Accessibility links

Iran Report: April 18, 2005

18 April 2005, Volume 8, Number 16

ETHNIC UNREST IN SOUTHWEST IRAN SIGNALS BIGGER PROBLEMS. Rioting ethnic Arabs in the city of Ahvaz in southwestern Iran's Khuzestan Province clashed with security forces on 15 April. There are conflicting reports on the number of casualties and the reason for the clashes. Regardless of the specifics in this case, all the country's minorities -- Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, or Turkmen -- have grievances that relate to the regime's policies. If allowed to fester, ethnic problems could have serious repercussions for the regime.

"One person was shot during the unrest but not by our personnel," a provincial police official, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Colonel Hassan Assad Masjedi, said on 16 April, according to ISNA. "In the past few days, 137 people have been arrested for causing unrest in Ahvaz, and eight people have been injured."

Al-Arabiyah television reported on 16 April that three Arabs were killed.

An anonymous "informed source" cited by Baztab website said "tens" of people were killed and injured.

The unrest apparently was caused by outside agitators. On 15 April, Al-Jazeera quoted the irredentist Democratic Popular Movement for the Arab People of Ahvaz (al-Harakah al-Dimuqratiyah al-Sha'biyah li al-Sha'b al-Arabi al-Ahwazi), which demanded an end to what it called the Iranian "occupation" of Khuzestan. The movement accused the Iranian government of wanting to forcibly relocate the province's Arabs to other parts of the country.

The Baztab website accused Al-Arabiyah and Al-Jazeera of trying to inflame the situation by broadcasting this information. An anonymous provincial official quoted by Baztab attributed the unrest to the appearance on former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi's website of a letter that detailed governmental restrictions on the Arab minority (for a translation of the "letter," go to

The provincial governor-general, Gholamreza Shariati, also said on 15 April that the unrest is connected with the forged letter attributed to Abtahi, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 16 April that the alleged letter is a forgery, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami assigned investigation of the case to Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Supreme National Security Council, his spokesman added.

Abtahi himself denied writing the letter, IRNA reported. "Anyone who reads the letter will realize that such a decision, even if confirmed by the supreme leader or the Supreme National Security Council or the president, cannot be implemented in Iran," Abtahi wrote on his website. "I have never had the prerogative to order a change of demographic composition."

The Democratic Popular Movement for the Arab People of Ahvaz, which allegedly contributed to the 15 April unrest, is not the only Arab irredentist organization. The Ahwaz Arab Renaissance Party issued a notice on the website ( in early April that it blew up an oil pipeline from Ahvaz to Tehran. It claimed that this is part of its strategy to stop the Iranian government's oppression of Ahvaz's residents. Another irredentist group is the Ahwaz-Arabistan Online Network (

There are approximately 2.07 million ethnic Arabs in Iran (3 percent of the total population of 69 million). The irredentist groups allude to historical grievances, and they bemoan inadequate attention to their culture and language by state media. From an economic perspective, they claim they face discrimination in getting jobs, and they say that although much of Iran's oil wealth comes from Khuzestan Province, an inordinate share of that wealth goes to Tehran and other parts of the country.

Aside from the historical grievances, which are particular to the Arabs in the southwest, these problems are not theirs alone. Baluchis in the southeast complain about forced relocations, underdevelopment and unemployment, inadequate schools, and a lack of Sunni mosques. Kurds in the northwest complain about underdevelopment and the fact that their young people must travel to major cities in other parts of the country to look for work. Azeris complain that their Turkic language is abused by state broadcast media. All of these groups complain of job discrimination, and they complain that not enough of their co-ethnics have high-level jobs in the government.

Unemployment and underemployment are problems all Iranians, not just minorities, are contending with. Officially, unemployment is in the 11-13 percent range, and unofficially, it is in the 25 percent range. And the underdevelopment that groups in the periphery complain about is the direct result of a poorly managed economy that depends on oil revenues to stay afloat.

As the recent unrest in Ahvaz shows, it is unwise to dismiss minority grievances out of hand. The regime can crush dissent when it is localized and relatively small. But if sporadic incidents of ethnic unrest occurred across the country simultaneously, or if such incidents coincided with labor troubles and student demonstrations, then the regime would have its hands full. As recent campaign stops by presidential candidates show, politicians recognize the impact of the ethnic factor. (Bill Samii)

INTERNET POLL GIVES LEAD TO REFORMIST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati urged his congregation during the 15 April Friday prayers in Tehran that they should choose carefully when they vote in the upcoming presidential election, state radio reported. He described the desirable qualifications: "The candidate who will be elected should be strong enough to do this job. It is a heavy load to carry; and although there are some people in the government who know what they are doing, I still cannot believe that they have understood the depth of the problem to the extent that they can work out in what circumstances we are, what is the current situation, and how this situation will evolve in the future," he said.

Jannati said the ideal presidential candidate should be able to resolve the country's problems and have a good team working with him.

Jannati sounded very pessimistic. "This situation is unbearable," he said, according to state radio. "All this corruption and discrimination and all the problems that exist are unbearable. This inflation is unbearable." A recent report from the Iranian Central Bank says that inflation rose to 15.1 percent in the 11 months ending in 20 January, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 12 April.

It remains to be seen if Jannati will be happy with the ultimate victor. As of 15 April, former speaker of parliament and prospective reformist presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi had received 40 percent of the almost 16,000 votes cast in a poll on the Tabriz Medical University students' website ( Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani received 29 percent, former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani 11 percent, former Education Minister Mustafa Moin 9 percent, and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati 8 percent. The first stage of the poll will continue until 20 April, and a new poll will begin on 21 April and end on 5 April.

It has yet to be determined whether Hashemi-Rafsanjani will even be a candidate. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 12 April in Isfahan that he will decide within three weeks whether to launch a presidential bid, IRNA reported. He said he will serve if he must, but added that he prefers to see new people leading the country. Three days later, Hashemi-Rafsanjani told reporters in Tehran, "I have not made a definite decision yet, but my candidacy is more definite now," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. (Bill Samii)

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE OPPOSES FACTIONALISM. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who headed the national police force from June 2000 until his retirement in the first week of April, launched his presidential campaign on 11 April, Mehr News Agency reported. Qalibaf said he sees no impediments to the restoration of relations with the United States, adding that discord with Washington is no excuse for the country's difficulties. He said the United States and other countries are not responsible for mismanagement and other issues.

Qalibaf defended Tehran's stand on the nuclear issue, saying the country should pursue nuclear technology while gaining the international community's confidence regarding the program's peaceful nature. Iran should not submit to pressure, he said.

Qalibaf also said he would choose his cabinet on the basis of merit and expertise, and he expressed confidence in the country's youth. Qalibaf identified drugs, prostitution, and hooliganism as society's biggest problems and said violence is not the solution.

Turning to the economy, Qalibaf advocated privatization and said state subsidies should be better targeted. He said fighting unemployment would top his agenda, and he pledged to create jobs, control inflation, and boost purchasing power.

In Khorasan on 9 April, Qalibaf said that, although he believes in fundamentals, he is not a right-winger, the Iranian Labor news Agency (ILNA) reported. He called for a clean campaign and said he would not resort to mudslinging. He said factionalism should be avoided in national policy-making and management. (Bill Samii)

PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL DISMISSES CONCERNS OVER MILITARY BACKGROUND. Prospective presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, who commanded the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps from 1981-97, said on 13 April that candidates with military backgrounds can run the country and contribute to national security, ISNA reported. Rezai dismissed critics of his military background as prejudiced or ignorant. "My political ideas are rooted in my deep belief in democracy, and I left the military when I decided to take part in political activities," Rezai said.

The concerns about the possible militarization of the political process come on the eve of Iran's Military (Artesh) Day, which is marked on 29 Farvardin (this year, 18 April). The grandson of Islamic republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Hojatoleslam Hassan Khomeini, met with senior military commanders at his grandfather's mausoleum on 14 April, ISNA reported the next day. He told them that the military should not interfere in politics. "The realm of politics has players of its own," Khomeini said. "When others are able to the job, the self-sacrificing aspect of the military personnel impels them to stay way from politics." This does not mean, he added, that the armed forces should be distinct and apart from the people.

At the same event, Major General Mohammad Salimi, commander of the regular armed forces, emphasized the importance of the military's connection with the public, Fars News Agency reported. "The military holds a place in the hearts and minds of the people and enjoys the huge backing of 60 million people, and this, in terms of fighting capabilities, has made the military invincible," Salimi said. (Bill Samii)

AUTHORITIES CONFISCATE SATELLITE DISHES. Radio Farda reported on 14 April that whenever there is a political crisis in Iran, the state makes access to free and independent news sources more difficult. The authorities recently initiated a roundup of satellite dishes, banned by law, in Tehran, Markazi Province (literally "Central" Province). The dishes were thrown from their rooftop perches and the owners were fined. Radio Farda linked these developments with the pending presidential election, which is scheduled for 17 June. (Bill Samii)

ONE CORRESPONDENT IS DISMISSED AND ANOTHER GETS JAIL SENTENCE. Iranian Azeri activist Farzad Samadli was fired from his job with Iranian state television for describing the regime's Persianization policies, according to a 15 April statement from the National Federation of Swedish Azerbaijanis ( This is allegedly because Samadli said, in an 11 April interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, that 60 islands in Lake Urumiyeh (Western Azerbaijan Province) have been given new Persian names. The renaming is based on a decision by the Education Ministry.

The reformist "Sharq" newspaper reported that the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization has condemned the recent spate of court summonses for Kurdish journalists, according to "Iran News" on 17 April.

A Tehran court has upheld the sentence of three years in prison and a fine of 10 million rials ($1,265) given to "Donya-yi Film" (World of Film) magazine correspondent Amir Ezati for acting against national security, ISNA reported on 9 April, quoting Ezati's unnamed lawyer. Ezati is free on a bail of 50 million rials ($6,329) while the lawyer appeals the verdict. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REJECTS URANIUM-SMUGGLING ALLEGATIONS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 13 April that a Reuters report one day earlier suggesting possible uranium smuggling in Iran is untrue, state radio, ILNA, and Mehr News Agency reported.

Anonymous diplomats were quoted by the Reuters correspondent in Vienna -- where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is headquartered -- that the UN watchdog is inventorying processed uranium in Iran. The intelligence agency of an unnamed country believes that uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) was removed from the uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan and taken to an unknown location, Reuters reported. The IAEA has refused to comment, and a "senior official at another spy agency" questioned whether a large amount of uranium could be removed in light of IAEA monitoring and restrictions on the Iranian facility. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DEFENDS RIGHT TO NUCLEAR ENERGY. The United States wants to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council for its apparent disregard for its nuclear obligations, and Iran is pursuing all diplomatic efforts to avoid this happening. Denmark currently has a seat on the Security Council, so when the Danish foreign minister visited Tehran on 11 April, the nuclear issue was a major topic of discussion.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami defended Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy during a meeting on 11 April with Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller in Tehran, ISNA reported. Khatami said that right must remain untrammeled and that the issue must be confronted in a non-racist fashion. He offered a positive appraisal of negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the EU, and the international community, particularly regarding the use of nuclear energy. Khatami described Iran as one of the most stable countries in the Middle East and said a regional crisis is in no one's interest.

Moeller said the "expansion of Tehran-Copenhagen relations is of significant importance, as are associations between Tehran and the EU." He said every country has a right to decide how it wishes to produce its own energy, according to ISNA.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani told Moeller on 11 April that Iran is not interested in pursuing nuclear weapons, because this would divert from the country's 20-year development plan and because the supreme leader's religious decree against nuclear weapons is far more important than international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Mehr News Agency and IRNA reported. Rohani said Iran expects "practical and tangible security, political, and economic guarantees" from Europe, as well as "access to modern European technology."

The reassurances apparently satisfied Moeller. He has expressed confidence that Iran is not interested in nuclear weapons, "Berlingske Tidende" reported on 13 April. Moeller said he was reassured by what he heard during his visit to Tehran earlier in the week. "These were surprisingly positive and conciliatory signals they are sending," Moeller said. "They are completely different tones than the ones we heard from Iran last week." Khatami and Rohani visited several European capitals in early April. Moeller added that Khatami told him Iran does not want nuclear weapons. (Bill Samii, Said Khalaji)

RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS KHARRAZI. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseev on 11 April in Tehran to discuss developments in Central Asia and the Caucasus, IRNA reported. They discussed cooperation between Iran, Russia, China, and India and the possible reorganization of the United Nations as avenues to regional and global peace and stability. Kharrazi also urged more constructive efforts to resolve issues surrounding access to resources in the Caspian Sea for littoral states. Alekseev stressed the roles that Russia and Iran can play to ensure peace in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and he urged increased diplomatic cooperation between Moscow and Tehran. (Said Khalaji)

KHATAMI CRITICIZES MIDDLE EAST PEACE PLANS. Mohammad Khatami on 9 April denied reports from the previous day that he and Israeli President Moshe Katsav chatted and shook hands at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, state television reported. "No such meeting took place," he said. "As the world knows, we have a clear position with respect to Israel."

Khatami said the subject of Israel came up during his discussions with European leaders, and that he told them: "We cannot recognize Israel's legitimacy for ethical and logical reasons...[because] Israel has been formed based on bullying and occupation and recognizing it means approving of bullying and occupation as the basis for legitimacy." Khatami said that Iran will not interfere in Middle East peace plans but added that such plans are destined to fail because of alleged Israeli intransigence and lack of consideration for Palestinian rights.

Khatami also said the designer of the plans is unreliable. "America is by no means trustworthy," he added. "Neither the Palestinian nation nor the freedom-seekers in the world consider America as an impartial broker. They consider America as a true supporter of Israel. That is why we recommended that a more serious presence of other countries, Europe in particular, can improve this improper process." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN PLEADS GUILTY TO SENDING ARMS FROM U.S. Radio Farda reported on 14 April that businessman Ahmad Tavakolian pleaded guilty in Baltimore, Maryland, to trying to send parts for F-4 and F-14 fighter aircraft to Iran. He also pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges. Tavakolian was caught by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Tavakolian's son-in-law, Hussein Vaezi, is wanted in connection with the case, but is currently at large and believed to be in Iran. It is unclear if either man is connected with the Iranian government, Radio Farda reported. The U.S. government has expressed concern about the transfer of such technology to Iran.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested Rahim Bariek on 14 April at his home in Herndon, Virginia, for illegally transferring about $5 million to Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over a two-year period, "The Washington Post" reported on 16 April. The arrest is part of a sweep against hawala businesses that are suspected of aiding terrorist and illegal narcotics networks. Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the ICE Washington field office, said the main concern is money transfers to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AND SYRIA RESUME CONSULTATIONS. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is paying his second visit to Syria this month. On 14 April, he met with President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, Syria's SANA news agency and IRNA reported. They reportedly discussed Lebanese developments and an upcoming conference on Iraq in the Turkish city of Istanbul. They reportedly also discussed bilateral relations.

Kharrazi told reporters when he arrived in Damascus that the failure of Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami to form a government is a matter of great concern, IRNA reported. "The political vacuum in Lebanon does not serve the interest of Lebanon and the entire region," he said. "The friendly states should find a way out of the current situation." Kharrazi added that the current meeting is meant to prevent Israel's "taking advantage of the current situation in Lebanon," in IRNA's words.

UN Resolution 1559 calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. This is generally understood to mean Syrian forces that occupy the country. But there are Iranian personnel in Lebanon, too.

Approximately 2,000 members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps arrived in Lebanon in 1982, "The Washington Post" reported on 13 April. The daily quoted anonymous "U.S. and European officials" who said that most Iranian military personnel have left Lebanon, and the 12-50 who remain are military advisers and/or military attaches at the Iranian Embassy.

The Iranian Embassy in Beirut rejected this report, "The Daily Star" reported on 14 April. "This is false and ridiculous information," embassy spokesman Ebrahim Marchi said. "We have no troops in Lebanon."

The Syrian pullout is not very credible, either. The daily "Al-Seyassah" from Kuwait cites anonymous sources close to the Lebanese Interior Ministry who say that tens of thousands of Syrians, including 5,000 Syrian Secret Service personnel, were naturalized recently, "The Weekly Standard" reported on 15 April. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN YOUTH MOVEMENT HAS UNTAPPED POTENTIAL. After a July 1999 raid by police, plainclothes security personnel, and vigilantes on the Tehran University campus led to a week of violent unrest in Tehran, Tabriz, and other Iranian cities, some observers speculated that the end is nigh for the theocratic regime. Almost every occurrence of student unrest since then has been greeted eagerly by foreigners with political agendas and by Iranian exiles who anticipate the arrival of democracy in their country. At first glance, such anticipation is not misplaced. Students in many Third World or developing countries have a reputation for political activism, and with some 1.2 million Iranians studying in universities and approximately two-thirds of the population under the age of 30, young people are a sizable and potentially potent force. However, the Iranian student movement is not a unified entity determined to replace the regime with a democratic and secular government, and furthermore, its current level of activism is low.

Early Days Of Student Activism

The student movement in post-revolutionary Iran has gone through several phases, according to professor Ali Akbar Mahdi ("The Student Movement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 2 [November 1999]) and professor Mehrdad Mashayekhi ("The Revival of the Student Movement in Post-Revolutionary Iran," The International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol. 15, No. 2 [Winter 2001]).

In 1979, students were extensions of revolutionary groups and Iran's campuses were hotbeds of political activity. The most remarkable student action at that time was the takeover of the U.S. Embassy by the Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis.

The universities were shut down in June 1980 after regime efforts to purge and Islamicize them were met with resistance from secular and leftist students and teachers.

The universities reopened in 1982; prospective faculty had to pass an ideological exam, and prospective students had to show commitment to Islamic values and have a recommendation from their local mosque or a local religious leader. Quotas were created for members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the paramilitary Basij, and the government, as well as veterans and their family members, and they faced lower academic standards.

Simultaneously, new Islamic associations, such as the University Jihad and the Student Basij, were created to monitor on-campus political tendencies. The segregation of men and women and the snooping of students on each other contributed to on-campus tensions.

Emerging Unity

The universities serve as good places for political organization and mobilization. People can meet there in relative safety, and the campus environment provides means of communication and informal social networks. There are almost 90 state universities and approximately 120 Islamic Azad Universities, Mashayekhi notes.

What is currently the best known student organization, the Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, DTV), emerged after a September 1979 meeting of Islamic Student Associations. As of late 1999, Mahdi writes, the DTV had 50 voting member associations from state universities and 30 nonvoting ones from the Islamic Azad University system. The associations in this latter group are closely controlled by the state.

Encouraged by top state officials worried about the increasing radicalism of the DTV, a student named Heshmatollah Tabarzadi joined the organization. His actions within the DTV council led to the creation of two factions -- a leftist one and Tabarzadi's more conservative faction, which became active in 1983. In 1987 Tabarzadi broke with the DTV completely and created the Islamic Union of Associations of University Students and Higher Education Centers (aka the Tabarzadi Group).

Iran's new supreme leader and president -- Ayatollahs Ali Khamenei and Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, respectively -- tried to reduce the number of radical individuals in the state apparatus and to stabilize the political system in the early 1990s. The Tabarzadi Group reacted in 1994, Mahdi writes, by making unspecified accusations against Hashemi-Rafsanjani's family and the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation, a powerful parastatal economic entity. This was unwise, as the foundation owned the Tabarzadi Group's office and evicted the group. The Office of the supreme leader terminated its connection with Tabarzadi, and he was banned from editing his organization's publication for five years.

Wind In The Sails

The number of students who returned to the universities after they reopened in 1982 was only 117,148 -- fewer than before the revolution. But the numbers began to climb, Mahdi writes, and by May 1997 there were approximately 1.15 million people in universities and institutions of higher education. Many students were alienated and disillusioned because they faced high inflation and poor job prospects. The exodus of educated Iranians to other countries -- the brain drain -- is a direct consequence of unemployment and hopelessness, according to Mashayekhi.

These sentiments, which were shared by males and females, coincided with the political activism of reformist and centrist political organizations -- including the DTV -- that were unhappy with current state policies. The DTV originally backed former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi in the 1997 presidential election, but he refused to run and instead they supported Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, the eventual victor. Tabarzadi, meanwhile, encouraged the creation of three new student organizations, and by 1999 he was a Khatami supporter.

Conservative legislators reacted to the students' support for Khatami by passing a bill in October 1998 to establish a Basij unit in every university.

The Regime Cracks Down

Students expected President Khatami to support them after regime elements cracked down on demonstrators and their supporters in July 1999 by making mass arrests, holding secret trials, and later televising the "confessions" of alleged ringleaders. To the students' chagrin Khatami did not come to their defense, although his support for the official position might have averted more bloodshed.

The students demanded the dismissal of the national police chief and an accounting of the high-level officials they believed were behind the bloodshed. What they received instead was a show trial in which a handful of police officers were found guilty of misconduct. Contributing to the students' disillusionment with Khatami and the mainstream reformist organizations was admonitions of patience and promotion of a policy called "active calm" or "dynamic tranquility" in the run-up to February 2000 parliamentary elections. Youthful frustration with the "active calm" policy was clear during the summer of 2000 and especially after August violence at a student gathering in Khoramabad.

In early 2002, the DTV underwent a serious rupture. The majority wing wanted to withdraw from mainstream politics, whereas the minority wing preferred to continue its support for Khatami. In early 2003, furthermore, majority wing member Said Razavi Faqih said the organization should change its name to the Office for Fostering Democracy. This situation persisted until May 2004, when members of the two factions held lengthy discussions that were followed by voting for members of a new central council. The individuals elected to leadership positions, "Sharq" daily reported on 6 June, were veterans of the student movement "who are well past their student years and student characteristics."

The students have given Khatami a rough reception since they perceived that he let them down in 1999. Participants in Student Day events every December have gotten increasingly unruly, and when President Khatami spoke at a Student Day event in 2004, he was heckled the entire time. Moreover, their participation in elections has dropped, and the DTV is urging people not to vote in the 17 June presidential election in the hope that this will be interpreted as a vote against the system.

DTV central council member Ali Afshari said on 7 March that participating in the election would only legitimize the authoritarian system, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He explained that elections should advance democracy, and merely participating in them will not achieve this. Afshari went on to say that the eight years of the Khatami presidency have demonstrated that "the country's political structure has been designed in such a way that, as long as the appointed segments do not wish it, the elected segments cannot impose their view." "This is why I believe," Afshari continued, "before taking part in any elections, the current structure has to be reformed." DTV's Afshari dismissed the "election carnival" and opined that the only reason so many people are being mentioned as prospective presidential candidates is to ensure a high turnout, ILNA reported.

Disappointment in the political leadership and recognition of the system's flaws are not the only reasons for student apathy. The university entrance exams are highly competitive, and those who earn a place are reluctant to risk it for abstract political principles. It is safer to conform and keep quiet. Repression is another disincentive. Student leaders are occasionally detained by security elements and held in unknown locations and, although most are released, some are held for lengthy periods. Indeed, some of the participants in the 1999 unrest are still in jail. This leaves the students without leaders, and it intimidates them.

Too Important To Ignore

Iranian leaders will not write off the student movement yet due to their efforts to emphasize unity, because students are traditionally and potentially politically active and represent a large number in a country with a voting age of 15. In short, young Iranians are not ignored because they represent the country's future.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the Islamic Society of University Students in Tehran on 14 March. He told his audience that students are the country's hope for a better future, state radio reported. He described an ideal society in which the youth play an effective role, and he said the students could achieve more if they worked harder, planned better, and relied on God. Khamenei encouraged them to be active in the elections, warned of plots by the "world arrogance" (his term for the United States), and urged young people to avoid party political competition.

Khamenei also expressed concern about young Iranians' morals. "Some perverted entertainment is imported purposefully into our society with the aim of luring our youth.... And very often those who smuggle such material are the evil Zionists. They are the source of corruption of the young people, particularly in Islamic countries. And now, they are specifically targeting the Iranian youth because they are afraid of Iran's future."

Khamenei made a similar speech to high school students on 14 March, IRNA reported. He concluded by encouraging those who will be eligible to vote for the first time on 17 June to do so. (Bill Samii)