Iran UK protest 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Last month, a few short hours prior to the start of Nowruz, "New Day" in Farsi, US President Barack Obama released a special video message for all Iranians who celebrate the beginning of the new Persian Year. The speech did not go unnoticed. In the city of Mashhad, the Islamic Republic of Iran's supreme leader reacted with his own Nowruz speech asking: "Have you changed anything but your words? If your enmity against the Iranian nation has truly ended, have you released Iranian assets? Have you removed sanctions?" He concluded by saying that "the American officials and other people should know that it is impossible to deceive or intimidate the Iranian people."
But while American and Iranian leaders were busy sending diplomatic signals to each other; the people of Iran started the new year by signaling something else. They formed a new grassroots movement. Ma Hastim or "We Do Exist," began to spread in small cells across the country and make its voice heard.
Despite a heavy security presence, supposedly to protect the United Arab Emirates embassy, thousands of people showed up in Teheran. A much larger demonstration took place in Tabriz with nearly 100,000 demonstrators. The proposed slogan of Ma Hastim was coined to show to the UAE officials that Iranian people "do exist" and that they are willing to defend Iran's rights in the Persian Gulf.
The slogan seems to have struck a chord with the people and Ma Hastim quickly became the official name for a movement. Members and supporters began to write it on walls, passages, bridges and billboards. Pictures of these daubings started to appear on the Internet and on Channel One which broadcast back to Iran to encourage more people to join.
RECENT ACTIONS have become bolder. The pre-revolutionary Iranian flag - which symbolizes the rejection of the Islamic regime - was displayed along with the movement's slogan on pedestrian bridges, fences and walls in Teheran and other cities. Video clips of these actions were sent to and distributed by Channel 1 and YouTube.
Although it is too early to say what will become of this movement, its brave members have clearly made the point: The people can speak, the people do exist and the people should also have a say. The Islamic regime's lobbyists and apologists are trying to convince the new US administration to make a deal with the Islamic regime and ignore its opponents. But many Iranians would like to have their voice heard as well. The Obama administration will be well advised to listen to these voices - and not just to lobbyists who advocate a quick deal with the Islamic regime. For in spite of what they say about the opponents of the Islamic regime and the impact of exiles inside Iran, they "do exist" and their voice should not be ignored.
Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East and a co-founder of the CyberDissident project. Shayan Arya is an Iranian activist and a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran.