Iranian youth bring hope

BY SIMEON TALLEY | JUNE 25, 2009 7:21 AM

Every night in Tehran, Iran, you can hear people chanting from rooftops in unison “God is great” and “death to the dictator.” By day, people march, and face severe persecution and even death. What started off as protesting what many Iranians believed was a fraudulent election has become something much more.

What we’re seeing right now are many Iranians, led by mostly youth, challenging the very legitimacy of the political system. What we are reading on blogs or on Twitter or watching on CNN or YouTube are college students and women fighting for a more democratic, open, and equitable Iran.

Power cedes nothing voluntarily, and on June 12, Iranian officials reported that current-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a landslide re-election. On June 13, people took to the streets in protest. Huge crowds reaching up to 500,000 people (500,000!!) marched and protested. What became clear was that the opposition just wasn’t about a fraudulent election; what fueled the protest was discontent with not just political leaders but the political system itself.

The images have been especially powerful. Images of young Iranians being beaten and gassed by military forces and images of thousands of people demonstrating peacefully leave an indelible impression. The video of a woman named Neda Agha Sultan being shot and dying on the street sears the conscience. The images are horrific, yet they show the courage that many Iranians have and the sacrifice many are making.

So where does Iran go from here? What will happen next?

The size and scope of the protests may be waning as security forces step up their efforts, but it does not take away the tension that this election exposed. There are many Iranians, across many parts of Iranian society, who have serious misgivings about the way things are politically or economically. Iran’s politics are complex and layered; it has had episodic protests and attempts at reform since 1979, but the Islamic Republic has remained largely the same for 30 years.

But this time feels different. What young Iranians have done this time has opened up space for a new Iran — an Iran that will be more democratic. Possibly an Iran that slowly and gradually grants more freedoms to women. After all is said and done, whoever is in power, Iran will be different. For Iran to survive in the 21st century, it will have to be.

There are interesting developments that lead one to have optimism. There are already a prominent organization of clerics that have voiced their belief that the election was a fraud. Yet politicians will be politicians and will cut deals when needed. What is most promising is that all along, it has been young people who organized, voted, and are now demonstrating at the threat of losing their lives who are driving change and driving others to change. It has been the tweets, the texts, and the videos of young Iranians that have allowed for this story to be told to the world.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” There are people in Iran bending, tugging, and leaning on that arc right now. We are not going to see a secular democracy or a Jeffersonian democracy come to form in Iran. But when we look back, we just might be able to say that those young people changed the world.

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