From A World to Win News Service

Student Protests Spark Upheaval in Iran

Revolutionary Worker #1207, July 20, 2003, posted at

Editors' Note: The two articles from A World to Win News Service on these pages report on the upsurge of protest by students and others that rocked Iran's fundamentalist regime in June. According to news reports, the Iranian government arrested over 4,000 people during the June upheaval--and most are still in jail.

More recently, as the July 8-9 anniversary of the large student uprisings in 1999 approached, the regime shut down Tehran university--the hub of the protests in June--and arrested student leaders. Police helicopters patrolled the city, as undercover police and reactionary para-military thugs roamed the streets to clamp down on renewed protests. Still, hundreds of students reportedly clashed in the streets of Tehran with police and para-military forces.

23 June 2003. A World to Win News Service. The movement that began with student protests at Tehran University last week has spread to at least nine other Iranian cities and become a general upheaval rocking Iran on a scale not seen in a generation. Students are planning another major round of demonstrations on 8 July, the anniversary of a student uprising four years ago that marked the beginning of a changing mood in Iran. This time many people are out to bring down the religious tyranny once and for all. As one student put it, "We are not risking our lives here for reforming this murderous system. We want a complete overthrow of the Islamic Republic." As street actions spread to other areas of the country and social classes, on 20 June a leading mullah called for death sentences against those arrested.

The upsurge began 10 June when only a few dozen students staged a protest on the University of Tehran campus against plans to privatize the public universities. Their numbers grew to around 150 as they left the campus. Marching through "University Alley," they started to chant anti-regime slogans. Almost immediately they were attacked by the regime's Hezbollah paramilitary thugs, and undercover police and anti-insurgency forces. Instead of being intimidated, the students fought back, engaging in running skirmishes with their attackers. The students were surprised and delighted when very quickly local residents came out of their houses. Telephones started ringing in different corners of the city to inform others that the students at the University of Tehran needed help. Cars started blowing their horns and moving towards the university. Thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands, joined in the protests. The regime's so-called Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) tried to block the streets that led to the university campus, but they and the Hezbollah were surrounded by the determined students and people in general. The students chanted, "People, People, Support Us"; and the people chanted, "Students, Students, We Support You" and "Students, People, Fight the Regime." The two sides built barricades and joined forces. Tremendous unity and street fighting ensued. The Hezbollah ran, seeking to escape through alleys and passageways whilst being chased by the people. Many of them received a real beating from the masses. The clashes continued for eight full hours. According to the official report, 80 students were arrested.

A statement issued by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) reported that the protesters' slogans targeted the whole regime and all its factions. They included "Down with the Islamic Republic, Death to Khamenei" (the "Supreme Leader" of the Islamic Republic), "Khatami, Damn your Deception" (referring to Iranian President Khatami, a reformist elected several years ago who millions now feel has failed to change anything), "Molotov cocktails today, burning mullahs tomorrow" (the mullahs are the religious tyrants who rule Iran) and "People stand up, Iran has become Palestine."

Many cars and motorcycles belonging to the repressive forces were set on fire; banks and state buildings were attacked and damaged in anger at the state.

The following day, there was apparent calm during daylight hours but the students and people were preparing for a second night. The protests started again, and clashes continued until the morning. This time the outpouring of the people was like the upsurge following the victory of Iran's football team in the international games. The highways were full of cars honking and running their windshield wipers as a sign of joy and celebration of the good fight going on against the regime. People felt a tremendous sense of unity and joy.

The fighting was heavy around the campus. The students occupied the area around their residence halls and entrenched themselves. The Hezbollah and Guards attacked with their motorcycle cavalry. The students had to retreat inside the residence halls, but they counter-attacked and the Hezbollah and Guards went on the run. Whilst running away many of them were grabbed and beaten by people hidden in the alleys waiting for them. Three of the Hezbollah were arrested and detained by the students, who announced that they would hold them prisoner and only let them go in return for the release of all those arrested the previous night. Many students and people entrenched themselves on the rooftops overlooking the areas of fighting and threw Molotov cocktails on the Guards and Hezbollah below. People also came out from their houses to feed the students.

This movement has many good qualities. It is completely out of the control of the students' grouping called "The Office of Consolidation of Unity--The Associations of Islamic Students," which is the student arm of the "reform faction" of the Islamic Republic of Iran (pro-Khatami). The Association of Islamic Students' slogans for the student movement are: 1) Be reformist and not revolutionary--i.e. call for reforms within the Islamic Republic framework. 2) Use peaceful means and not violence. Raising arms against arms is bad! 3) Do not step off the campus, but carry out sit-ins and demos on campus--i.e. do not galvanize the masses. Recently these Islamic Student Associations praised the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq by the U.S.-British forces and called for similar action from the U.S. to remove the "dominant faction of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The pro-Khatami forces were very cool towards this new round of protests, which is a good sign. Another pro-U.S. student grouping that had split from the Islamic Association several years ago has also not been very enthusiastic towards these violent protests.

The militant students have succeeded in pulling themselves out from under the political and ideological influence of the Islamic Associations. Now the challenge is to fight to establish a clear anti-U.S. imperialist position. The fact that the Islamic Associations' student groupings are showing pro-U.S. signs will have a good effect on the majority of the students, that is, it will help them distance themselves from all the U.S.'s calls for regime change in Iran and to understand that the U.S. is not trying to save anything but the reactionary state system in Iran. It is significant that the university privatization scheme that was the student protesters' initial target is exactly the kind of "reform" associated with pro-U.S. forces.

Students in Isfahan and Shiraz took to the streets as soon as they heard about the Tehran events. A Basij (pro-government paramilitary) stabbed a student to death in the latter city. By 17 June, protest actions were also reported in Awaz, Mashhad, Kerman, Kermanshahr and Tabriz. Ten police are said to gave been injured in clashes in Hamedan. In Karaj, according to an e-mail sent to BBC, "People were loading up trucks full of bricks and would throw them at police... Women and young girls took off their scarves and chanted very dirty slogans against this savage regime."

An e-mail from Tehran reported the following: "Today a lot of women have gathered around the front gate of Tehran University and they've taken off their scarves in the demonstration. They've been severely beaten with chains... I broke down in tears when I heard this... They're beating the students on the streets. They're stabbing them with knives. This violence is actually taking place on the streets of Tehran... but you know these students outnumber the Hezbollah by millions... They have the masses on their side."

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