Thirty one years have passed since the eventful days of February 1979, when millions of Iranians took to the streets and overthrew the shah, marking the success of 20th century’s last great revolution. But since its victory, the revolution has gone off track; so much so that one can say that in today’s Iran, the crown has been replaced by the turban, the despotic king with a religious dictator.
In the past three decades, show trials, mass executions, the systematic murder of intellectuals, suppression of free speech and the free press, and a perpetual conflict with the rest of the world have been the defining features of life in Iran. Occasional glimpses of hope, like the presidency of a reformist in the 1990s, have been violently crushed.
More than 70 percent of the current population was born in such circumstances. They constitute a generation in whom fear has been instilled from a young age; fear of a government which kidnaps, tortures and kills its citizens without the slightest regard for its own constitution; fear of military aggression by countries near and far; fear of being cut off from the outside and missing out on the modern world.
THIS FEAR had put the majority of people in a state of despair. Feeling isolated and defeated, most Iranians watched as the more radical and fanatical elements of the clerical regime consolidated their rule.
While the majority were watching their country descend into the abyss, individuals and activists kept the struggle for justice and freedom alive. In very subtle ways, they prepared the ground for the eventual awakening.
Women, who make up 65 percent of university students, demanded their rights as equal citizens. They set out to collect a million signatures to draw attention to the draconian laws against women. Shirin Ebadi, who was part of these efforts, won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in promoting “democracy and human rights,” especially women’s and children’s rights.
Iranian bloggers, who trail only their American and Chinese counterparts in number, took full advantage of the government’s inability to fully control this medium, making it into the main tool for developing a road map for a modern, pluralistic, forward-looking Iran.
The desperate military crackdown orchestrated by the regime immediately after the rigged June 2009 presidential election provided the necessary spark for awakening the masses. Hundred of thousands of people took to the streets of Teheran on June 16 – four days after the results were announced – in a silent march, protesting the grotesque violation of their rights. They, and everybody watching them, felt with all their senses that they were not alone.
The march represented the moment in the history of the Islamic Republic
when the population stopped being afraid of the regime. In an instant,
the main obstacle to change, and the regime’s main control tool,
vanished. It is thus with confidence that today Iranians declare that
the days of this government are numbered. For as Iran’s history has
shown, when the population opens its eyes, no amount of intimidation,
torture or killing can shut them.
We have long known that the price of transforming Iran peacefully is a
sacrifice of the highest order. Many will be lost along the way.
Iranians of all ages and walks of life, in all corners of the world,
will be taking to the streets on the 31st anniversary of a revolution
gone astray – to declare once more that we are ready to pay the
ultimate price.The writer’s name has been changed to protect his identity.