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Tehran University: A glimpse inside the protests

by CORRESPONDENT in Tehran

14 Dec 2009 01:368 Comments
Basijcard.jpg[ dispatch ] The University of Tehran has been in turmoil for nearly a week now. And this is saying a lot about a school that has been plagued by turmoil for the past decade, and in fact for much of its modern history.

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

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8 Comments

They can take their Islam and shove it.We want our country back. We want democracy and secularism.

Traneh / December 14, 2009 7:24 AM

Universities are the one place where it is easy to sort out the wheat from the chaff and the regime is finding it difficult to infiltrate their
ideologues and ignorant goons.As if a blood-stained ogre were to try and succeed in mingling with the guests of a wedding party. Students are far to clever and can take the measure of a professor even slightly unsure of his subject.Irans students are getting an education in living history which will last them a lifetime.The face of tyranny.

pirooz / December 14, 2009 8:30 AM

Really sad. Tehran University is FREE to qualified students, yet the students feel the need to put politics ahead of their studies, and protest.

While here at the University of California and Cal State Universities, students protest the exorbitant tuition and fee hikes that are rapidly making higher education a privilege of the wealthier class.

Pirouz / December 14, 2009 5:30 PM

@Priouz: I think they have more important things to deal with than "free education". what good is an education when you have to avenue to actually use it? If you were in their shoes, your priorities would be different. Don't compare Tehran University to Cal Berkeley.

DC / December 14, 2009 8:46 PM

@Pirouz: So when the students in 1979 protested, it was wrong?

All over the world there exists free universities, and everywhere the students are political active, also on the universities! If the universities are politics-free, why is there filled up with non-student basijis?

Heidar / December 15, 2009 9:10 PM

@Priouz: Wow, that one of the most ignorant comments I have ever seen posted on here. What is truly sad is that students who have never struggled a day in their life occupy buildings and block streets, for an issues they barely know anything about, (Lets face it, how many students actually know about California's and the UC's finances, I know its not a sexy subject but for God's sake before you open your mouth how bout studying what you are protesting!) while real life people across the world risk their very lives to oppose the brutal Theocratic thuggary of the Mullah's. These twenty year olds were recognizing the murder of their fellow students, when was the last time you did anything that meaningful?

Ryan / December 17, 2009 3:26 AM

@Ryan I don't think the students at UC Berkley don't understand that the budget choice made will raise their cost of education. Personally I don't see the problem with having them protest that, it in does in fact make sense. It in fact makes a lot more sense than a bunch of students holding a sit-in in the University President's office, until someone does something about "The War" (take your pick.) Hell I'd like to see students also protesting the rising costs associated with utilities, (30% in Washington state for the past 5 years, and another 30% for electricity over the next 2 years,) which can be directly linked to Enron and how they completely left everyone else holding the bag as they made off with $100 Billion or so of our dollars, if not more.

So while comparing Tehran University to UC Berkley is Apples to Oranges for sure, saying those students at UC Berkley are going to far, just because a large number of them will not be able to afford school there next year, is really far off base.
Many of those kids will not be able to return, and will not be able to acquire the educational level to pay off the debts they have acquired since starting school. So it seems to me they are doing exactly the right thing.

99999999 / December 17, 2009 4:19 PM

In order for Iran to ever have a chance of throwing out the Mullahs, there can be no interference from the West. The average Iranian must believe that the efforts made by these students and other reformists are "homegrown" and not part of some elaborate Western scheme. This process will no doubt be very difficult, and a long struggle, but if we in the West really wish for the people of Iran to be free it must be done from within. It is natural for people to feel obligated to help the Iranian people, but interference from the West will only strengthen the power of the Mullahs, as they will use this to convince their subjects that they are in a fight against the tyranny of the West, which they are already doing. I wish I knew of some way we could help these students, but perhaps the best help we can provide is to stay out of it.

Barge / December 19, 2009 11:51 AM