Tehran University: A glimpse inside the protests
by CORRESPONDENT in Tehran
14 Dec 2009 01:36
On the morning of Dec. 7, the faculty of engineering (where in 1953 three students were killed and in whose honor 16 Azar is celebrated every year), was occupied by forces calling themselves Basijis, all carrying this card inviting the Basij to a gathering to celebrate the Shia holiday of Eidul Ghadr.
The problem, however, is that by Shia tradition, every celebration is held before the holiday itself. So, since Ghadr was on Sunday, the celebrations should have been held before it -- not after. Having apparently forgotten the Shiism they claim to know so well and to solely represent, the Basijis were busy with "festivities" on both Monday and Tuesday as well.
Furthermore, as almost everyone here at the university will tell you, these Basijis looked more like bodybuilders than Basijis previously ever seen at the school. That is why, as the day went on, the wave of student protests grew as they tried to "conquer" their school and were met with resistance from Basiji forces stationed inside.
For hours there was a relatively non-violent tug of war as students tried to take control of the university. In this battle, the students were finally able to take back their faculty, at least on a temporary basis. Sometime in the afternoon though, the now infamous photo was ripped. According to government supporters, it was torn by students, but they have been unable to offer any proof of this so far.
According to some reports, dozens of students were arrested and violent confrontations followed. So for yet another day, long after 18 Tir (July 9, 1999), and June 15, 2009, when militias attacked dormitories, the students were again under militia assault. That is why students have refused to attend classes ever since and are demanding the resignation of Farhad Rahbar, the university president who is most likely responsible for giving the go-ahead to the militias on the night of June 15.
However, not going to class may fit in nicely with a narrative that some in the government have to shut down school. At the same time, in some faculties, this agenda is being pushed by students who themselves have questionable ties. Here I need to strongly distinguish between student efforts to hold a strike and canceling classes. While the former may actually prove beneficial, the latter may backfire as pro-government forces have pushed hard to close down the schools in the past few months.
But this trend to cancel classes began in at least one of the faculties. Tuesday, the day after 16 Azar, an email was forwarded to the entire undergraduate student body at the faculty. The email states: "I have taken out the names for the sake of privacy, but I can verify that these are indeed emails exchanged by the faculty's Basij." In the email attachment, there is a series of conversations (the authenticity of which is not at all verifiable). They state, "We must not allow students to cancel classes as this will mean a great failure for us [the Basij]" and "We must force students to attend classes."
This email has been the main driving force behind getting students to cancel classes. The students argue that because the Basij wants them to go to class, they must not go back. As the authenticity of these emails is not verified, it is not at all clear who sent this email or why. It is not even clear if the emails were a hoax or why we should believe them. Many of the students at the forefront of this cancellation trend are those leaving Iran soon and the closing of schools will not affect their lives.
Canceling classes has also not helped add numbers to the student strikes, and may, in the long run, have detrimental effects for the students themselves.
It is still not clear where things will go from here, but more strikes are planned for tomorrow.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau