The short-lived euphoria of Tehran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the pro-engagement circles in Washington, over the December 3 bombshell release of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, was short-lived.
Ahmadinejad, who had early on hastily described the report as “Iran’s greatest victory in the past century,” was later on the retreat when many of the regime’s officials, who had a more sober reading of the report, sounded alarm.
The former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, a close foreign affairs advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, warned that “if we are going to have a celebration carnival, we’d better realize that the report asserts that we have had a nuclear weapons program.” Still, the strongest rebuke to Ahmadinejad’s exhilaration and back to back boost to the democracy movement came last week.
Early in the week, despite extraordinary measures by the State Security Forces and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), more than 3,000 Tehran University students staged an anti-government protest. The occasion for the protest was the National Student Day. Its target, however, was the entirety of the ruling regime.
The security forces cordoned off the Tehran University campus, which is in the heart of crowded downtown Tehran, from adjacent streets by two-story public transportation buses. This ploy was put in place after the 1999 student-led uprising attracted thousands of ordinary citizens who rushed to the university campus in support of students. Hundreds of the Sates Security Forces in full anti-riot gear and supported by multitude of other security and intelligence agencies, had circled the campus. In the preceding days, the MOIS agents carried out several sweeping operations inside the campus to thwart any pre-rally meetings or gatherings. The day before the rally, in an implicit admission to the organized nature of these anti-government protests, MOIS agents arrested more than half a dozen students, saying that they were planning to organize rallies upon the order of “anti-regime” organizations.
None of these measures proved effective, however. In the mid day, with hundreds of students protesting inside the campus and shouting “death to dictator” and “no fascism,” hundreds of students from other universities were blocked by the security agents at the university’s gates. That did not last long. Students crushed the huge gate and rammed through it to join those inside. Before long, the chants of “Down with the fascist regime,” “Death to this deceitful government,” and “Live free or die” were heard all over the campus and beyond.
The vociferous protest also drew a sharp line between these students and some state-sponsored student organizations which, under of the banner of peace, work to derail the movement for democratic change when they shouted “yes to peace, no to fascism,” and “students would rather die than live under suppression.” In clear and uncompromising statements, the students showed that genuine peace could only be brought about with rejection of the religious dictatorship.
While the Student Day demonstrations may not have been comparable with the size of the 1999 six-day student protests, given the heightened systematic suppression of the democracy movement during the presidency of Ahmadinejad and the ascendancy of the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guards to all centers of power, these rallies speak volumes about the strength and perseverance of the anti-regime student movement.
Last December, when students of Tehran’s Polytechnic University — a bastion of pro-democracy student movement — set Ahmadinejad’s photos on fire right in front of him, a new surge of energy was injected into the student movement. Since then, university campuses have been the scene of protests calling for democratic change, targeting the entire theocratic regime. In Iran, where the universities have always been a true barometer of population sentiments, these rallies clearly expose the utter isolation of the regime.
Reflecting the mullahs’ fear of the enemy within, Newsweek reported last May that “In the name of national security and what they call ‘public order,’ Iran's hard-liners are frantically lashing out at anyone they imagine might somehow pose a challenge to their increasingly unpopular rule.” It added that the mullahs are “especially fearful of feminists, trade unionists and the like.”
In a major anti-government demonstration in May, students retorted back at Ahmadinejad's earlier statement that Iran's nuclear program was like a train "without brakes and a rear gear." The students shouted that in fact it was Iran's movement for democratic change that "is like a train without brakes or reverse gear." Indeed, the series of anti-government demonstrations in the past year reveal a regime gripped in the existential fear of its own people and the democracy movement.
Still, the democracy movement comprised of anti-regime student, women, and labor groups, suffers from a strategic handicap. In the summer of 2003, in the midst of a huge anti-government student-led uprising, a European diplomat told Reuters that ''The pent-up anger is still there, beneath the surface. But for it to seriously take off you need a catalyst … you need organization and leadership.'' And this is where the democracy movement received a major boost last week when the United Kingdom’s Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission (POAC) reaffirmed its November 30 ruling that the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), Iran’s largest and best organized opposition group, should be removed from the UK’s blacklist.
The POAC swiftly rejected the British government’s appeal for the reversal of the ruling. It seems that even after last year’s humiliation in the hands of Tehran regime which took British sailors hostage, Prime Minister Brown’s government is still trying to be at ayatollahs’ good graces.
Statements coming from Tehran about the role of MEK's network inside Iran in fomenting the protest rallies by students, women and laborers, and ayatollahs’ constant demands from its foreign interlocutors to expel, disband, or dismantle the MEK, are a testament to the key role this organization has, and continues to play in Iran’s democracy movement and its contribution to a unified, democratic, and stable Iraq.
Jean Lure, the Africa-Asia Monthly’s correspondent, reported from Tehran last summer that “The Iranian rulers are very concerned and alarmed. Not because of unfeasible foreign military attack but because of peoples’ support for Mujahedin-e Khalq. Today, MEK is highly capable of attracting the young people born and raised after the revolution.”
A large number of members of the British House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as a large bipartisan number of members of the United States Congress are loudly critical of London and Washington for insisting on the appeasement-inspired blacklisting of the MEK, to the benefit of the tyrant ayatollahs and the detriment of Iran’s democracy movement.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.