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Panelists get first-hand look into Iran protests

A panel of eyewitnesses and participants met Thursday to discuss Iran’s 2009 contested elections.

History professor and director of the Middle Eastern studies program Houri Berberian organized the event to inform Cal State Long Beach students and give them a first-hand account of the political events that recently occurred in Iran.

Vahid Niayesh, Master of Arts candidate in the political science department, presented his latest work, which focuses on collective action, democracy and, more specifically, the reasons behind the Iranian protests compared to the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Niayesh said he noticed that the current Iranian government was losing its hegemony just like the Shah did in 1979.

Maral Sahebjame, Master of Arts candidate in the anthropology department, was in Iran over the summer to do research and witnessed the protests.

“Mousavi support came from all walks of life,” Sahebjame said.

She said she had relatives who had never before voted in the Islamic Republic but voted this year because Mir Hossein Mousavi brought hope for reform.

Sahebjame also said she saw a sense of unity while she was in Iran.

“I was everyone’s sister,” she said.

But along with the excitement and hope for change came uncertainty.

“People were not certain if the next day they’d wake up to political chaos or not,” she said.

The anti-protest movement’s claim was that supporting Mousavi called for the collapse of the Islamic Republic, which Sahebjame said was not the feeling she had while witnessing the protest. None of the slogans ever encouraged the fall of the Islamic Republic, she said.

Sahebjame said she did see determination among the younger generation in Iran to make things better for themselves.

“They will fight for the freedom and democracy that they want,” Sahebjame said. “No one knows what’s best for the Iranians better than the Iranians themselves.”

Professor Afshin Matin-Asgari, associate professor of history and religious studies at Cal State Los Angeles and author of the book “Iranian Student Opposition to the Shah,” has been to Iran three times since last December and said his impressions were very different each time.

He said that in December, “It was like the country was dead politically.”

But from Matin-Asgari’s experience and knowledge about Iran, “There’s a very strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction opposition grievance and it could blow up, and it’s exactly what happened,” Matin-Asgari said.

The unpredictable moment came when close to 2 million people poured into the streets, half of whom were women.

“I waited 30 years to see this day,” Matin-Asgari said.

In 1979, the revolution wasn’t religion-based or lead by the clerics, but was an opposition to the Shah’s repressive regime backed by the U.S., Matin-Asgari said, adding that religion was a factor, but not predominantly.

The slogan leading the revolution was, “Freedom, independence and the Islamic Republic,” and while the first two notions made sense, defining an “Islamic Republic,” Matin-Asgari said, was unclear at the time.

It turned out to be “the outcome of intense struggles. A mini civil war was fought in Iran and a reign of terror imposed in the middle of the hostage crisis,” he said, along with “a war with Iraq, which defined what an Islamic Republic was going to be.”

Iran was able to assert its independence. Freedom was not given to its people, but rather “the Islamic Republic was very repressive and remains so,” Matin-Asgari said.

Mousavi said what he wanted to accomplish would take place in the legal and constitutional framework of the Islamic Republic.

“The question is, can any significant change happen within that framework?” Matin-Asgari said.

Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani, Master of Arts candidate in the history department, is focusing on contemporary Iranian history and politics.

He has written numerous opinion pieces on Iran for the Daily 49er and also witnessed the post-election turmoil. He attended Neda Agha-Soltan’s 40th remembrance day of her death and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.

Agha-Soltan became the face of the Iranian protest when she was shot in the heart while protesting and died on the street. Her death was captured on a cellular phone and posted on YouTube.

Zarrabi-Kashani took the Metro to join those who were going to the cemetery where Agha-Soltan was buried. He said head nods between people on the Metro was a silent affirmation of their common destination.

“It was really something to see the camaraderie,” Zarrabi-Kashani said.

Hossein Rohani, a junior biology major, felt the media failed to accurately portray the social components of the protests and believes the panel gave a better description of what really happened.

Sophea Chum, a senior liberal studies major, attended the panel for her anthropology class and said it was her desire to know more about the world that spiked her interest in the panel.

Chum said, “It was nice to hear the raw truth cause they had the first-hand experience.” 

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