, will bring the foreign Hammer down, sooner or later. This government is doomed one way or the other.

Nasser Shirakbari / December 8, 2009 12:38 AM

When it is about the 1979 revolution, the monarchists are saying that the revolution was wrong and a gradual change was better. Now we are talking about Islamic Republic, suddenly a revolution is better?

Personally I would like to see a democratic Iran as soon possible. But although it might make me happier to see Khamenei hanging on a gallows on Tehrans streets tomorrow, I still think that a gradual change is better in the long term.

Violent revolutions doesn't have good track record with regard of bringing democracy.

E4 / December 9, 2009 11:25 AM

E4,
The gradual change was better because we had a civilized system of government in place. It needed reform politically but the rest of it was fine. Today we have a backward and as many rightly call it a Barbaric system of government. We cannot possibly compare the two. A few years from now and there won't be an Iran left to talk about. The very fabric of our country is being destroyed. Different times call for different reactions. we simply cannot afford to continue with it and our people are showing it on the inside. Who in his/her right mind wants to keep the Islamic Republic?

How can you engage these Barbarians?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2CAQ7DU-as&feature

Listen to the facts. Even the Americans have admitted it. We were lied to and deceived and these communists are still trying to save the Islamic Republic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgy0wmu6NKw

Shahram / December 11, 2009 10:25 AM

Bunch of lit-crit nonsense. Yes let's allow the basij to gradually rape and murder Iran's sons and daughters. These professors should get out of NYU and go to Iran. People are miserable and the economy is months away from collapse.
Proud Persian people will prevail this time.

PB / December 12, 2009 8:33 AM

@Shahram:
I couldn't agree more, this regime is far more barbaric than the former (although in my opinion, the shah era wasn't as good as you describe). But in a revolution the chances of getting something even worse is too high, in my opinion.

About your last video. Mike Evans is a Christian fanatic (calling himself a Christian Zionist) who has written books about bombing Iran to peaces and solving the "Palestinian problem" (if you know what I mean). It has been proved by many historians that all his writings are based on fabricated or manipulated "evidence".

The only people believing in Mike Evans are people who WANTS TO believe in him. Like people wanting all muslims killed, or wanting to believe that the 1979 revolution was CIA's work (and shah was actually popular).

E4 / December 16, 2009 8:07 PM

No one said it was a CIA job. But it was a group effort. That is a given. Khomeini got a lot of support and money from the Americans, British and French all along.Didn't you see the 747, complement of the french government? I remember vividly when the American state department used to refer to him as Ghandi. I don't care about Evans in particular , but when you put all the facts together they add up parallel to our own experience in Iran. I was right in the middle of it. I don't need anyone to tell me what went on in the streets.The Shah like any other leader in Iran was a function of time and due to Iranian character. We make them into Gods and then destroy them as devils.You can see that in our everyday behavior.We lie, we exaggerate and point fingers.We are all know it all.I lived the Pahlavi era and they were some of the greatest days of my life. We lived a good and care free life.Peple made good money too. Did we have problems? Certainly. Who doesn't? But should we have shot ourselves in the foot trying to solve our problems? The truth is we did. It was a movement out of ignorance.We went into the streets as copy cats and not because we believed in any thing like these communists here pretend it.What kind of people trade a secular and modern government with a backward archaic kind? The answer,People who saw Khomeini's picture on the moon, saw strands of his hair between the pages of their Koran.People who believed the money from oil would be divided amongst them once a month for the rest of their lives. They had no idea if you took the entire oil revenue and divided it into the number of the population it would not amount to anything. Yet, they believed their electricity and services would be free. Heaven on earth, sit at home and get paid. Just as what these communists promised the working class.Just like the preacher on T.V.,"buy my $5 Green prayer cloth and everything will be alright, in Jesus name". We turned our country over to the most premitive segment of our society under the banner of Islam. Would you like Islamic Republic? Yes or No. Green slip for yes and red for No. we followed through just like sheep.A year later, we were fighting to get our country back and the rest is history. Dear friend, our generation and the generations that followed after us were sacrificed in the name of cheap energy resource for the West and friends of the West.Our parents didn't know any better however, you are blessed with knowledge gained from years of bitter experience. Use it wisely. Question everything and refuse to dance at the end of anyone's rope.Go and get them.Pirooz va Payandeh bashid.

Shahram / December 17, 2009 1:45 AM

At the end, everyone stick to his/her opinion and at the most of the time most of the people never change their mind. But the point is what is the opinion of the majority of people in Iran. I think they would be in favor of the panel.

bahman / December 24, 2009 10:41 AM